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Kneejerk reaction to mock eviction notices rooted in privilege and denial

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
Mock eviction notice posted on student dorm rooms at the University of Michigan. (Photo: @krisstinaa_xo/Twitter)

Mock eviction notice posted on student dorm rooms at the University of Michigan. (Photo: @krisstinaa_xo/Twitter)

Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) at the University of Michigan placed mock eviction notices under the rooms of hundreds of students living in University Housing [December 9]. The purpose of the action was to raise awareness about the arbitrary and capricious home evictions to which Israel subjects the Palestinians on a daily basis, particularly against those Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.

During the tabling event SAFE hosted following the Mock Eviction action, members engaged with the campus community and listened to students’ reactions. The most frequently asked question was, “But why couldn’t you have just showed a film? Or made a poster? I mean, you know you offended people, right?”

These people missed the point. So, let us break it down for you.

We live in a world where activism is institutionalized: where it is cool, it is hip, and its effect is limited. Activism today is more about who you are and what you claim, than what you actually do to change the systems you allegedly oppose. Don’t get me wrong; SAFE shows films ALL of the time. But how many of you who asked these questions have ever showed up to these film screenings? How many of you know about the dire situation on the ground in Palestine? That Palestinian children leave their homes in the morning for school only to return a pile of rubble at the end of the day? That as “peace talks” continue, illegal Israeli settlements expand exponentially? You may not have known before, but you and a growing portion of our student body now do. And if you did know, what are you doing to stop these crimes against humanity?

A film preaches to the choir, and the choir is already aware that we are complicit in gross human rights violations as our tuition dollars are invested in corporations that profit off of housing demolitions, and an Israeli Apartheid scheme that distinguishes between people living under its control based off of religious and ethnic identity. Now let’s address your concerns.

You felt attacked? “Triggered”? And vulnerable? Of course you did. Housing demolitions are nothing to joke about, and we’d appreciate it if you didn’t devalue the everyday experiences of Palestinians whose dignity is stripped when their livelihood is illegally snatched away and destroyed forever. This was not about you.

Your discomfort comes from the fact that we have broken down the walls of denial that you have been coddled within your whole lives. You have been raised in a world that institutionalizes racism, oppresses the voices of minorities, and sanitizes activism to an ‘acceptable’ level. We will not apologize for taking an active stance against the neoliberal times we live in which dictate these norms. Your fears are insignificant compared to the trauma of Palestinians whose experiences were paralleled on campus today, and additionally, they scream privilege.

It is reassuring to know that you and your Zionist comrades have your ‘safe spaces’ on campus (Hillel) to validate each other’s insecurities after events like these. Dare we ask if the majority of you even received an eviction notice? What about the Palestinians and solidarity activists on campus who barely feel safe enough to stand up for their rights and political opinions out of fear that we will be attacked and our academic careers destroyed? Where are our “safe spaces”?

We would also like to comment on the peculiar nature of your incredulous concern toward the distribution of fliers in the dorms. Why did a piece of paper, clearly marked as political satire, rile you up so intensely? You don’t hesitate to recycle or trash the thousands of other advertisements you are subjected to daily. Why didn’t you just dispose of the notice like you would any other flier? You were not singled out, nor were your living quarters demolished. You were not even considered because, again, this was not about you. You have the fortunate luck of not being a Palestinian living in his or her indigenous lands while being overpowered by a colonial force and an illegal occupation. Count your blessings and your privilege.

This campaign was about complicity: yours and ours. We strongly support divestment at the University of Michigan so that we might be proud of the social justice and moral conscience in which our University supposedly takes prides. What we propose is morally responsible investment, so that we may all never again have to debate about where our University invests its money and in which atrocities it is complicit. Divesting from socially irresponsible companies is a step in the right direction if the University of Michigan sincerely seeks to improve campus climate, uphold its morals, and invigorate its students from selfish individualism and apathy to academic excellence and global awareness.

Samia Ayyash
About Samia Ayyash and Brandon Baxter

Samia Ayyash and Brandon Baxter.

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22 Responses

  1. Krauss
    Krauss
    December 15, 2013, 12:33 pm

    These mock notices are great. They remind people in a visceral way what they, as taxpayers, are helping underwrite. Let the bigots scream all they want; we must continue regardless.

  2. Blaine Coleman
    Blaine Coleman
    December 15, 2013, 2:01 pm

    Thank you!

  3. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    December 15, 2013, 3:19 pm

    So important message: “You have the fortunate luck of not being a Palestinian living in his or her indigenous lands while being overpowered by a colonial force and an illegal occupation. Count your blessings and your privilege.”

    So important message: “This was not about you (alone)” (to Jewish folks uncomfortable with the very visceral pro-Palestine message.

    Other so important message: “This campaign was about complicity: yours and ours.”

    This message was about “us”. All of us. POGO: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

    Palestine. Climate change. World overpopulation. All of the so many problems.

  4. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    December 15, 2013, 3:37 pm

    Your discomfort comes from the fact that we have broken down the walls of denial that you have been coddled within your whole lives. You have been raised in a world that institutionalizes racism, oppresses the voices of minorities, and sanitizes activism to an ‘acceptable’ level. […] Your fears are insignificant compared to the trauma of Palestinians […], and additionally, they scream privilege. It is reassuring to know that you and your Zionist comrades have your ‘safe spaces’ on campus (Hillel) to validate each other’s insecurities after events like these.

    Wow! I am speechless. This article is full of wide generalizations and accusations against innocent students, who simply were unaware of a particular crime in a particular foreign country. The authors simply assume that all students who received these mock eviction notices are Zionists from wealthy families.

    This campaign was about complicity: yours and ours.

    Nope. We are not complicit. Our governments are complicit. They support Israel’s crimes against the will of the people. Accusing unaware young people of complicity just because they do not know about every single crime that happens on this planet is majorly unfair. Making unfair accusations and telling people that their concerns don’t matter is NOT how you win new allies.
    The mock eviction notices were a great idea to raise awareness. However, the content and tone of this article just totally pisses off potential future allies and drives them into the arms of the Zionists.

    • readyokaygo
      readyokaygo
      December 16, 2013, 12:16 am

      I don’t think you understood our argument, and I’m not sure why you took so much offense to it. We are responding to those who felt, “threatened”, “attacked”, “intimidated”, “unsafe”, “triggered”, or what have you, because of a piece of paper that told about human rights’ abuses. The only students who are responding in this reactionary nature are pro-Israel students, and it is not because they actually feel this way (indeed, most of them are upper classmen who didn’t even receive a notice), but because they couldn’t control this situation. The pro-Israel agenda in this country relies on censorship, and since they were unable to do that, they resorted to personal attacks in order to delegitimize the direct action: they are making it about them and their feelings.

      Americans are complicit in human rights’ abuses abroad (not just Palestine), especially students and faculty at a university whose investments support corporations profiting off of occupation (our tuition dollars arguably are part of this exchange of capital). Once you are aware of injustice, “you cannot be neutral on a moving train.” We are arguing that students should hold their university accountable and force them to invest in ethical companies.

      Do you know about privilege discourse? If you are white, you are privileged over people who are not white. If you are a male, you are privileged over females. If you live in the West, you are privileged over people the West has colonized and conquered for centuries. The University of Michigan is the most expensive public university in the United States, and one of the most expensive in the world. Students at this university are privileged. That is not to say that some haven’t or can’t experience oppression, but it means that students here are currently in a place where they hold privilege over much of the world. To take an event about flagrant human rights abuses and make it about your feelings is a denial of that privilege.

      • Sumud
        Sumud
        December 16, 2013, 11:12 am

        Succinct third paragraph there readyokaygo.

    • Daniel Rich
      Daniel Rich
      December 16, 2013, 2:15 am

      @ German Lefty,

      You don’t have to answer this question [but I am curious, though]: do you remember at what age you became aware of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict [in all its horrendous forms]?

      P.S. when will you turn the flag back up again?

  5. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    December 15, 2013, 3:52 pm

    You have the fortunate luck of not being a Palestinian living in his or her indigenous lands while being overpowered by a colonial force and an illegal occupation. Count your blessings and your privilege.

    That’s simply not true. Human rights are not a privilege. Having my human rights respected is not a privilege. It is the normal state and a minimum requirement. Just because Palestinians are denied this minimum requirement doesn’t mean that I am privileged.

    • American
      American
      December 16, 2013, 6:21 pm

      ‘doesn’t mean that I am privileged.”…German Lefty

      Actually it does. You are privilaged in the sense that your human rights being respected was secured ‘for you’ by someone else, at some time in history.
      In most nations today where human rights are respected the current populations didnt secure it for themselves, someone before them fought and paid for what they enjoy today.
      The Palestines *of today* are fighting for theirs, you arent and dont have to fight for yours—I call that privilaged…..courtesy of those who came before you.

  6. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    December 15, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Question: Why is it not possible anymore to click on a user name and see all of the user’s comments? That sucks. I found it a very useful feature.

  7. just
    just
    December 15, 2013, 5:05 pm

    A HUGE standing ovation and hurrah!

    Elegant and powerful– hope this spreads to other campuses nationwide…Capitol Hill offices would be extra nice too — the temporary homes of the Pres and VP as well.

  8. RoHa
    RoHa
    December 15, 2013, 10:30 pm

    “based off of religious and ethnic identity”

    Surely you mean “based on religious and ethnic identity”!

    “Based” means “on a base”. Statues stand on bases. Soldiers live on bases. (Since this sort of base is a place, sometimes we say “in the base”.) When the concept is used metaphorically, the same prepositions apply.

    “corporations that profit off of housing demolitions”

    That should be “corporations that profit from housing demolitions”

    “Off of” is a nasty construction. In the vast majority of cases, “off” or “from” (depending on context) should be used instead.

  9. Freija
    Freija
    December 15, 2013, 11:24 pm

    to German Lefty
    You missed the message. It is about AWARENESS of the arbitrary home evictions
    to which Palestinians are subjected on a daily basis by the occupation force.
    Human Rights are a privilege in the ‘democratic state of Israel’. Just look with the eyes of a Palestinian in the land of Apartheid, you would not be so self rightous. Do not forget, that we are all Palestinians as long as this shameful human situation persists.

    • just
      just
      December 16, 2013, 8:01 am

      Exactly correct. Many, many thanks to you Freija.

    • eljay
      eljay
      December 16, 2013, 8:17 am

      >> Do not forget, that we are all Palestinians as long as this shameful human situation persists.

      I’m not. :-)

      • American
        American
        December 16, 2013, 6:12 pm

        eljay says:
        December 16, 2013 at 8:17 am
        >> Do not forget, that we are all Palestinians as long as this shameful human situation persists.

        I’m not. :-)>>>>>>>>

        Except by an ‘accident of birth’ you could be.
        Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

      • eljay
        eljay
        December 19, 2013, 5:06 am

        >> Except by an ‘accident of birth’ you could be.

        True. But by accident of birth I could also be a Zionist Jew. But you won’t catch me saying (or writing) “Do not forget, that we are all the Jewish people as long as this shameful human situation of denying us our rightful homeland – the Land of Israel – persists.” ;-)

  10. Citizen
    Citizen
    December 16, 2013, 6:28 am

    I agree the fake notice is effective–getting a notice of eviction is frightening, even if the receiver quickly realizes it’s fake. Those seconds of fright combine with the Palestinian daily plight.

    Speaking of rocking the boat, loohs like the Reform Jewish Establishment here in USA is starting to really feel the impact of rising criticism of Israel and US enabler; their operative word these days is the E word, “engagement.” http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/routine-emergencies/.premium-1.563476

  11. JLWarner
    JLWarner
    December 16, 2013, 5:48 pm

    I guess I am thick, but I still do not understand why anyone would be offended. Being offended implies that a person took the mock eviction notice as a personal affront. I just don’t see that.

    Given that the mock eviction notices essentially called out Israel as violating human rights, I can see someone who closely identifies with Israel feeling under attack. But not offended.

    Maybe it is just that people use the wrong word and they really mean under attack.

    I can see how someone who closely identifies with Israel would take the mock eviction notice which essentially accuses Israel of violation of human rights

  12. American
    American
    December 16, 2013, 6:33 pm

    ”The most frequently asked question was, “But why couldn’t you have just showed a film? Or made a poster? I mean, you know you offended people, right?”>>>>

    You’re offended!…..you are offended?
    What are you people, some kind of morons?
    WE are OFFENDED by YOU supporting the crimes of your fellow Jews.
    So dont come around here any more with your sissie whinning about being offended.

    Would have been my reply.

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