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Oberlin students highlight plight of Palestinian political prisoners with week-long installation

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Palestinian solidarity activists throughout the US commemorated Israeli Apartheid Week in early March. While many organized marches and demonstrations, activists at Oberlin College, a small liberal arts school in Oberlin, Ohio, partook in the week of action a bit more creatively.

Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine (SFP) created a giant rock installation

Oberlin SFP students moving the stones.

Oberlin SFP students moving the stones.

in their university’s library, in order to raise awareness about the imprisonment of Lina Khattab, a teenage Palestinian college student and dancer in the prominent El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe who was arrested in December 2014 on charges of “throwing stones” and “participating in an unlawful demonstration.”


SFP explained that the rocks “symbolize[d] the resistance embodied by Khattab and other Palestinians living under occupation.” Jacob Ertel, a student activist, told Mondoweiss that, first and foremost, the installation was meant to be pedagogical in nature, lamenting that “many students may unfortunately be oblivious to” the oppression Palestinians endure.

Beyond that, however, Ertel said that they “wanted to demonstrate, on a visceral level, the ridiculousness of what Khattab was actually sentenced for: throwing rocks. The pile of stones forces the viewer reckon with the power imbalance inherent in the occupation; there’s no way to normalize it.”

The students transported the rocks in the back of a car, shoveled them into a wheelbarrow, and wheeled them into the campus library. The exhibition was installed on 9 March, and remained up for a week. SFP prefaced the installation with a letter to the editor in their student newspaper, in which they draw attention to the plight of Palestinian political prisoners such as Khattab and Rasmea Odeh, speak about Israeli Apartheid Week, and call for divestment from corporations complicit in human rights violations.

A large sign accompanied the pile of stones, reading

This stone pile commemorates Lina Khattab, an 18-year-old Palestinian university student. Khattab was arrested on Dec. 13th by Israeli troops on the charges of throwing stones and “participating in an unlawful demonstration.” She and other students had been celebrating the 47th anniversary of the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and demonstrating in support of Palestinian political prisoners. On Feb. 16th, Khattab was sentenced by an Israeli military court to 6 months in prison and 3 years on probation, and fined $1,500. She is currently incarcerated in HaSharon Prison in Israel. As we continue to remember March 4th, to recognize Israeli Apartheid Week, and to celebrate International Working Women’s Day, we honor the actions of Khattab and countless others who disrupt the vicious regime of occupation and who tirelessly fight for Palestinian liberation.

Honoring Palestinian Women

Mondoweiss also spoke with Victoria Velasco, a fellow SFP organizer. “It’s important for Palestine solidarity groups to draw attention to violence against Palestinian women such as Lina Khattab and Rasmea Odeh,” she said. “While general news regarding Palestinian resistance is systemically silenced in US mainstream media, that of women is particularly ignored even within Palestine solidarity circles.”

“On the campus of our elite liberal arts college, students are reluctant to engage with anything that reminds them of their own complicity in state violence—whether in the US or elsewhere,” Velasco continued. “The whitewashed celebration of the role of women in the perpetuation of imperialist projects—as seen in the glorification of female IDF soldiers on International Women’s Day—demonstrates a violent censure and denunciation of resistance carried out by women who are most vulnerable to state violence.”

“The goal of this installation is to call attention to the repression of Palestinian women’s resistance and to condemn the gendered punishment of women who struggle against the occupation,” she explained. “We honor Khattab’s contributions to the Palestinian fight for freedom and refuse to remain complicit in the unjust imprisonment, sexual abuse, and torture experienced by most Palestinian political prisoners.”

Inside the Israeli Prison System

The students also handed out pamphlets with further information about Khattab and Palestinian political prisoners. A digital copy is embedded below.




Khattab, like many detainees, has been tortured while in Israeli custody. She says she has endured “extreme beatings” by Israeli soldiers, and authorities have constantly subjected her to extreme cold temperatures and sleep deprivation. When her mother visited her, she noticed her daughter had lost a lot of weight.

That harsh conditions such as these are widespread in the Israeli prison system is well-documented. The UN Committee on the Rights of Children (CRC), in its 2013 review of Israel’s child rights record, expressed “its deepest concern about the reported practice of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested, prosecuted and detained by the military and the police, and about the State party’s failure to end these practices in spite of repeated concerns expressed by treaty bodies.”

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has detailed Israel’s systematic torture of detained Palestinian children. The organization indicates that interrogators have regularly “threatened children with beatings, isolation, torturing their fathers and raping their mothers and sisters; children were denied food for dozens of hours unless they confessed to the charges against them.”

The Palestinian Prisoners Club also found that 40% of Palestinian children arrested in Jerusalem had been sexually abused.

20 more Palestinian women and girls as young as 14 have been detained with Khattab in HaSharon prison.

Meanwhile, according to Israeli courts’ own data, 99.74% of cases in Israel’s military courts in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories end in a conviction. In late 2014, Israeli ministers passed legislation that calls for sentencing Palestinian youth who throw stones to up to 20 years in prison, even if the court could not prove that the stone-throwers intended to damage property or harm others.

Sahar Francis, Director of Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, told The Electronic Intifada that he believes Israel is severely punishing Khattab and “using her case in order to frighten students from being involved in activism.”

Other Creative Actions

Oberlin SFP has a history of similarly creative actions. In September 2014, just weeks after students returned from summer break, the students marked the International Day of Action on College Campuses by creating an enormous “2,133 black flags, 2,133 Palestinians dead, do not be silent” installation, planting a small black flag for every Palestinian killed in Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza, known as “Operation Protective Edge.”

Leading human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused Israel of committing war crimes in this 51-day assault, and an independent investigation conducted by leading medical and scientific experts found Israel deliberately targeted civilians with extremely violent tactics.


In front of the thousands of flags, students hung a banner reading “This is not a vigil. This is a call to action. It is a recognition of our complicity in these acts of violence. It is a refusal to be silent.” The activists also asked onlookers to sign their online petition, demanding an administrative response to an Oberlin student divestment resolution.

Then, as now, the students said they saw a mostly positive response from fellow students and from the local community.

Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer based in New York City. His work has been featured in a variety of publications. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton. His website is

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27 Responses

  1. hophmi on March 17, 2015, 12:10 pm

    They should be more honest. They should throw the rocks at passersby and see whether they get arrested.

    • just on March 17, 2015, 5:11 pm

      Oberlin students aren’t subject to a brutal & violent Occupation marked by state-sponsored terrorism. Why would they “throw rocks at passersby”?

      You “should be more honest”.

    • oldgeezer on March 17, 2015, 5:18 pm

      Or even more honest and have someone randomly imprisoned and tortured or shot dead while not doing anything other than existing under the yoke of a racist state.

    • talknic on March 17, 2015, 6:00 pm

      @ hophmi
      “They should be more honest. They should throw the rocks at passersby and see whether they get arrested”

      You should be more honest hophmi. Oberlin, Ohio is not under occupation. There are no IDF passing by.

      Why is it hophmi and co insist on jumping feet first into their mouths?

      • Mooser on March 17, 2015, 7:36 pm

        “Why is it hophmi and co insist on jumping feet first into their mouths?”

        I will never follow them around the “no leash ” area. They step in every pile.

        I just don’t get it. Is it strictly reflexive for Hophmi to snap out a feeble Hasbara line, or does he think ‘This time they will understand, this time they will see the light!’ ?
        Beats me.

      • Hady on March 18, 2015, 3:29 pm

        Hi, thanks to the students at Oberlin for their work at raising consciousness on these important issues. It’s very important, honest, and strong work. However, it’s important as well, when reading these comments, to point out an error that many Americans make in this struggle. This error is that we in the United States are not ONLY complicit in what happens to Palestinians. We are also complicit in the current colonial occupation that continues to happen in this country. There are still Indigenous people here, and we are still settlers. This is not a blurry issue to Indigenous activists but continues to be quite blurry for others.
        So, when you say Oberlin Ohio is not under Occupation, this is not accurate. It is like an Israel saying that Tel Aviv is not under Occupation.
        In the United States, it is a more sophisticated system of oppression, whereas in Israel it is in your face all day every day.
        This error, which continues to be played out by most Palestinian solidarity activists in the United States, calls for people to care about Palestinians “over there” who are going through the same thing Indigenous people here are going through. A brutal and violent occupation marked by State-sponsored terrorism is exactly what we have going on here.
        This error is very difficult because, how can people in the United States be expected to care about Palestinians when they continue to ignore this country’s history, which is identical to Israel’s (only worse…. boarding schools, etc etc) and when they continue to ignore the Indigenous peoples of this Land, who continue to struggle under extreme circumstances and with extreme dignity despite all the pressures.
        We have to keep our humanity and not play into these colonial roles. We are in the heart of the struggle here and though it is difficult to face all the history and the colonization inside of ourselves on its various levels, this is the work we have to do. We have to face this brutal government, and we have to repair and rebuild the relationships among ourselves as people.
        Again thank you to these students for your work and your voices. I hope my words reach some of you, and you understand both what we are up against, and your important role in this.

        Anonymous Hady

      • talknic on March 19, 2015, 10:53 pm

        @ Hady ” .. when you say Oberlin Ohio is not under Occupation, this is not accurate”

        America’s indigenous peoples have full citizenship and the right to vote.

        “It is like an Israel saying that Tel Aviv is not under Occupation”

        Tel Aviv is within the boundaries proclaimed by the Israeli government and recognized as Israeli

      • eljay on March 20, 2015, 7:47 am

        || Hady: This error, which continues to be played out by most Palestinian solidarity activists in the United States, calls for people to care about Palestinians “over there” who are going through the same thing Indigenous people here are going through. ||

        If one cares about justice, accountability and equality, universally and consistently applied, one can care about what goes on “over there” as well as what goes on “over here”.

      • Hady on March 20, 2015, 9:16 pm

        @eljay: I totally agree. Completely. It’s just extremely important to do both, and to understand them as intrinsically connected. Many people in the US who support Palestine are calling for people to do something for Palestinians which even they themselves (as compassionate people) are not doing with/for Indigenous people here. We have to broaden this work. It is far more challenging and relevant work to recognize in ourselves as United States people, our colonial issues, than to denounce Israelis for theirs…..

        @talknic: no comment.

      • Mooser on March 20, 2015, 10:05 pm

        “It is far more challenging and relevant work to recognize in ourselves as United States people, our colonial issues, than to denounce Israelis for theirs…..”

        As bad as ours may be, I don’t remember any military assaults on Native American reservation areas lately. I’m sure over 2,000 people were killed I would have heard about it.

      • Mooser on March 20, 2015, 10:13 pm

        Oh my, we are getting a subtle shift here, from the colonial sins of America being akin to those of Israel, to those colonial sins being an excuse for Israel.

      • Hady on March 20, 2015, 10:39 pm

        @Mooser: Not at all. No subtle shift. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. The U.S. does not excuse Israel: it creates Israel. The histories are identical, one does not excuse the other, both need to be addressed in a clear and real way. People in the U.S. would do well to see the way colonization is in them, and it is deep in us.
        Seeing the way you, for example, react to me pointing this out is exactly identical to the way Israelis react to being called out for their crimes, apathy, egotism, self-interest at the expense of others, etc, etc. People in the United States need to deal with the colonialism in our history, which is still present in myriad ways, and with the way this colonialism corrupts and poisons our humanity.
        You say 2,000 Indigenous people in the U.S. have not been murdered in one fell swoop recently. I agree. I also note the many many many ways that genocide is occurring against them in present. You can see this in the racism, the refusal of people here to think about or care about the impacts very brutal history has on people, the environmental degradation of extractive companies on reservations, the continuing and renewed desecration of many sacred sites, the indifference and selfishness of many Americans towards them and their culture and Land, the way colonial Tribal governments have been imposed on them to keep them from being able to live in an authentic way, the way their spirituality was outlawed until the 1970s and is still mocked by many today, the way no one has ever dealt with or taken responsibility or apologized for uncountable massacres against innocent millions of families in order to steal and then rape their Land……. Violence as we know takes many forms. I do not mention physical violence, though of course it is also still happening. I do not mention the rapes of Indigenous women which are not being prosecuted. I mention all these other ways so that you can see a fuller picture of the ugliness that so many Americans “just want to bury.” But which cannot be buried.
        Here we are. These are the realities we have to face. Those who are willing.

      • Mooser on March 21, 2015, 6:56 pm

        Hady, I like you. You are raising whataboutery to a new level. Almost an art form.

    • Kris on March 17, 2015, 8:54 pm

      @hophmi: “They should be more honest. They should throw the rocks at passersby and see whether they get arrested.”

      Maybe Hillel, if there’s a chapter at Oberlin, could be more honest in the same way: They could have their Zionist Jewish students assault the other Obies, steal their stuff, and break their legs, and see whether their behavior is tolerated.

      • just on March 17, 2015, 9:00 pm

        You make a good point…hophmi’s comment is ludicrous and inflammatory.

        In short, it’s stupid.

      • Mooser on March 18, 2015, 6:49 pm

        “You make a good point…hophmi’s comment is ludicrous and inflammatory.”

        Is it a comment, or is it more a manifestation of a sort of Zionist Tourette’s? I can never figure it out. Who wants to appear the stupid?

  2. Kris on March 17, 2015, 12:40 pm

    Thank you for this, Ben Norton, great story! I love Oberlin!

  3. just on March 17, 2015, 1:01 pm

    “Oberlin College, a small liberal arts school in Oberlin, Ohio”

    It may be ‘small’, but these actions are the actions of a giant. It is a ‘liberal arts school’, and it is one marked by the best of humanity.

    “first and foremost, the installation was meant to be pedagogical in nature, lamenting that “many students may unfortunately be oblivious to” the oppression Palestinians endure.”

    A pedagogical endeavor trumps forceful proselytism nearly every time. Kudos. I hope that truthful, fact- based conversations emerge.

    I am grateful that these students of SFP, and those receptive of their message, are part of my universe.

    Thank you, Ben.

    • lysias on March 17, 2015, 3:50 pm

      Oberlin College was a center of the abolitionist movement.

  4. eljay on March 17, 2015, 1:23 pm

    Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine (SFP) created a giant rock installation …

    Some other displays that could be created (if they haven’t been already):

    – A chart depicting the # of Israeli nuclear weapons vs. a chart depicting the # of Palestinian nuclear weapons

    – A chart containing counts of Israeli warplanes, warships, drones and assorted military vehicles vs. a chart containing counts of Palestinian warplanes, warships, drones and assorted military vehicles

    – A map showing the geographic region of Palestine stolen, occupied and colonized by Israel vs. a map showing the geographic region of Israel stolen, occupied and colonized by Palestine

    – A pile of miniature coffins equalling the # of Palestinians killed by Israel vs. a pile of miniature coffins equalling the # of Israelis killed by Palestine

    – A pile of walking sticks equalling the # of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homes and lands by Israel vs. a pile of walking sticks equalling the # of Israelis ethnically cleansed from their homes and lands by the Palestine

  5. Pixel on March 17, 2015, 4:22 pm

    Ben, thanks for info and the pic.

    Creativity is always a PLUS!

    Good on them and good on Oberlin for allowing loose rocks in their library!

  6. bryan on March 19, 2015, 6:20 am

    Strange is it not that Palestine, which has been competing in the Summer Olympics since 1996, has so far not picked up even a bronze medal at the shot put, when so many of its young athletes train so assiduously throughout the West Bank, hurling through the air any object that comes to hand. Strange also that the greatest hero in Israeli history is a young man who supposedly defeated his heavily armed and monstrous oppressor solely by unleashing a well-aimed stone, whereas the greatest villains of current Israeli society are the children, young men and young women, who bravely attack their heavily armed and monstrous oppressors, armed merely with stones. Bizarre, incomprehensible, contradictory – like so many issues relating to Palestine.

  7. Philip Munger on March 20, 2015, 1:26 am

    I’m an “Obie.” I was a “Connie” (for the Conservatory), rather than a “Collie” (for the College). I was only there for my freshman, year, as I left to serve in the US Army in 1966.

    At the time, the Ivy League schools all had Jewish quotas. Oberlin did not. Every night, I sat at a round dinner table (dressed in sports coat and tie) with a very mixed group of American and foreign kids. I was far more conservative than 90% of my classmates. I was also from a far less advantaged economic background than over 2/3 of the other students.

    Oberlin was way ahead of its time in terms of admitting blacks, women, Puerto Ricans, continental Latinos and Latinas, and Jews. One student in my dorm was a Saudi prince.

    At the time, I wrote awful poems about my feelings that the Obie students’ liberal and anti-war activism was either shortsighted or fake. I’ve changed my mind on that, through infrequent visits, and through observing students I’ve since seen pass through and graduate, and colleagues who have taught there.

    Glad to see these kids challenging ignorance and apathy on campus.

    • Mooser on April 5, 2015, 6:38 pm

      “At the time, I wrote awful poems about my feelings that the Obie students’ liberal and anti-war activism was either shortsighted or fake. I’ve changed my mind on that,”

      See? They weren’t such bad poems after all.

  8. just on March 21, 2015, 8:31 am

    They must be very afraid if a 550 page book has been published titled “The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel”! Here are some excerpts of Sorin’s article/review from behind the wall:

    “Academic boycott: free speech or sordid vilification of Israel?

    The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement is increasing its grip on U.S. campuses, especially in post-secondary education. A definitive new anthology sees it as outright discrimination.

    All states commit crimes, but only one state is pronounced immoral and fatally flawed. And only that one – the whole world over – is subject to cultural and academic boycotts: Israel. A case against an academic boycott of Israel might seem so easy to make that we’d hardly need more than a paragraph or two in which to do it. So why publish a 550-page book, including 25 essays by leading scholars and journalists, accompanied by 30 pages of documents? A good question without an obvious answer, until we discover in this impressive anthology that the American Studies Association (ASA) is not the only academic organization to have recently passed resolutions supporting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).
    The hijacked left

    Most of the presentations in “The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel” concentrate on the current situation in U.S. post-secondary education, including its ancillary academic associations – arenas populated by a disproportionate number of left-leaning professors. And as Baruch College’s Prof. Mitchell Cohen complains in “Anti-Semitism and the Left that Never Learns,” the designation “left” has been “hijacked” by those who disingenuously self-exonerate by insisting that they are anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic.
    The hijacked left is led intellectually by Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, who opts for a “one-state solution” or two states, each with a Palestinian majority made up in the main of returning refugees. What happens to the inevitable Jewish-Israeli minority seems to be none of his concern.

    Barghouti is described persuasively in several essays as someone who castigates, but completely fails to understand academic freedom. He sees it only as part of a “liberal hegemony” that constrains the moral obligations of scholars to respond to situations of serious violations of human rights. For him, academic freedom is merely a cultural fetish, one to be casually disregarded when necessary to achieve social justice. Ironically, even as Barghouti campaigns actively for a worldwide academic boycott of Israel, he is studying at Tel Aviv University in pursuit of a PhD. In response to a petition urging his expulsion, signed by 184,000 people, the university, citing the principle of academic freedom, refused to act against Barghouti.

    Another outspoken advocate and intellectual guru for the pro-academic boycott movement is Judith Butler, currently a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace. In perhaps the most important essay in the book, Cary Nelson deconstructs what he calls Butler’s “idealist fantasy of historical possibility.” Butler seems to believe that Jewish Israelis would willingly give up their right to national self-expression in order to effectuate a nonviolent political solution to the festering, century-old problem of Jewish-Arab relations.

    Not only is this magical thinking, it is also a recipe for the endless and uninterrupted violence Butler claims to be against. Neither Palestinians nor Jewish Israelis will relinquish their nationalism without a fight. Moreover, though she says she has been quoted “out of context,” Butler has described violence-prone Hamas and Hezbollah as “social movements that are progressive” and “part of the global left.”

    In other slippery pronouncements, as Russell Berman shows in “The Boycott as an Infringement on Academic Culture,” Butler – in order to “prove” she is not against academic freedom – makes an egregiously false distinction between boycotting educational institutions, which is legitimate in her eyes, and boycotting individual scholars, which is not. Since professors and researchers necessarily depend on their institutions for funding, there is no distinction of the type Butler claims.
    Perhaps “The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel” won’t help those defending an anti-boycott stance in the face of professors and students critical of Israel who shout slogans and rely on distorted history. However, the book is essential for those who want to understand in some detail why an academic boycott of Israel is outright discrimination, and why it threatens not only Israeli professors and scholars, but the very reason for universities and the idea of free speech itself.

    Gerald Sorin is distinguished professor of American and Jewish Studies at SUNY New Paltz. His most recent book is “Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane.””

    • RoHa on March 21, 2015, 8:50 am

      550 pages of academic prose! That’ll show ’em.

      Useless. Not even other academics will read that.

      Though I suppose such a thick book could be used for argumentum ad baculum .

      • just on March 21, 2015, 10:45 am

        Bang on!

        (you’re so clever, RoHa…)

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