More than 30 students, professors and community members held a vigil in front of Fitz-Randolph gate last night to protest the security wall Israel is building around the West Bank.
Holding signs reading "Break Down the Apartheid Cage" and "Wall=Prison," the activists called for Israel to stop building the wall and withdraw from the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The vigil, part of an international mobilization against the wall, was sponsored in Princeton by the Princeton Committee for a Free Palestine (PCP).
"We're standing with the United Nations that the building of the wall is illegal and has to be stopped, reversed, and the land given back to the Palestinians," said Wilson School lecturer Zia Mian, who helped organize the event. "The wall is like a giant prison around the entire West Bank."
The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed, 144-4, a resolution October 21 demanding that Israel remove the barrier; only Israel, the United States, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands voted against it.
Julia Ioffe '05, vice-president of the Princeton Israel Public Affairs Committee, however, said the wall is necessary for Israel to protect its citizens against suicide bombers.
"I think a lot of people are forgetting why the wall is going up in the first place," she said. "It's not to keep out Palestinians who want to have a normal life; it's to keep out terrorists who blow up pizzerias in large cities, killing innocent children. It's a security fence, just like Israel says."
Vigil participants said they support a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by dividing the land into two independent states, but said the wall is detrimental to that process. "We feel it's an injustice to keep Palestinians in enclosed territories," Sujit Nair GS said. "It threatens the two-state solution."
Mian blamed U.S. support of Israel for its continued occupation of Palestine. "What makes the occupation possible is that the U.S. gives unquestioning support and billions of dollars of aid to Israel, and consequently Israel must not suffer the economic or political or military consequences of its actions," he said. "If Israel is safe from all of these pressures, what will make it stop what it's doing? Israel is like a gangster, with the U.S. as its godfather."
Mian said he agrees Israel has a right to exist, but argued that building the wall is counterproductive to the peace process. "No one's opposed to the existence of Israel, but under international law, Israel must stop the occupation and the building of the wall," he said. "As long as there is this occupation, Hamas can accomplish what they want by violence, but when the occupation stops, the benefits of violence will disappear, and they can become part of the political process."
Rutgers University sophomore Nadia Taha, who attended the vigil, said the wall lowers Palestinians' standard of living, leading to the desperation that causes terrorism. "I spent the summer in the West Bank, and the wall was on everyone's mind," she said. "It's really horrible, a detriment to living. And it contradicts the idea that full stomachs and happy hearts lead to security. Consistently treating people like second or third class citizens means people aren't happy, and this leads to violence."
Ioffe said Israel's methods of defense against terrorism are unfairly criticized.
"No matter what Israel tries to do to keep terrorists out, people always have horrible things to say about it," she said. "Checkpoints have stopped hundreds of terrorists, but people never stop criticizing them. It's the same principle as security checks in U.S. airports — they slow people down, but for a good reason. Israel has to look after its own people."
Taha said she hopes vigils like this will encourage stronger support of Palestinian rights within the U.S.
"This is an extremely important issue, and I think it's really important to let people know what's going on," she said. "We need to put leaders in the White House who will speak out against what they think is wrong and not hold back. As of now, I think [Democratic presidential candidate Howard] Dean has had the strongest statements."
The vigil was part of an international week of Palestinian activism, which also included a lecture last Thursday by Palestinian activist Mustafa Barghouthi as part of the first annual PCP-sponsored Edward Said '57 memorial lecture.