Guest contribution by Yarah Kudaimi
In light of Israeli Apartheid Week, Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign constructed a ninety-foot wide, seventeen-foot tall wall mirroring the barrier wall built by Israel enclosing the West Bank. Construction of the original wall in the West Bank began in 2002 under the guise of Israeli security. In actuality though, it is yet another expression of illegal colonial expansionism.
The 470-mile wall cutting through parts of the West Bank has annexed Palestinian land and separated Palestinians from each other and from access to land, schools, and health care. In addition, it winds in such a way to annex the most fertile soils and gives Israel optimum use of the majority of Palestinian water resources. According to international law, building this wall on Palestinian territory is illegal.
SJP-UIUC intended to raise awareness about this barrier wall by erecting a mock version of the wall on the University’s main quadrangle, the heart of student life. The wall has been up since Monday, April 16 and will be taken down on Friday, April 20. During this time, it has attracted the attention of thousands of students, faculty, and campus staff. The wall blocked the view of the building directly behind it and towered over students, reflecting the confinement and intimidation Palestinian civilians regularly experience under the wall’s presence. Similar to the actual wall in the West Bank, SJP members used the wall as a canvas of expression. They painted the panels with pictures, quotations, and statistics. Information about refugees, Palestinian detention, and the historical context surrounding the occupation of Palestine was printed directly on the wall for the campus community to see.
The wall is just one feature of SJP-UIUC’s scheduled Israeli Apartheid Week. So far, the week included a panel that examined comparisons between apartheid South Africa and apartheid Israel. Others events included a screening of the documentary “Roadmap to Apartheid” and a presentation on Palestinian female activism, in collaboration with the Women’s Resource Center.
The campus response has been overwhelmingly positive and the presence of the wall has encouraged discussion. Many students admitted they knew nothing of the wall and were eager to ask questions.
Peace between Palestinians and Israelis is vital, but meaningful peace between both parties can only be ensured if people have an understanding of the entire conflict. Often, campuses neglect to present the issue as one of displacement and human rights violations. As such, this wall serves as a symbolic tool to bring the Palestinian voice to the forefront of campus discourse. It is the hope of SJP-UIUC that UIUC students will use the information presented as a first step in continuing to think critically about the Palestinian conflict and work towards justice and fair treatment of all who are oppressed.
For more photographs of the wall, click here.
Yarah Kudaimi is a second-year pre-med student majoring in both Psychology and Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.