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Israeli Apartheid Week: Are The Cambridge, Leeds And SOAS Students Taking Part Demonstrating Or Intimidating?

27/02/2016 08:24 | Updated 29 February 2016

For the past few days, students across the UK have been taking part in the controversial Israeli Apartheid Week in an attempt to raise awareness of Israel’s “apartheid policies over the Palestinian people”.

However, Jewish students and organisations have slammed the campaign for being “hostile”, “threatening”, and “intimidating”.

Students at universities from Oxford to Edinburgh organised panels, film screenings, lectures and creative demonstrations as part of the week, which is in its 12th year.

The Israeli Apartheid Week campaign seeks to grow support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). BDS advocates putting economic and political pressure on Israel in an attempt to end what many see as an Israeli-enforced apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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Cambridge University activists pretend to be Palestinians at a mock Israeli checkpoint

At Cambridge University, Palestinian supporters and sympathisers set up a mock Israeli military checkpoint. Students at the Sidgwick lecture site dressed in khaki uniforms and held fake guns as they pretended to be members of the Israeli Defense Forces. Students acting the role of Palestinians, meanwhile, were seen kneeling on the floor with their hands behind their backs.

“By recreating a checkpoint in the centre of the university we wanted to reach out to people who might not be familiar with the situation and might not have given much thought to it,” Cambridge University Palestine Society told HuffPost UK.

In April 2015 there were 96 fixed checkpoints situated in the West Bank, as well as hundreds of surprise checkpoints.

Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem says on its website Palestinians that face “prolonged checks and searches, and humiliating treatment by soldiers” at such checkpoints.

Leeds University joined Cambridge in setting up a mock military checkpoint on their university campus. Ellen Johnson, a second-year student at Leeds, said that she felt threatened by the action.

“They had the Israeli flag on their armbands,” she told HuffPost UK. “Immediately when I saw that I thought of a swastika, because during the Holocaust German soldiers wore swastikas on their armbands.

“The Israeli flag is a great symbol for me. So when I see it on an armband it is very upsetting. The Star of David is a Jewish symbol, and so although many Jews aren’t Zionists, they would still identify with that flag,” the 19-year-old said.

Johnson, who is an active member of Leeds University Jewish Society, accused the students’ union of being biased towards Palestinian supporters: “We are always silent. They are allowed to do more than us. The union could do more to support us.”

A Leeds University Union spokesperson said: “As a member-led students’ union we remain committed to supporting and representing all our students equally and would never lend increased support or sympathies to one student group over another.”

In London, SOAS University erected a wall on campus to replicate Israel’s so-called “separation barrier”. The wall was placed outside the university, and had phrases such as “illegal under international law” and “cutting people off from schools, hospitals, food, water” spray-painted on it.

Upon completion, the Israeli barrier will be about 700km long, and will separate parts of the West Bank from Israel. Israel insists the barrier is needed for security reasons, but Palestinian activists compare the barrier to the Berlin Wall, as the checkpoints along the wall severely restrict the movement of Palestinians.

The restriction on movement for Palestinian people and vehicles meant that between 2000 and 2006, 68 Palestinian women gave birth at a checkpoint. 35 of these women miscarried, and five died in childbirth.

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The Israeli separation wall in Bethlehem

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said there were better and more helpful ways to debate the Israel-Palestine conflict than the demonstrations and events put on by Israeli Apartheid Week.

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