An announcement was made loud and clear just before noon in front of McHenry Library: “This is a checkpoint. If you want to get through, show your ID.” The voice came from a student carrying a megaphone. Behind her, 30 students, most dressed in black, linked arms to form a line that stretched across the entrance to the library.
The checkpoints, organized by UC Santa Cruz Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), also took place in Quarry Plaza, Science Hill and Porter College’s quad. They were intended to “demonstrate the daily oppression the Israeli military inflicts on Palestinians” and show students the impact the checkpoints have on Palestinians.
According to the group’s press release, the Israeli military’s checkpoints exist as roadblocks that impede movement for Palestinians and also act as sites for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to harass Palestinians.
“Palestinians have to go through checkpoints to get through the next city or to get to schools or to get to hospitals,” SJP member Wessam Awadalla said. “They are harassed, they are detained, they are forced to humiliate themselves by lifting their clothes or lifting their shirt. It’s just a daily thing and they’ll go hours out of their way to avoid a checkpoint. It’s a restriction on their travel and it’s another way that Israel tells them they are second-class citizens.”
The human barrier left space to form an entrance and an exit, requiring anyone wanting to cross the line to present identification. Members of the groups took on different roles. Most were “wall people,” charged with the task of forming a human barrier intended to symbolize the Israeli wall. Two campus police officers were present, but did not intervene since students were not prohibiting passage into a public building.
Two students dressed as IDF soldiers stood at each entrance with a strip of duct tape that read “Israeli Defense Force” across the front, and cardboard rectangles slung over their shoulders with “GUN” and “property of IDF” written on them.
“You walk to McHenry Library, people have their hands linked, it’s obviously portrayed as something bad, an obstruction, harassment, etc.,” said Jewish studies major and Leviathan Jewish Journal editor Amanda Botfeld. “The natural reaction as a student is to think, ‘Well, the way we fix it is to get rid of these checkpoints,’ without understanding why these checkpoints are in place.”
Botfeld recognized there are issues with the way the IDF conducts themselves and the lack of advancement within Palestinian society, but said that as a student, it’s hard to want to work while feeling attacked.
“It feels like we’re being punished for our heritage,” she said. “It’s like, whatever is going on with these things in Israel is bad, and those who are connected and associated with it are bad. I see it as an animosity campaign.”
While fliers offered more information about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, some students felt that not enough explanation was given about the purpose of the checkpoints.
“I felt confused,” student Heena Gandhi said. “What if I don’t have my ID? For me, personally, I’ve been going here for four years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this.”
Other students shared Gandhi’s confusion, calling the checkpoint “annoying” or “inconvenient.” While most students complied, some argued with the demonstrators and ultimately shoved through.
SJP member Boian Boianov said that the checkpoints were also organized to remind students that UCSC and the UC system invests in companies that do business with the Israeli government and military — like General Electric and Lockheed Martin — which they feel contribute to the violation of human rights of Palestinians.
“We’re directly profiting from and benefiting from the oppression of other people,” Boianov said.
Though the demonstration took place during “96 Hours of Action,” Boianov explained the two are technically separate.
However, he said there were material connections between U.S. and Israel that fit with the weeklong actions protesting tuition hikes and police violence. For example, Israeli military trains U.S. police forces, and the same Israeli defense contractor who built the wall around the West Bank is also responsible for building the wall between Mexico and the U.S.
“We see a connection in the sense that the University of California consistently chooses to direct money in a way that isn’t beneficial for the health of its students and for the health of other students around the world,” Boianov said.
*published March 2015 in City on a Hill Press