Guest contribution by Jumana Al-Qawasmi
On Saturday, April 14, 2012, the weekend before Loyola University in Chicago’s Palestine Awareness Week, a group of students and I from the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) built a mock apartheid wall. The tradition started about three years ago. While the university has had no objections or resistance on its part, other pro-Israel groups on campus used the university as a kind of vehicle for its various concerns, excuses, and general nagging.
By the time I first arrived at the apartment where we were painting the wall, the MESA board had already painted the Palestinian flag onto the four panels as a sort of background. It was absolutely beautiful but not in some convoluted, ultra-patriotic way. Rather, it was striking in its bold statement of existence. I was struck by the fact that the Palestinian flag would be an undeniable presence on the Loyola campus, a normally politically-neutral (provided that is even possible) place. This excited me—and the others—beyond belief.
So we all got to work and painted the wall (listening to dubstep, of course). A friend of one of the painter’s had pre-planned the panels so we generally worked off of the blueprint, including requisite information about the conflict like the stages of the loss of Palestinian land. As we started laying out the panels and sketching out where all the images and information should go, creativity flowed amongst all the painters. People worked on painting the “roadmap to peace” and Masjid Al-Sakhrah. People worked on making barbed wire and painting the words. It was as if the potential impact the flag compelled us all to work even harder in efforts to do justice to the people struggling over in Palestine. Our voices would echo through campus.
We definitely got the response we wanted. The wall ended up being four panels wide, approximately ten feet high and fifteen feet long. It was placed behind Cudahy Science Hall on campus, in an area of, luckily, great foot traffic. MESA and SJP members [wo]manned the table near the wall, talking to onlookers and handing out informational pamphlets; we also sold t-shirts and bracelets to raise funds for Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. While at the table, I met other students (with my luck, all seniors) passionate about human rights for all, including Palestinians. Of course, members encountered their fair share of, as Rob Gilmore (secretary of MESA) indicates, “people spewing typical, more linear, and one dimensional perspectives of the conflict […and those] who listened to way too much ABC and C-Span.” The wall made people linger, made them acknowledge something outside their studies and the Chicago world. I think that’s where we were most successful: that we were able to really live true to the name “Palestine Awareness Week”.
In a sense, the wall was not built merely to highlight students’ efforts to raise awareness about conditions in Palestine. Rather, it was a kind of assertive statement that Loyola’s MESA and SJP purport to become and remain adamant proponents of justice for all people, Palestinian, Arab, and otherwise. Though we finally had to dismantle our mock wall Thursday night, it must be acknowledged that the real wall remains in Palestine, dividing states, towns, families, and souls. As a colleague points out, “this issue is not going away—not from the public and private conscious—until the real wall comes down.” For as long as Palestinians are deprived of their rights, we all need to fight and struggle. Our own humanity is only realized when we protect that of others.
Jumana Al-Qawasmi is currently studying to become a “Renaissance Woman” at Loyola University Chicago.