Rutgers roiled by fake eviction notices describing demolition of 25,000 Palestinian houses

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Mock eviction notice, published in the Targum, courtesy of Syjil Ashraf
Mock eviction notice, published in the Targum, courtesy of Syjil Ashraf

One of the most creative actions that students who urge justice in Israel and Palestine have developed is putting mock eviction notices under dormitory doors so as to bring home to American students a daily reality in Palestine.

On October 6, Rutgers activists papered dormitories at the New Jersey university with the fake eviction notices, and there has been a backlash. The Daily Targum newspaper has to its great credit published one piece after another defending the practice and decrying it, with headlines like “Mock evictions demonstrate Palestinians’ life experience” to “Israel should not be attacked to promote Palestinian cause.”

In the latest piece, the Students for Justice in Palestine issued a statement calling on the Rutgers community to decry the injustice– evictions of Palestinians– and saying that their organization took care not to post the eviction notices at a Hillel dormitory where a lot of Jewish students live.

Typically, the opponents of the eviction notices have avoided the central issue: Are Palestinians evicted from their homes under occupation? Yes. The notices cite the demolitions of 25,000 Palestinian homes under occupation, displacing 160,000 people.

This has been the pattern when the eviction notices are issued, to say that they frighten students. The ADL, for instance, said that these notices intimidate Harvard students.

Here’s a selection of other reports in the Targum, since SJP struck on Sunday nine days ago.

First, a school official, receiving complaints about the eviction notices, rules that they violate a campus policy against students posting flyers without an organization’s name on them. And the Hillel is upset.

Andrew Getraer, executive director at Rutgers Hillel, [said,] “We had many students who came to us who were very upset when they received eviction notices, who felt harassed, who felt that they have been deceived and made to feel targeted and unsafe in their dorm rooms, and … We directed them to the appropriate deans… There were several students who filed complaints.”

Getraer said in some cases, Jewish students were targeted and explained how some students came to Hillel stating how they were the only student who received a flyer on their floor.

Junior Aviv Alter decried the eviction notices as fabrications and a form of harassment. Alter aims to give the real facts of the matter but does not touch on the question of evictions in Palestine today. Notice the Nakba denial, the quotations on “refugees”, and the emphasis on dialogue.

These fraudulent solicitations were used to frighten and intimidate students with the intention of invoking sympathy based on false and deliberately deceptive information. Rather than discuss the numerous University violations committed by this student organization, I would rather provide my fellow Rutgers students with an honest understanding of the true situation facing both Israelis and Palestinians….

Surrounding the time of the war, an estimated 500,000 Arabs who refused to recognize Israel fled to neighboring Arab countries who, with the exception of Jordan, denied citizenship to their Palestinian comrades. Many of these individuals and their descendants today are the Palestinian “refugees” that have been referred to in the past week….

The irony of the false accusations made against Israel in the past week is the fact that Israel has historically allowed more than 1.25 million Israeli-Arabs to live among Jewish Israelis and hold positions in the Israeli Parliament and Supreme Court. Additionally, Israel has also been the only nation in the world to offer land to create a Palestinian state. However, the repeated refusal of Palestinians to accept Israel’s offers has resulted in heightened tension and a murkier vision of real peace.

The situation in the Middle East is not ideal, and I am sure that you did not need me to tell you that. However, we cannot allow our dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs lead to fabricated, dishonest statements being spread as were earlier this week. As a proud pro-Israel and pro-peace Rutgers student, I recognize that truthful, open dialogue and discussion is the most powerful and meaningful form of communication.

Now here’s a letter from an official of the Hillel center, decrying the notices. Rabbi Esther Reed also ignores the issue of Palestinians being evicted from homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Sunday night, Oct. 6, very realistic “eviction notices” were placed under doors of student residence halls and apartment buildings at the University. They were so realistic, in fact, that many students were, at first, led to believe they were being evicted from their place of residence. The notice, a publicity stunt by Rutgers Students for Justice in Palestine, was distributed to spread propaganda, create confusion and to gain attention…

Respecting students’ rights to privacy and giving them the safe space necessary to be free from solicitation and imposition in their places of residence is not only a hallmark feature of our university but a necessary component to enable and foster the growth of inclusion and diversity within our community.

Making students feel unsafe in their homes is apparently part of the RSJP strategy, which also includes propagating half-truths, misstatements and historical inaccuracies. The fraudulent “eviction notice” is a de-facto example of this reprehensible agenda.

The other side also has something to say. Here’s a letter from John Lisowski, a senior majoring in chemistry, making the scientific argument that facts being facts, why shouldn’t students be exposed to them?

One note that can be made about the fliers is that they are very simple. The beginning is an attention-grabber, which tells the reader that he or she is being evicted. Next, there is a clarification that the notice is only a parody of actual events going on in Palestine. Finally, the flier concludes by inviting the reader to SJP. That’s about it. So where does the hate come in exactly? And why such a harsh backlash?…

The information provided on them is accurate and uncontested. It only takes a five-minute Google search to confirm that home demolition does in fact go on in Palestine. So why are facts offensive? Regardless of where you stand on the Israel/Palestine conflict, facts are facts. To describe the truth as “hate speech” is simply dishonest.

Another complaint was that the fliers make students feel uncomfortable, and students should be protected from this kind of speech. I consider this argument to be a patronizing insult to the maturity and integrity of college students. We don’t go to college so we can sit in a bubble where our views can never be challenged. We are here to be exposed to new ideas and new perspectives. In the real world, there is a tremendous diversity of opinions and beliefs out there, and not everyone is going to agree…

Yes, Israel does demolish Palestinian homes. That is indisputable. What critics of SJP’s campaign need to do is to clearly explain why Rutgers students ought to be sheltered from this fact.

SJP has issued a statement about the eviction notices that the Targum printed today. The eviction notices stated clearly that they were fake, house demolitions are part of a long pattern of forcing Palestinians from their homes, the Rutgers community has a right and a need to know about this, and the student group will not be silent. Also, notice SJP’s concern not to target Jewish students. Excerpts:

For more than 65 years, successive Israeli governments have used home demolitions to displace the native Palestinian population of the region in order to create and maintain a Jewish-majority state and to “Judaize” certain areas. In 1948, Israeli forces expelled approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes during the state’s creation, systematically destroying more than 400 Palestinian population centers in the process. Since 1967 and the start of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel has destroyed more than 27,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories. According to the United Nations, in the first nine months of 2013 alone, 862 Palestinians were made homeless by Israeli home demolitions. These facts about home demolitions, and those contained in the mock eviction notices, are all accurate and substantiated by internationally respected human rights organizations. Just a few weeks ago, both the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch condemned Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes, with the latter noting that it amounts to a “grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”…

We posted the notices under many doors on different floors of residence halls. We chose doors at random, aiming to maximize the number of people who would be viewing the notices, with one exception: We intentionally avoided the Hillel building and Les Turchin Chabad House, locations with many Jewish residents. This was done to avoid the possibility that Jewish students would feel that they were singled out…

This peaceful, quiet demonstration is not unprecedented. It originated with student activists at New York University and has spread to other schools across the country, including Harvard University, Yale University, San Diego State University and Florida Atlantic University. This action is part of our long-term mission to draw awareness to a human rights issue that affects the global community on social, psychological, humanitarian and economic levels.

The displaced Palestinian-Arab refugee population is the largest in the world, and forced evictions are one of the milder methods used to achieve this. It cannot be truthfully denied that for 65 years now, the Israeli government has oppressed and traumatized the Palestinian people by means of racial discrimination, ethnic cleansing, illegal settlement and colonization, forced military occupation, apartheid and more. Thousands of Palestinian men, women and children have been killed since the beginning of this conflict, and Palestinian refugees and their descendants number in the millions.

Rutgers University has a strong history of student protests and being the voice for those whose cries have fallen on deaf ears. We are proud to uphold this tradition that is fundamental to what it means to be a student at this university as well as a citizen of this nation….

Our completely fake notices caused no harm. It is Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes and confiscation of Palestinian land — which these notices were intended to highlight — that cause harm to millions. We hope those who received and read them were given more insight into the plight of the Palestinian people after being put in their shoes for just a few seconds.

We have faith the Rutgers community and administration will recognize our cause is important, not only to Palestinians, but also to the humanitarians in all of us. We ask for your support not only in our fundamental right to freedom of speech, but also in fighting for Palestinian liberty, justice, human rights and self-determination. Students for Justice in Palestine is proud to be at Rutgers University, and we should not and will not be silenced.

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“feel targeted and unsafe” How does that compare to what these Palestinian victims’ experience of a real, not imagined, loss of any kind of safety?

“We had many students who came to us who were very upset when they received eviction notices, who felt harassed, who felt that they have been deceived and made to feel targeted and unsafe in their dorm rooms, ”

Aw gee.Poor little dears made to feel uncomfortable.

Give them a few weeks in Palestinians shoes and see how they make out.

Thanks, Phil, for this outstanding reporting about a very important campus-level skirmish in the War of Ideas in the Middle East. It reminds me of Viet Nam era student protests from my youth, and restores faith in this current generation of students. Most importantly, it underscores the essential role of Mondoweiss in the discourse. Would it kill one of the MSM outlets to engage in such straight-forward reporting about a controversial campus topic, letting each… Read more »

Perhaps those troubled students would have preferred an ACQUISITION NOTICE instead: Dear non-Jews: We are terribly excited and pleased to inform you that your suites are scheduled for acquisition and incorporation into our supremacist…sorry, “democratic and Jewish Building” in the next three days. If you do not vacate these premises within this time frame, we will be forced to cleanse you from it and/or kill you, take the suites anyway, and invoice your families for… Read more »

The Daily Targum newspaper has to its great credit published one piece after another defending the practice and decrying it i agree, “to its great credit” with the exception you sited in this article, that of Aviv Alter (and for all i know possibly more), the daily targum should not be posting nakba denial without, at a minimum, some kind of qualifier. perpetuating the myth palestinians all ‘fled’ is a disservice to students. people need… Read more »