Students expecting a peaceful walk from Old Campus to Cross Campus Monday did not see the usual stream of rushed freshmen. Instead, students found a checkpoint hindering their paths, as a mock “Yale Defense Force” screened for “terrorist students.”
The Yale chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, erected a mock checkpoint at Porter Gate on Elm Street to protest Israeli actions in the West Bank. In response, the Yale Friends of Israel created a counter-demonstration, handing out leaflets for a vigil later that evening, which drew approximately 100 people.
The “Yale Defense Force” personnell were actually members of SJP wearing military-style uniforms and carrying cardboard rifles. They approached students attempting to cross Elm Street and demanded that they show identification. Next to the checkpoint, students acting as terrorists were pressed against a message board.
The group was protesting the Israel Defense Forces’ use of checkpoints and other forms of border control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In its flier, SJP claims these checkpoints deny access to emergency vehicles, have indiscriminate reach, damage the Palestinian economy and deny due process. In addition, SJP contends that the checkpoints are being used to divide the Palestinian people.
“This is to give people an idea of day-to-day life for Palestinians,” SJP member Badr Albanna ’04 said.
Supposedly, only students in Branford and Saybrook colleges were allowed to pass through the checkpoint, but the demonstration created only a short delay for all students attempting to go through the gate.
At one point, frightened spectators called police to the scene, which Nina Glickson, an assistant to Yale President Richard Levin, said was understandable.
“They were doing street theater and it was a little frightening,” Glickson said. “If you had been an innocent bystander passing by and didn’t understand that the member was participating — that might have been a little scary.”
The protest follows similar actions on other campuses across the country. At the University of California at Berkeley, a series of protests culminated in members of that school’s SJP chapter occupying a campus building and being arrested by police.
“This week is a week of action and solidarity with the Palestinian people,” Albanna said.
Members of YFI arrived soon after the protest began and distributed their own fliers about a vigil for that night at 8:30 p.m. on Cross Campus.
According to the flier, a Palestinian killed five Israelis after he broke through a checkpoint Nov. 10. In addition, the flier said that further violence was prevented when a car with two terrorists carrying a large explosive detonated after it was stopped at a checkpoint.
Members of the YFI argued for “moral equivalency,” contending that terrorist attacks against civilians in Israel justified restrictions on Palestinian travel.
“These checkpoints are painful but necessary,” YFI member Robert Spiro ’06 said.
Albanna said violence from both Israel and Palestine was wrong.
“These things are awful,” Albanna said. “No one should have to suffer through this on either side.”
Students’ reactions to the checkpoint varied, with some appreciating the demonstrators’ efforts and others calling it “foolish.”
“It’s very interesting,” Michelle White ’06 said. “I’ve been shot in the head. It’s a sobering idea.”
Other students were willing to consider both organizations’ arguments.
“They’re kind of being a pain in the ass back there,” John Kaufman ’06 said. “I’m going to read [the SJP and YFI fliers] and digest what they’re talking about.”