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.