Why the Wall? A Statement by Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine
KSJP erected an art installation in the atrium of Peirce in order to actively engage a broad segment of the Kenyon community. The construction of a physical boundary was an invitation for community members to reflect on the daily experience of navigating a familiar environment. While we all enjoy freedom of movement at Kenyon – Palestinians in the occupied territories do not. Though our art installation is only one third of the height of the separation wall, its presence in the atrium of Peirce is unavoidable and intrusive. The reality according to current plans for expansion is that 85 percent of the separation wall constructed by Israel will run through the West Bank upon completion. (1)
In clear violation of international law, Israel continues to expand its borders into East Jerusalem and the West Bank, imposing “crushing restrictions on freedom of movement and severely diminished access to jobs, hospitals, schools and families.”(2) Counter to the rhetoric of the Israeli government, the International Court of Justice has stated that it is “not convinced that the specific course Israel has chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives.”(3)
Despite the physical and psychological presence of the barrier, Palestinians in the occupied territories have reflected their politics of resistance against the oppressive structure through visual art that uses the wall as a canvas. Now in Peirce’s atrium we are all faced with something unfamiliar. In its presence we struggle to reconcile its meaning and its intention. We study it, we find ways around it, maybe we are fixated by it, or maybe we want to make it disappear. But for one week it stands. For one week we walk around it to acknowledge the experience of all the Palestinians whose lives are profoundly disrupted and damaged by the separation wall erected around them against their will.
Over the course of this semester, members of KSJP have worked very hard from the conceptual to the architectural stages of creating this installation.The school offered us a one-week slot to exhibit our art in the Peirce atrium and as the semester was coming to a close, we decided to seize this opportunity to display our work. We recognize that its overlap with Passover this year may have caused offense to some Jewish students. We regret this perceived injury for it was never our intention to offend anyone.
At no time, however, did we consider that people would perceive the celebration of Passover to be in any way relevant to the illumination of an unjust policy of the Israeli government. As the National Lawyers Guild has pointed out, to treat criticism of Israel as equivalent to criticism of Jewish people implies that Jews “around the world are culpable for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians on the basis of their shared religion or ethnic and ancestral characteristics.”(4) We find this oversimplification of Jewish social and political identity to be troubling and intellectually unproductive.
On Monday, the first day of Passover, many members of the Kenyon community and KSJP celebrated their Jewish heritage and our art installation simultaneously. While some have expressed discomfort regarding the installation of the wall, others have expressed enthusiastic support. We invite you to join us as we reflect on the deeper meaning of these diverse responses.
KSJP cannot promise that our public expressions on campus will make no one uncomfortable. We cannot promise that our perspective will be perceived by all as fair. But we can promise that we will be here with you throughout action and dialogue. As we move forward, our obligation is to be accessible and to listen. Ultimately we believe that art has the capacity to educate and inspire, to challenge and protest. In this spirit we celebrate the rich history of artistic and political expression and find ourselves meditating on the following quotation by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored.”