On Nov. 18, Columbia University Students for Justice in Palestine constructed a mock Israeli checkpoint at the Low Library steps. The action was intended to highlight the indignity Palestinian students endure at checkpoints. For instance, 9,000 students at An-Najah University have to pass through checkpoints daily, and 64 percent report having been physically abused at checkpoints, according to the Right to Education Campaign.
CSJP’s action was intended to show that the term “checkpoint” euphemizes the living conditions of occupation. Checkpoints are sites of violence. And although blindfolding is not an everyday occurrence, our point was to draw our community’s attention and to alert our peers to the humiliation that Palestinian students constantly endure.
Zionist groups protesting Thursday’s action claim that checkpoints are a “necessary evil.” Their “factsheet” claimed that armed terrorists attempt to cross checkpoints daily, but when asked, they could not provide any source indicating this to be the case. Moreover, as of 2006, it was estimated that 34,000 undocumented Palestinians crossed into Israel from the Green Line without passing through a checkpoint. Couldn’t one of these thousands have brought a bomb into Israel?
Terrorist attacks are a desperate response to the inequality between Palestinians and Israelis. Heightened security will not resolve Israel’s “security threat,” but an end to apartheid will.
Indeed, the checkpoints are an integral part of Israeli apartheid. They are not merely “border control” mechanisms. Checkpoints separate Palestinian villages from one another in the name of “protecting” the illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Although CSJP’s action focused on checkpoints, the Right to Education Campaign is geared toward shedding light on all Israeli policies that inhibit Palestinians’ access to education. These measures include detention, forced closures of schools, restrictions on foreign staff, and damage to property. For instance, Israel does not allow construction material into Gaza, even for use by the U.N.. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was forced to turn away 40,000 children this past fall. In fact, the only reason UNRWA required building materials in order to accommodate these 40,000 children is that, in 2008, Israel’s assault on Gaza damaged 36 U.N. schools which are no longer fit for use.
According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,“Everyone has the right to education ... education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories prevent Palestinians from enjoying this right. It is natural that, as students of every religious, political, and national affiliation, we act in solidarity with those in Palestine who are cut off from the educational experiences we benefit from daily.
Yasmeen Ar-Rayani is a Columbia College junior majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. Michael Kennedy is a graduate student in the department of anthropology. Alaa Milbes is a graduate student in the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. Dina Omar is a graduate student in the department of anthropology. They are all members of Students for Justice in Palestine.