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Thousands of students 'evicted' in pro-Palestine solidarity campaign

Dec. 11, 2013 11:42 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 13, 2013 4:42 P.M.)
By: Graham Liddell
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Thousands of University of Michigan students woke up Tuesday morning to faux eviction notices slipped underneath their dorm room doors.

"If you do not vacate the premises by 13 DEC 6PM, we reserve the right to demolish your premises without delay," the notices read.

"We cannot be held responsible for property or persons remaining inside. Charges for demolition will by applied to your student account."

The mock eviction was orchestrated by the student organization Students Allied for Freedom and Equality to raise awareness about the actual Israeli-directed evictions that are carried out on a regular basis in the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem, in addition to the Negev.

"When Palestinians lose their homes to unjust and illegal demolition/eviction notices, they are also robbed of their dignity, human worth, and livelihood," SAFE said in a statement.

Michigan students carry some responsibility for Israel's "unjust" actions, the statement said, as portions of the university's hefty endowment fund are invested in "companies that profit from housing demolitions and all other aspects of the illegal Israeli occupation."

Among such companies are Caterpillar, Inc, Northrup Grumman, Corp. and Hewlett-Packard, according to coverage of the "evictions" in the campus student newspaper The Michigan Daily.

The "dorm room demolition" scare, which the Daily said caused a "stir" on the Ann Arbor-based campus Tuesday, also encouraged student support for a university-wide boycott of Israel.

The "end goal of this campaign is to shame the university for its complicity in human rights violations in Palestine and thus have it successfully divest its funds from these companies and invest them elsewhere in socially responsible companies," SAFE's statement said.

Tuesday's mock eviction campaign came six days after a historic landmark for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in the United States - the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education.

Within 24 hours of the eviction notices' distribution, the Twitter hashtag #UMMockEviction had accumulated thousands of tweets.

Throughout the day, members of SAFE and supporters of its message tweeted facts about Palestinian evictions and Israel's Prawer Plan to uproot Bedouin villages. Some students also tweeted about their reactions to finding the notices at their doors.

One student returned home from an all-night session of finals cramming and tweeted: "Came home from 13 straight hours of studying to an eviction notice?? Scared the hell out of me. Good work #UMMockEviction Team, point taken."

Another student tweeted: "Eviction notices not only produce physical loss but also enact emotional psychological violence on indigenous Palestinians #UMMockEviction."

Negative reactions to SAFE’s campaign did indeed include remarks that the fake eviction notices were traumatic. Some students contacted university administrators, reporting they felt "unsafe," "targeted," and "triggered," the Daily reported. The Jewish student organization Hillel even held a gathering Tuesday evening to create a "safe space" to discuss concerns about the campaign.

"The collective values of community and civil discourse were shattered by this incident," Hillel director Tilly Shames told the Daily.

But supporters of #UMMockEviction came down hard against those who opposed the campaign by claiming to feel threatened.

"If #UMMockEviction makes you feel triggered, ask yourself, why doesn’t the violent dispersal of people make you feel triggered? #redefinesafespace," one student tweeted.

Another tweeted: "what does 'safe space' mean when Palestinian land and homes are under militarized occupation from a Zionist regime?"

SAFE stressed that "most of the students who really had no previous understanding of the situation engaged positively," though it said that the "Zionist backlash" the campaign received was expected.

"Their claims of feeling targeted are unfounded. Their feelings of being triggered ignore the greater picture and the reality on the ground in Palestine. This was not a campaign about any one person, it was about our complicity as students in such a shameful practice."

According to the Daily, campus student groups have petitioned for official divestment from Israel several times in the past, including in 2000 and 2006, but the Board of Regents has repeatedly voted it down.

At the same time, the university has a proud history of activism, diversity, and social justice, SAFE’s statement said.

"Thus, we are morally compelled to raise awareness of our complicity as students, and to staff too, at the University of Michigan. We are the ones who pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into this university, (and) we should therefore be guaranteed, at the least, that our dollars are not being used to strip other human beings of their internationally recognized human rights and dignity."
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