By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily News Editor
Published December 10, 2013
Students in six residence halls across campus woke up to eviction notices Tuesday morning.
The notices, which were satirical, were distributed by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality — a student organization that promotes human rights, social justice, self-determination and liberty for the Palestinian people — and other student activists to raise awareness and demand that the University divest from companies that support Israel and subsequently its eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
Some of the companies include Caterpillar, Inc, Northrup Grumman, Corp. and Hewlett-Packard.
The group passed out fliers in North Quad, West Quad, East Quad, Mary Markley, Helen Newberry and Betsy Barbour residence halls in the early hours of the morning, as well as in Mason Hall during the day.
SAFE’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions committee conceptualized the notices. Members of SAFE said they sought to highlight the “illegal eviction” of Palestinians and subsequent demolition of their homes. They said action is particularly crucial because the evictions are part of larger, systematic discriminatory acts against Palestinians that should be condemned by the United States, as well as the University.
Students at the University have petitioned administrators to divest from Israel for many years. The University’s Board of Regents has voted against divestment from Israel several times, including in 2000 and 2006.
LSA senior Zeinab Khalil, a member of the BDS committee and a Daily columnist, said SAFE wanted to draw attention to the Prawer Plan, a measure passed by Israel's legislature, the Knesset, which calls for the expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Negev desert in the south of Israel.
She added that SAFE members were not the only students involved in the event, but that people in a number of activist groups across campus took part.
Khalil said there has been tremendous support for the movement and its associated hashtag, #UMMockEviction, so far, especially from communities of color.
“We really want to get this discussion going on campus and not have it be silenced,” Khalil said. “It seems like the University doesn’t act until it’s forced to ... we decided to do something that speaks directly to the students.”
However, many students were offended by the event and the University has indicated the move violated the residence hall’s no-soliciting policy. University of Michigan Hillel sent out an e-mail to members recognizing that students reported feeling unsafe after the eviction notices were sent out, and said they had contacted University administrators.
Hillel held an event Tuesday evening where about 40 students gathered to share their concerns.
Hillel Executive Director Tilly Shames said Hillel’s event aimed to create a safe space where students could share how they felt impacted.
“The collective values of community and civil discourse were shattered by this incident,” Shames said.
In small group discussions, students revealed that they felt powerless after the flyers circulated in people’s residential spaces. LSA junior Rachel Klein, the Israel Programs Chair and an organizer of the event, noted that she felt caught off guard given the politically-charged nature of the controversy and that the timing during finals was intentional.
Khalil acknowledged that students had issues with the event, but said it was troublesome that the silencing of the movement was coming through the co-option of social justice words.
“Being triggered does not mean that you cannot be held accountable for how violence has affected Palestinians,” she said.
LSA senior Suha Najjar, a member of SAFE and a Palestinian American, said it seemed absurd that students would construe criticism against Israel as being anti-Semitic. She also pointed out that the fliers were clearly marked as fake.
She said the students need to be cognizant of the issues and the University needs to be held accountable for its actions.
“I don't think that Palestinians had the choice when their houses were being bulldozed by companies that benefitted from our tuition dollars,” Najjar said.
University Housing spokesman Peter Logan said the demonstration was in violation of University Housing’s policy, which prohibits handing out flyers and other types of marketing activities.
“The residence halls are actually private residences, and in the interest of preserving the sense of privacy and security for our residents, we don’t allow solicitation, even from recognized student organizations, not even from housing organizations,” Logan said.
The flyer was labeled “Department of Housing,” which is not the official name for University Housing. Because the letter also wasn’t explicitly labeled as being distributed by SAFE, Logan said he was concerned that the group was trying to impersonate University Housing.
“We weren’t really happy with them using our name to carry out their statement, per se,” Logan said, adding that the message upset some housing residents.
SAFE took responsibility for handing out flyers in a viewpoint in Tuesday’s edition of The Michigan Daily. Khalil said SAFE did not put its name on the flier because the group wanted to draw attention away from themselves and focus on the larger issue and the University’s involvement.
“It’s something that if you really want to make a statement, you have to work around the rules, bend the rules, to do what you can,” Khalil said.
She said the viewpoint allowed the group to take ownership and not hide from culpability.
Logan said University Housing has informed the SAFE executive board that they violated Housing policy and asked them to refrain from handing out flyers in the future. He added that University Housing does allow, with proper permission, for solicitation tables in the residence halls to help organizations reach out to residents.
Central Student Government began its Tuesday meeting by acknowledging the eviction notice and its effect on the campus community. LSA senior Molly Rosen, former vice speaker of the CSG Assembly, spoke on behalf of those “whose personal space was violated” when the notices were distributed throughout campus. Business junior Skyler Pursell, a current assembly representative and residential advisor, said he woke up to several residents who were startled by the fliers.
Linda Newman, the University’s director of Housing, and Laura Blake Jones, the University’s dean of students, also sent an e-mail to all housing residents explaining that University Housing did not sanction the eviction notices and apologizing for any shock they may have caused.
“We are sorry that the flyers caused shock, alarm, and other emotions among some residents,” the e-mail reads. “We do not condone any behavior that causes members of our community to feel targeted and/or intimidated.”
— Managing News Editor Adam Rubenfire and Daily Staff Reporters Rachel Premack and Amrutha Sivakumar contributed reporting.
Correction Appended: Information detailing the Prawer Plan has been added to this article.