Palestine awareness wall inspires debate

by Leonardo Castaneda

Many famed graffiti artists view Israel’s security barrier as a symbol of oppression toward Palestinians, MCT Campus

During my pilgrimage to class last Tuesday morning, I was faced with an unexpected barrier blocking my path. A wall, erected in the middle of campus by Students for Justice in Palestine, was forcing me to confront an issue I would much rather ignore. This wall was not insurmountable, or even terribly inconvenient, but it stood in stark contrast with the everyday life I have come to expect.

The Palestinian–Israeli conflict is extremely complicated. Personally, I believe while Israel is justified in defending itself, this has too often come at the expense of honest Palestinians. Israel’s policies have placed unreasonable burdens on the Palestinian territories and repeatedly flouted international law. I reached this opinion after extensively researching both sides of the many different points of contention that have kept this conflict going strong for more than 60 years.

Israel has been at odds with the neighboring Arab states and native Palestinians since its creation in 1948. After the Six–Days War with Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel expanded its borders to include all of Jerusalem. Time has not helped resolve the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian territories, as countless new points of contention have been added to the respective lists of grievances every year.

One of the most controversial issues is U.S. involvement in the conflict. Each year, we send billions of dollars in aid to Israel and U.S. presidents regularly host talks to attempt to broker peace deals between the two.

Adding to the complexity are the more than 4.7 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in the occupied territories and neighboring states. These refugees are descendants of the more than 711,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes in 1948. Despite U.N. calls for “just resolution,” nothing has been done to allow them to regain their homes and livelihoods.

The millions of refugees and Palestinian civilians also face severe encroachment from Israeli settlements — home to about 300,000 Israeli citizens. These civilian outposts and neighborhoods are considered by the U.N. to be “illegal under international law” and are seen as a serious deterrent to peace.

One of the most divisive developments in the conflict has been the recent construction of a barrier surrounding the West Bank. The wall, which began construction in 2002, spans about 425 miles with mostly fencing and trenches to stop cars. What we most often see is the 10 percent of the barrier built from solid concrete. Its very existence has been highly criticized by governments and citizen organizations around the world. The wall is littered with politically charged artwork calling for its deconstruction — even by the biggest names in street art, such as Banksy. Comparisons to the Berlin Wall and South African apartheid are often made, but in reality are unfairly simplistic. The truth is the barrier is maddeningly complicated; the best we can do is try to understand why it was built and who is being affected by it.

SJP tried to jump start this process by recreating the wall on campus to, as Treasurer Kavon Iraniha put it, bring “awareness to many of the injustices that the Palestinians face on a daily basis.” They argue the wall built by Israel divides and oppresses the Palestinian territory beyond justification.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Aztecs for Israel points out that Israel’s barrier was actually built as a “security fence to protect its people against terrorism.” By stopping suicide bombers, the fence has saved hundreds of innocent civilian lives. AFI argues that by erecting a wall on campus, “SJP attempts to trick the uninformed student and bystander into developing a negative opinion of Israel.”

It’s hard to see how any kind of agreement could be reached between two sides that passionately debate the difference between a fence and wall. Yet, a common ground can be found. Both sides stress that this is not a fight between Judaism and Islam, and both desire a peaceful resolution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Ironically, the fence — or wall — on campus has broken through the wall of apathy and opened the floodgates to education and dialogue.

Use this opportunity to educate yourself about the conflict and start forming your own opinions. As students, we must ask for more than petty rhetoric. The SJP and AFI are great sources on campus for information about the conflict, as long as both stay open to discussion and commit to relaying the truth. I challenge both organizations to come together in what AFI called a “student-run, student-led public dialogue between the two organizations.”

It won’t be easy, and there will be many disagreements and arguments along the way. But as San Diego State students, we must put an end to our ignorance and commit to dialogue if we ever hope to encourage peace between Israel and Palestine.

— Leonardo Castaneda is a business administration freshman.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.