Ithacans walking through the Commons yesterday were confronted by a small taste of what, according to the advocacy group Stop The Wall, some Palestinians live with every day. Stop The Wall, a Seattle-based group currently touring the nation, set up two tarp walls to represent the barrier that Israel is constructing in and around the West Bank.
The demonstration’s purpose was to educate people and create a catalyst for discussion, said Erica Kay, one of the group’s members.
“The basic goals are to show people what’s happening with the wall in the West Bank — literally show them — and therefore educate them and give them resources for finding out more information so they can form rational, reasonable opinions about what’s going on. And we believe that if they learn more about it they’ll probably understand it similarly to how we do,” she said.
She also said that the group hopes that once people understand the issue, they will communicate their opinions to their government representatives. This is relevant, she explained, because of America’s financial support of Israel’s security. Kay said that although she could not trace that money exactly, she assumes some of it is used to build the wall directly or indirectly.
The demonstration, set in the middle of the Commons, consisted of the two walls and a table with various information sheets. The two walls were each about 10 feet wide, and one was 25 feet high. Kay said this is a good estimation of the Israeli wall’s actual height in most places.
Several passers-by stopped to read the information and look at the wall, and some stopped to talk with the demonstration’s organizers and among themselves about the wall. Not everyone agreed with Stop The Wall’s position. Alisha Hess-Haber ’04 went from person to person solemnly handing out quarter-cards to bystanders with information on one side and “If I were a suicide bomber, you’d be dead right now” in large text on the other.
“I think it’s a shame that people feel the need to protest something that has the potential to save people’s lives and prevent terror … Guns and bombs kill people, but a wall can come down at any time, when it’s not necessary,” she said.
She said that the wall serves a security purpose and described it as “about the most moderate response you could imagine.” She added that she believes it will save both Israeli and Palestinian lives by “reducing the confrontation” between both peoples.
But to Grace Ritter, who visited the West Bank three times, most recently in June, the wall is neither benign nor a herald of peace.
“Since the two years earlier that I had been there, things had gotten more desperate because of the wall being built,” she said. “Even if doesn’t directly financially affect a family, mentally, you can just see the breakdown of civil society and people’s moral.”
She also said that she does not believe that the wall will bring peace to the region. From her experience working in a Palestinian refugee camp, the wall has created more anger and hostility.
Suicide attacks against Israel have dropped dramatically since Israel started constructing the wall, which Israel points to as evidence that it is an effective security measure. But Ritter pointed out that the wall is not finished and that people can still cross the border, and she said extremists will always find a way around the wall. She also rejected Israel’s claim that the wall is temporary, citing its extreme cost, and suggested that one of the wall’s goals is to drive Palestinians off the land.
Instead of building the wall and buying arms, Ritter said, money should be spent on finding a peaceful resolution. She said that America should refocus or withdraw funds to Israel and work with the people in the area.
Later, Stop the Wall hosted a talk and question-and-answer session in Autumn Leaves book store. Speakers included Kay, fellow Stop the Wall member John Reese, Ritter and Beth Harris, who also spent time in the West Bank. Ritter and Harris shared their experiences living with Palestinians in the West Bank, and Reese showed pictures of the wall’s environmental impact, focusing on its disruption of the water supply.
Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun Staff Writer