Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Chicago erected a mock wall on campus early Thursday morning. Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI) immediately protested the wall on the grounds that it is entirely in accordance with international law.
SJP’s wall is modeled after Israel’s barrier wall cutting through the West Bank. In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) condemned the wall, declaring it “contrary to international law” mostly because over 80% of it snakes into the West Bank and illegally annexes Palestinian territory. Israelis are free to travel through the wall but most of the wall’s gates are closed to Palestinians for “security concerns”.
Currently, over 12% of the West Bank lies on the other side of the wall. According to one CFI member, this de facto annexation of Palestinian land is not illegal because Israel is allegedly not occupying any Palestinian territory. He also claimed that annexation is strictly a legal term and because there have been no legal opinions condemning the wall, Israel has the privilege of constructing the wall along whichever route it pleases. I curtly reminded him of the ICJ ruling.
The CFI member then argued that Palestine never existed and couldn’t have ever existed “because the letter ‘P’ is not part of the Arabic language”. Two other CFI protesters quickly urged him to stop speaking.
CFI’s argument that the wall is meant to “prevent Jews from being blown up daily” is far removed from statistical fact and even further removed from human rights preservation. Alleging that Palestinians do not exist denies their agency and perpetuates the idea that the right to life is a priority for Israelis only. Defying international law and explicitly targeting a particular group of people is a profound example of institutionalized racism, an inherent characteristic of the barrier wall’s purpose.
Below are photos of SJP’s mock wall. It is small—only four panels in length—and nowhere near the height or the length of the real barrier wall. It does not prevent University of Chicago students from reaching their classes or their classmates the way the real barrier wall does. It also does not discriminate between who can pass through and who is forced to endure hours of interrogation, waiting, and body searches. But it does do an excellent job of bringing the reality of the occupation to campus.