Students who braved inclement weather to traverse Cross Campus Monday came face to face with a six-foot-tall, 125-foot-long styrofoam structure covered with quotes, maps and provocative messages such as “Warning: Anyone who approaches this wall will be shot.”
Members of Students for Justice in Palestine assembled the wall to protest Israel’s construction of a series of barriers in the West Bank. As SJP members distributed to passersby over 1,200 fact sheets enumerating their arguments against the barrier, Yale Friends of Israel members congregated beside them to present the opposing view.
YFI President Ricky Leiter ’06 stressed that the group has not yet taken an official stance on the barrier since there has been much unresolved debate over the issue among the Jewish population at Yale.
“We just want to show Israel’s reasons for putting up the fence,” he said.
Leiter said the primary cause for Israel’s construction of the barrier, which is projected ultimately to exceed 650 kilometers in length, is security. Proponents of the barrier cite the 250 terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians who gained access to Israel from the West Bank to support their argument.
SJP member Michelle Lee ’04 contested Israel’s claim that the barrier is intended to augment security.
“When you look at the map, you realize it’s not just about security — it’s about expanding Israel’s borders,” Lee said.
SJP members argue that the barrier is not merely a temporary construction designed to abate terrorism, as the Israelis claim; instead, the organization says, it is to be a permanent landmark on the West Bank, intersecting 10 of 11 West Bank districts and resulting in the annex of half of the West Bank to Israel. SJP members cited the tremendous cost of constructing the fence — $2.8 million per kilometer — in their attempts to refute claims that the fence will be temporary.
YFI members were quick to contradict SJP’s charges, arguing that what SJP members identify as a “wall” is actually a 150-mile-long fence, of which only five miles is a wall.
“Israel has the right to defend itself,” Amanda Elbogen ’07 said. “If this is the only way for Israel to stop suicide bombers, then we should accept it.”
Diala Shamas ’06, who helped organize the protest, said SJP’s initial goal was to convince the pro-Israeli organizations on campus that the barrier is detrimental to Israeli interests as well as the Palestinian population.
“The information on [our] wall tells of the bad effects it has on Palestinians,” she said. “It also shows that the wall is not about security; it’s an obstacle to any peaceful solution to the conflict, which ultimately affects Israelis.”
Despite harboring opposing views on the construction of the wall, members of the two organizations said they shared the common hope that their demonstration will foster a broader discussion of the wall on campus.
“I’ve been frustrated with people who don’t care,” Shamas said. “But we’ve had some encouraging responses so far. People have been asking for more information, so we hope this means more people will learn about the wall and talk about it.”
Leiter expressed similar sentiments.
“We hope that people will go back to their rooms, read both sides, and then make up their minds,” he said.