Viewpoint: Dorm room demolitions (#UMMockEviction)

BY STUDENTS ALLIED FOR FREEDOM AND EQUALITY

Published December 9, 2013

If you do not vacate the premises by 13 DECEMBER 6 PM, we reserve the right to demolish your premises without delay. We cannot be held responsible for property or persons remaining inside. Charges for demolition will be applied to your student account.

Thousands of students at the University of Michigan awoke to this news yesterday morning. Fortunately, this news wasn’t real. The eviction notice was a tool of political satire intended to emulate a situation that thousands of Palestinians confront on a regular basis. While we attempted to parallel this situation onto our campus, it is impossible to understand the violent trauma that comes with the uprooting and displacement of entire families and neighborhoods. We can only begin to try to imagine the physical, emotional and psychological loss that happens when homes and communities — embedded with memory, dignity and livelihood — are reduced to rubble.

Since 1967, the Israeli government has demolished more than 27,000 Palestinian homes. Last month alone, Israeli authorities posted eviction orders on 200 residential buildings in East Jerusalem that will leave more than 15,000 Palestinians homeless. No alternative or compensation is provided for these soon-to-be displaced populations. While University of Michigan students who received the mock eviction notices can rest assured knowing that they will not be forcibly uprooted from their cozy quarters, they also will not be subjected to the $19,400 fine that Palestinian families are forced to pay if they refuse to demolish their homes themselves and leave the humiliating task to Israeli authorities.

Discrimination against Palestinian and Israeli Arabs in relation to their Jewish counterparts is starkly disturbing. While Palestinian homes are consistently and unlawfully demolished, illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West bank continue to erect and flourish. While Palestinians are forced to pay hefty fines if they do not demolish their own homes, Israelis are incentivized to live in illegal settlements through payment. In fact, most Israelis move to settlements not because of religious, ideological, or political reasons, but for the sake of economic convenience due to subsidies that make living in illegal settlements cheaper than in Israel.

Of course, all of this is in gross violation of universally-recognized human rights. Under the Geneva Convention, any forcible population transfer is strictly forbidden. But the Israeli government does not have to answer to international law or human rights. Its blatant disregard for human dignity and survival is supported and made possible by us — the United States — which has vetoed a total of 41 Security Council resolutions that indict Israel over its numerous war crimes.

So what now? The so called “peace process” has only proven as a way to buy time and protect the expansion of settlements that make any just resolution unlikely. Israeli settlements and their expansive network of checkpoints and segregated road systems fragment Palestinian land, break apart families, and take huge tolls on the Palestinian economy. What Palestinian state can we speak of when 82 percent of the West Bank is under Israeli military rule and 61 percent of it is under full Israeli control?

The miserable futility of the peace process is too evident by recent developments: While Secretary of State John Kerry tries to renew “peace talks”, the Israeli ministry has announced the building of 300 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem. The U.S. State Department described the move as “counterproductive”.

In view of Israel’s legal and political impunity and the absence of real and just dialogue, it is time for we as students at the University of Michigan to take the stand that our government has yet to make. In 2005, Palestinian civil society called for a global citizens’ response to these injustices by implementing boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law. In doing so, Palestinian civil society has proposed a morally consistent, accountable, effective, and nonviolent tactic to resist the continued colonization and ethnic cleansing of their lands.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has been endorsed by prominent figures including South African liberation leaders Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela and is beginning to develop into a truly global movement. Just last week, the American Studies Association passed a resolution to academically boycott Israeli institutions. Several American university student bodies, including University of California, Berkeley, have passed resolutions asking their universities to divest from all companies profiting from the illegal Israeli occupation.

At its core, BDS is about adhering and elevating human rights. It asks nothing controversial; only that we uphold our moral standards and practice what we preach. Divesting from Israel would mean divesting from companies that have explicit ties with and profit from the Israeli occupation — companies that engage in selling military technology that aids and facilitates violence against civilians, operating racially segregated bus systems, and providing services to illegal settlements.

Our university has an established and rich tradition of dissent and activism. This campus has historically been a space for students to raise their political and global consciousness and become harbingers of social change whether it was through prying open the doors of higher education to students of color, relentlessly protesting the war in Vietnam, or divesting from South African Apartheid in 1983. By remaining neutral on “Israeli apartheid”, we remain complicit in a system of oppression. Now is the time for us to join and support the BDS movement if we truly want to be a campus and student body that is socially just and conscious.

This article was written by members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.