SAFE ‘separation wall’ on Diag spurs conversations about divestment
Students for Allied Freedom and Equality set up a wall on the Diag to represent the separation wall between the occupied West Bank and Israel. The pro-Palestinian group annually sets up the wall every year. In addition to the demonstration, SAFE had a student dress up as an Israel Defense Forces soldier and simulate the military checkpoints Palestinians have to go through daily.
The wall, which divides Palestinian villages through the city of Bethlehem, was justified by Israeli authorities to guard against Palestinian "terrorism on citizens of Israel," but in 2003, then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the wall also prevents “demographic spillover.” Last December, 14 delegations on the United Nations Security Council published a statement declaring Israeli settlements—including portions of the wall—built on Palestinian territories to have no legal validity.
“We are trying to raise awareness about the actual separation wall that exists. A lot of people don’t know that a literal wall exists, a lot of people think that it is just a fence,” said LSA senior Andrea, a spokeswoman for SAFE who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons. “We have taken graffiti from the actual wall and put it here to make a very real simulation of what the wall is.”
Additionally, in light of the upcoming divestment resolution presented to Central Student Government, Andrea said she wanted to start a conversation about the University of Michigan divesting. Businesses such as Boeing, United Technologies, Hewlett-Packard and G4S would be affected if the University does so, meaning they would no longer contribute to the University’s endowment. However, Andrea said the endowment’s portfolio is strong enough to withstand divestment.
“Our final main goal is to bring about the discussion of the upcoming divestment resolution that will be coming later this month,” she said. “We want to bring up discussions about specific business involvement in the occupation.”
In enacting a controversial event, Andrea said some tensions were expected, but for the most part, onlookers of the event were curious. In previous years, hostility has occurred, prompting SAFE to designate students to de-escalate any tense situations. Andrea said there have been similar efforts on the other side of the issue.
“For the most part people have been curious. Some people have been pretty receptive and wanted to learn a lot, a few others, I would say, have been more hostile," Andrea said. "A few students have come up to us with questions that were deliberately provocative — I would say that weren’t meant to start a discussion but meant to attack us.”
At a Tuesday night CSG meeting, the Latinx Alliance for Community Action, Support and Advocacy presented on divestment. Over 50 people crowded in the chambers on behalf of Palestinian students.
In 2015, CSG representative Jesse Arm, then LSA sophomore now a senior, criticized a similar SAFE demonstration in the Diag. SAFE members later asked CSG for him to be dismissed from the assembly.
SAFE member Devin Jones, a senior at the time, said Arm was demonstrating conduct unbecoming of a regular student, let alone a CSG representative.
“For you to think you have some type of right to come up to us and vent in that way is irresponsible,” Jones said. “Palestinians deal with this sort of abuse every single day.”
However, the Cooper Charleston-led administration and Ethics Committee did not expel Arm.
Correction: The previous version of this article incorrectly articulated the 2015 situation surrounding Arm and SAFE.