Submitted by Jay Saper
May 19, 2013
On May 15, students at Middlebury College in Vermont staged a checkpoint outside their dining hall during the busiest meal of the year to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, which led to the establishment of the state of Israel.
As the Middlebury divestment campaign from arms and fossil fuels gains national attention, a coalition that included Palestinian, Israeli, and American Jewish students staged the act of political theater in solidarity with Nakba Day demonstrations around the globe as a call to add apartheid to the students’ divestment demands.
At a midnight breakfast event during finals week, students were greeted in the dark with barricades blocking the entrance to the dining hall and flashlights from full uniformed soldiers asking for identification cards.
Alex Jackman, a junior from New York City, described the checkpoint as “one of the coolest pieces of theater I have seen on Middlebury Campus. Performed during the time when all students are wrapped up in stress about exams and schoolwork, the piece served as a reminder that there are greater battles to fight beyond our campus.”
A gate was lifted for students who had received Israeli documentation. They could pass freely to prepare themselves a plate of pancakes. Those with Palestinian IDs were directed around the checkpoint.
Some students voiced their frustration with being held up, “This is not cool, I am trying to get to midnight breakfast.” One shouted, “I have to study for finals.”
Jackman contended it was important for students to confront the checkpoint. She explained, “Middlebury College students tend to abstract issues of social injustice, a method that allows us to remove ourselves from these issues. But by being confronted, quite literally, with this piece of theater, we were not able to remove ourselves from our privileges—even if only for a moment.”
The performance, developed by students as part of a course on Theater and Social Change and members of the organization Justice for Palestine, was broken up by campus public safety.
“This is not theater, we can tell it is political,” one officer voiced. “Everything that is political has to be approved by the College.”
For Palestinians, checkpoints are not a momentary interruption, but one persistent piece of a dehumanizing system of apartheid. Between 2000 and 2005 there were 67 Palestinian mothers who were forced to give birth at Israeli military checkpoints and 36 of those babies died.
Apartheid is not enabled through merely subjecting a people to oppressive conditions, but rather through creating separate realities whereby a group of people is not forced to confront their implication in the domination of another group.
Middlebury College itself is a settlement on stolen Abenaki land. With its pristine limestone buildings and perfectly manicured grass, Middlebury manufactures an environment seemingly separate from the oppressions it perpetuates, which is itself a political act.
Students at Middlebury are stepping up and refusing to allow a separation of conscience that tolerates inaction in face of the school profiting from Israeli apartheid. Justice for Palestine has one message for administrators, particularly fitting of a midnight action, “We will not rest, until you divest.”
Jay Saper is a student organizer with Justice for Palestine at Middlebury College.
I was deprived of my comfort items, except for a thin iso-mat and a very thin, small, and worn-out blanket. I was deprived of my books, which I owned. I was deprived of my Quran. I was deprived of my soap. I was deprived of my toothpaste. I was deprived of the roll of toilet paper I had. The cell—better, the box—was cooled down so that I was shaking most of the time. I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day. Every once in a while they gave me a rec time in the night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. I don’t remember having slept one night quietly; for the next 70 days to come I wouldn’t know the sweetness of sleeping. Interrogation for 24 hours, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off.
“We know that you are a criminal.”
“What have I done?”
“You tell me, and we reduce your sentence to 30 years. Otherwise you will never see the light again. If you don’t cooperate we are going to put you in a hole and wipe your name out of our detainees database.” I was so terrified because I knew, even though he couldn’t make such decision on his own, he had the complete backup of the high government level. He didn’t speak from the air.
“I don’t care where you take me, just do it.”
an excerpt from Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Memoirs, Part One: Endless Interrogations
When you are tortured … they beat and beat you until everything is pain. Until there is so much pain that you give up thinking it will stop. In fact you stop hoping it will stop… . Then suddenly, one day, your cell opens and in comes a “nice” fellow who offers you a cigarette. For him you will do everything, anything.
[A Sinhalese] General told me that counter-insurgency is just like that except that instead of giving pain to a person you give pain to a whole community until it too stops hoping it will stop and starts only hoping for the lesser pain. Then you come in as the “nice fellow” and offer them a cigarette, or a constitution, and they will do anything for you.”5
What Sivaram described is strikingly reminiscent of the current situation in northwest Pakistan. Drones may have proven unreliable as tools of precision warfare, but they have yielded unexpected dividends as vehicles of state terror. Although the details of drone strategy remain secret, it appears that the US is consciously using “collectivized torture” as a means of coercing popular consent, not only in Pakistan but also in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, North Africa, and other flashpoints of resistance to US domination.
From “Collectivized Torture”: Drone Warfare and the Dark Side of Counterinsurgency by Jacob Levich