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.1
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