Israel Fair protested at UNT

May 9, 2012

SOLIDARITY ACTIVISTS at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton built a mock "apartheid wall"--a six-foot-tall cardboard replica of the actual separation wall that Israel has constructed to carve up the Palestinian villages and land in the occupied West Bank--as a protest against an "Israel Fair" organized by pro-Zionist organizations on campus.

The protest, organized by members of the Denton Anti-War Network (DAWN), along with the International Socialist Organization and other local groups, was designed to spread awareness about the real origins of the state of Israel and its history of oppressing the Palestinians.

Three prominent student organizations at the UNT--Hillel, Christians United for Israel and Eagles for Israel--are particularly aggressive in promoting pro-Israel propaganda, and the university's Jewish Studies Program bolsters that message with courses taught by professors who zealously defend Israel and shut out any critical views, inside and outside of class.

Since 2003, the Jewish Studies Program has hosted an annual Israel Fair. It took place on April 24 this year, with tables, information booths and other attractions set up by various sponsoring groups. Event organizers handed out tiny, plastic Israeli flags and reminded participants that they were here to celebrate Israeli culture and Israeli Independence Day on April 26.

But, of course, Israel Fair's representation of the situation in the Middle East completely disregards the existence of an oppressed group that lives within and outside the borders of Israel--a Palestinian population that was expelled when Israel was founded.

Organizers of the fair claim it is purely a cultural event, not a political one, but this simply isn't true. Israel is a colonial settlers' state and its existence is a result of the oppression of a native people. That Israel has appropriated traditional Palestinian cultural products points out the essence of the state as predatory and links the political to the cultural.

The Palestine solidarity activists' protest was designed to call attention to all this. The mock apartheid wall, which sat directly in front of the fair in one of the university's protected Free Speech Zones, was clearly visible by all the Israel Fair participants and provided a powerful counter-message.

Demonstrators taped signs to the wall reading, "Walls don't build peace" and "Free Palestine." Another asked people to "Take your picture with the apartheid wall"--a response to a green-screen set up at the Israel Fair allowing participants to have their likeness photographed in front of either the Wailing Wall or the Dome of the Rock.

This was only the latest action initiated by DAWN with the intention of making Israel's occupation of Palestine an issue on campus. Other actions have included a screening of the documentary Occupation 101 and a one-day fast in solidarity with Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi's hunger strike.

But the mock apartheid wall received the most attention from students on campus, specifically Arab and Muslim students, who enthusiastically stuck around for the duration of the protest.

Now that an oppositional voice has been established at UNT, one explicitly for Palestinian self-determination and critical of Israel, the challenge is to keep it a sustained and growing force, out of which larger events and campaigns can result.

There is a growing awareness about the Palestinian cause, and boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against the Israel are taking root. UNT is still laying the foundations for such a campaign, but local activists are determined to connect with a global movement against ethnic cleansing, apartheid, discrimination and inequality.

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