Mounds of fake barbed wire and rope stood next to spray-painted cardboard walls, as students outfitted in olive-brown army uniforms, aviator sunglasses and plastic gas masks set up a mock military checkpoint on Upper Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley Tuesday.
The checkpoint was intended to simulate conditions of Palestinians in the West Bank, and student-actors and members of Students for Justice in Palestine who tried to pass through were lined up according to ethnicity and sex and told to show proper identification, while those dressed as Israeli officers bound the students’ hands together.
“It’s a tiered system,” said Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and member of Students for Justice in Palestine. “Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are deprived of basic rights because of their ethnicity.”
Tuesday’s events were part of a series of demonstrations planned by Students for Justice in Palestine for the annual Israeli Apartheid Week, an international campaign to “educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system,” according to the event website.
“We’ve done an effective job in the past of educating the campus about the plight of the Palestinian people,” Huet-Vaughn said, adding that he hoped this year’s events would be as productive.
But while members of Students for Justice in Palestine protested the conditions of Palestinians in Israel, members of Tikvah Students for Israel held their own demonstration on the plaza, countering the claims of injustice in Palestine through signs such as “Caution Fiction Ahead.”
Tikvah is holding its annual Israeli Peace and Diversity Week, which celebrates “diversity, culture, tolerance, and peace,” according to the group’s website, and was kicked off with a lecture last Thursday by U.S. Congressman Barney Frank about U.S.-Israel relations.
“We are proud of Israel’s diversity,” said junior David Sverdlov, co-president of Tikvah. “We want to acknowledge the steps Israel has taken towards achieving peace.”
“But this,” he said, referring to the checkpoint, “is a circus demonstration.”
A recently filed second amended complaint to a lawsuit dismissed in December alleges that UC has not provided a safe atmosphere for Jewish students, specifically stating that the university violated Title VI of 1964 Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution in 2011 by allowing for the construction of the checkpoint.
The rest of Israeli Peace and Diversity Week will include films and a peace rally, among other events. Apartheid Week also included a lecture Tuesday night by bestselling-author and journalist Max Blumenthal about the role Israel plays in American politics, and a panel discussion will be held Wednesday with activists from the Arab Spring.
A previous version of this article may have implied that those who passed through the mock military checkpoint were students unaffiliated with the planned event. In fact, all who participated were student-actors and members of Students for Justice in Palestine.