Mock evictions demonstrate Palestinians’ life experience
Last Sunday night, Oct. 6, Students for Justice in Palestine board members printed mock eviction notices and distributed them in residence halls at Rutgers-New Brunswick. This action was intended to call attention to the systematic demolition of the homes of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israel. Since 1967, approximately 27,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel, as estimated by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The facts about Palestinian home demolitions included on the mock eviction notices are all true and substantiated by human rights organizations, as well as international bodies such as the United Nations and International Court of Justice.
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.
The fake eviction notices were just that — fake. The notices clearly stated the eviction was not real and was authored by SJP, saying “We thank you for taking the time to read this mock eviction notice and would like to invite you to find out more information.”
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. The First Amendment protects our right to free speech at a public university — especially speech about one of the most urgent international human rights issues of our time. This is a college campus, the quintessential marketplace of ideas, where vigorous debate about serious problems is part of the educational experience. Free speech is sometimes controversial and upsetting to some — it would be worthless if it were not. But as was recently noted by the U.S. Department of Education in dismissing complaints against campuses like Rutgers alleging that pro-Palestinian activism creates a hostile environment for Jewish students, “In the university environment, exposure to robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student may experience.”
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.
This commentary was submitted on behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers University.