Schwartz and Sarna: Evicting the truth

Last night, members of Yale Students for Justice and Peace in Palestine (SJPP) slipped “eviction notices” into college residences. The notices were meant to raise awareness of the evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes in the State of Israel and the disputed territories.

We take issue with these “eviction notices” for two reasons. First, they get their facts wrong, misinforming and damaging our campus’ understanding of an important issue. Second, the notices’ placement was deliberately confrontational and infantile, representing an ambivalence toward constructive conversation. Frankly, after years of attempts at engaging these fellow students in dialogue, and hours spent by multiple people in the pro-Israel community attempting to build good relations, these antics are deeply depressing.

First, let us address the actual facts. No one denies that Palestinians have been evicted from their homes, but it is important to realize that this is only one element of a very sad picture inextricable from the complex history of the region.

So before we start making offensive comparisons to Yalies living in legally built and rented dorm rooms, let’s take a closer look at Israel’s eviction policy. There are a few reasons why residences in Israel and the territories are demolished. First: security. When a structure is a haven for terrorist activity, the army often moves in and demolishes the structure. This should neither surprise nor offend, and I certainly hope that SJPP doesn’t take issue with that.

Second, illegal building and government eviction are simply another battleground in Israel and Palestine’s long-running land dispute, a conflict which has also resulted in wars, suicide bombings and rocket firings. The 1993 Oslo Accords were supposed to create a platform for future negotiations, with the goal of creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel. However, as the peace process has stalled, many Israelis and Palestinians have occasionally chosen to take this process into their own hands. Hoping to force the expansion of the Palestinian or Jewish State without diplomatic process, individuals on both sides have tried to settle beyond their allotted areas, and without legal permission.

In the middle of this thorny mess, the Israeli military, police and courts do their best to enforce the law — evicting Jew and Arab alike who disrupt the volatile status quo. These evictions are thus the necessary and deeply unfortunate consequence of a reality where people turn their lives and homes into political tools of a nationalist struggle. But these evictions cut both ways: just recently, the Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration evicted Israeli families from the West Bank settlement, Pnei Adam. And we should never forget the 3,500 Israelis who were removed, sometimes forcibly, from their homes in the Sinai Peninsula as part of the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, nor the 8,500 Israelis evicted from towns in Gaza and the West Bank in 2005 as part of Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan.” A conflict that politicizes the act of home-building is a tragedy, and the evictions which necessarily follow are equally upsetting. But these evictions affect both sides, the inevitable result of political gamesmanship, not the malicious acts of an oppressor.

Thirdly, we are dealing with an area of the world which, until recently, had no zoning laws or systematic record of property ownership. As administrators try to resolve property disputes using documents from the Ottoman Empire, and as officials force some sort of urban planning on an area which has grown haphazardly since the time of King David, things turn unpleasant for the residents of the older and poorer areas. This is a tragedy, and likely an injustice, but it has nothing to do with some nefarious “Occupation.”

But of equal importance to the facts, there is still the substantive issue of these flyers’ tone and presentation. There are ways to encourage empathy without offensive shock tactics and without throwing nuance and objectivity to the wind. Those of us who are concerned with indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians would never consider setting off sirens in Yale dorms to inspire empathy. To do so would be immature and counterproductive; why can’t SJPP understand the same?

According to SJPP member Omar Mumallah PC ’12, the purpose of the flyers was “to startle students so that they could empathize.” But perhaps we might empathize more if the organization honestly presented the facts. Perhaps we would be more sympathetic if we felt that there was even the faintest attempt at building a constructive dialogue. In our time here, Yale Friends of Israel has invited SJPP to roundtable discussions, meetings with the former Israeli Chief Justice, a Consul General and Israeli soldiers. Members of the pro-Israel community spent hours on the phone trying to keep the Horowitz foundation from publishing their “Wall of Lies” advertisement in the News, which we felt might be inflammatory to Muslim students. We even sponsored a response the same day. What have we gotten in return? Theatrics, speakers who vilify Israel and slander her soldiers, and now, a silly eviction-notice stunt.

Yale has a long tradition of serious conversation and intelligent dialogue. The time has come for organizations like SJPP to contribute meaningfully. Let’s have a real conversation; we’ll even bring the matzah.

Yishai Schwartz is a sophomore in Branford College and the Vice President of Yale Friends of Israel. Leah Sarna is a freshman in Pierson College and the Social Action chair of Jews and Muslims at Yale.

Comments