Students for Justice in Palestine hosts die-in, march in Downtown Berkeley

Mikaela Raphael/Staff

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Approximately 50 protesters of the occupation of Palestine participated in a die-in and march, which began in Downtown Berkeley and proceeded to campus Thursday afternoon.

Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, hosted the event as part of its Palestinian Awareness Week, which seeks to educate students on Palestinian affairs. The event was endorsed by several organizations, including the campus’s Black Student Union and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Kumars Salehi, a campus graduate student and member of SJP, said the point of the demonstration was to keep the issues of Palestine “on the forefront of people’s consciousness.”

“We’re trying to show solidarity and make it visible in a theatrical way,” Salehi said, adding that demonstrators dressed in red to represent the blood of Palestinians.

SJP organizers called upon die-in participants to lay in the intersection of Center Street and Shattuck Avenue, where they remained for about three minutes, while SJP leaders called on the UC Board of Regents to divest from Israeli businesses and explained the purpose of the die-in.

In April 2013, the ASUC Senate voted to divest ASUC and UC assets from companies affiliated with the Israeli military, such as Hewlett-Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings. Salehi noted that though the UC regents have ignored these resolutions, he hopes that demonstrations such as Thursday’s may prompt compliance.

Participants turned heads as they walked to campus and through Sproul Plaza, shouting chants such as: “Not another nickel, not another dime — no more money for Israel’s crimes.”

The group ended its march on Lower Sproul, where representatives from SJP and other campus groups spoke to a crowd that included pro-Israeli groups, such as Tikvah: Students for Israel and Bears for Israel.

Becca Berman, co-president of Bears for Israel, said they attended the SJP event in order to spread the message that Israel is “a peace-loving country.”

“People on campus need to understand that people in Israel have a right to self-defense,” Berman said, adding that self-defense was a justification for Israeli violence against Palestinians.

David McCleary, a campus graduate student and SJP member, emphasized that SJP is not standing in solidarity with any government, but rather calls for “equal rights for everyone in the region.”

As the event disbanded, people from opposing sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict engaged in heated debate over who was to blame for the violence in the region.

Khalil Johnson, an event spectator, said the debate helped raised awareness among those not involved in it.

Salehi said he hopes to see more dialogue among activist organizations and more support for Palestine from noncultural groups, as the conflict is an issue of human rights.

“I can see that this is a scale and duration of injustice that is pretty much unparalleled in the modern world,” Salehi said. “The level of institutional support that Israeli occupation and apartheid receives is archaic and deserves to be in the dustbin of history.”

Contact Hannah Lewis at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hlewis_dc.