Crowds gathered around Sather Gate on Tuesday afternoon to watch a mock checkpoint demonstration presented by Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, which aimed to illustrate Israeli-Palestinian border relations.
SJP placed painted wooden barriers in front of Sather Gate to symbolize the walls erected between parts of Palestine and Israel. The barriers were guarded by two students in faux Israeli military attire who carried cardboard cutout guns.
The checkpoint demonstration was intended to educate Berkeley students on the “implications and realities” of Palestinian occupation, according to SJP member and campus graduate student David McCleary.
“We wanted to show Berkeley students what the average Palestinian has to go through traversing these checkpoints,” McCleary said. “We are just showing all of the ways people are treated differently and treated unequally. That is the driving force of our group.”
Throughout the afternoon, SJP members acted out scenes based on video footage of checkpoint interactions, according to McCleary. As part of the demonstration, students with colored visas engaged with the guards and tried to pass through the barriers.
According to campus graduate student and SJP member Kumars Salehi, the checkpoint event was also intended to protest UC Berkeley’s investments in companies that allegedly profit from Palestinian occupation. Salehi noted that while SJP’s efforts have been successful so far, more pressure on the UC Board of Regents is necessary to ensure divestment.
Near the SJP event, Tikvah, a campus Zionist group, staged a counter-protest. Members of Tikvah held Israeli flags and signs that brought attention to recent stabbings in Israel.
“We were standing in solidarity with victims of terror and standing up against terrorism that is directed towards innocent civilians,” said Michaela Fried, president of Tikvah, adding that Tikvah was not trying to infringe upon SJP’s free speech.
“Our demonstration today was not an attempt to silence SJP, but rather an effort to have our narrative represented as well,” Fried said in an email.
McCleary mentioned that while SJP was fine with Tikvah’s presence, he was offended by some of the signs held by Tikvah protesters. He emphasized that SJP is an explicitly non-violent group and does not condone stabbings or terrorism.
“To imply that we are okay with Jews being stabbed in Israel is offensive and wrong,” McCleary said.
Becca Berman, president of Bears for Israel, said the demonstration presented a false image of what occurs at checkpoints and wishes broader context was given during SJP’s demonstration.
Student observers, such as campus sophomore Ismael Chamu, said they thought the visuals were helpful in understanding the issue. The presence of both campus groups, he said, helped frame the issue of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Each side has its own arguments but it brings them to light so that other folks on campus can talk about it, analyze the situation and know where the roots of this problem are and where it exists,” Chamu said.
This event was part of SJP’s Palestine Awareness Week, which is a week of events intended to educate students on Palestinian affairs. SJP’s next event will be a march and die-in in Downtown Berkeley on Thursday.
Contact Maya Eliahou and Roann Pao at [email protected].