Interpreting the Apartheid Wall

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Photo courtesy of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Irvine

By Jessica Resendez

When the Apartheid Wall went up this week, a lot of questions began to circulate. What is this thing? What does it mean? Why is it here? Meant to act as a symbolic wall, full of images, facts, histories and stories, it served as a reminder of the real Apartheid wall that separates Palestinians from Israel.  There, people claim that segregation, violence, and murders are an everyday occurrence.

 For students like Celine, who didn’t to reveal her last name, the scenario of war in the Middle-East was real life. Born in Anaheim, and raised in what is commonly known as “occupied Israel,” she considers herself a Palestinian who has seen segregation played out in her cultural homeland. As a member of UCI’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Celine is a soft-spoken, bright-eyed young woman who is advocating to raise awareness amongst students about the role American politics play in foreign affairs.

 “People just walk around this university and they think UCI is such a normal place, but no! It’s built on stolen land and people were expelled here too — people were killed here too,” said Celine.

 Walking over to one of the many hand-painted panels of the Apartheid wall behind her, she points to the one that reads, “This is Indian Land,” which is written in blood-red paint and accompanied by two solemn handprints pressed against a black background of a plywood panel. On that same panel, a historical picture of an Acjachemen chief, Clarence Lobo, lies right below. In the photo he stands in traditional Acjachemen attire, presiding over the land of his people that would soon become the construction site of the UC Irvine campus in 1963 – a reminder of how our own history rings of settler-colonial rhetoric.

 “This bizarre [Zionist] mindset has infected the whole world,” said Celine, drawing on the US involvement with Palestinian occupation in the Middle-East. “[Israel] learns a lot from the U.S.”

 Elmira Yousufi, a member of the UCI Muslim Student Union (MSU), agrees that more people should be aware of how much influence the US actually has in Israel.

 “The United States is a big enabler of Israel. We give billions and billions of dollars in aides and military aides every single year —  more than any other country,” said Yousufi

 According to a Congressional Research Service Report regarding U.S foreign aid to Israel, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II,” and has since collected from the U.S. about $124.3 billion dollars, “in the form of military assistance.”

 “A lot of people are unaware, but it should make everybody angry that our tax dollars go into supporting such devastation,” said Yousufi.

 Of course, not everyone agrees that supporting Israel is such a bad idea.

Some conservative acitivists are calling events “hate week.” The controversial David Horowitz, claims that groups like SJP and MSU are promoting anti-Semitism across UC campuses by condemning the only Jewish country in the Middle East.

The College of Republicans at UCI invited Horowitz this past Friday to offer students a different perspective on the Apartheid wall movement and to consider what the wall really means to them. Referring to anti-Zionists as “Jew haters,” he told a small audience inside the Crystal Cove Auditorium that the Apartheid wall was not an actual wall, but a “fence” that protects the Israelis from radical Palestinian “terrorists” that threaten Jewish lives.

 “That’s so wrong. We have so many Jewish students and individuals who support this. We have Jewish for Peace working with us to build the wall and we pretty much support the only Jewish candidate out there…Bernie Sanders,” said Yousufi

 Still, as both sides continue to challenge each other, no quick-fix solution can remedy the issue — people can only raise awareness to the problem. While most students stop to smell the roses, perhaps we should stop to notice the wretchedness of life too — the wretchedness of war, power, violence, death in foreign affairs and in our own country. Perhaps that’s what the wall was intended to do, but as streams of students flood Ring Road to rush to their next class, it was students like engineering major Kiara, who stood back to take it all in as a woman of color.

 “A lot of this stuff I already know…being an oppressed person in America and on campus,” said Kiara, adding, “It’s not surprising [that] the world is fucked up.”

 On the last day of the wall, the image of a black student, a white student, a Muslim student and Mexican student all stood together on one side of the wall, reflecting on what it all meant to them. As each person went their own way with their own interpretation, the question of “What is this thing?” turned into “What can I do to help?” At the end of the day, that’s all Celine and the rest of the SJP and MSU members are hoping for.

 “We can’t normalize this stuff. We can’t normalize this kind of violence. We have to remember it, acknowledge it, and fight it in any way we can,” said Celine.