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

  • Yalie2013

    GREAT op-ed. One of the best I’ve ever seen.

  • yale

    Thank you for this. I am glad people are standing up against these insensitive flyers, which are counter to the values of dialogue and respect that Yale stands for,

  • 2006alum

    “A conflict that politicizes the act of home-building is a tragedy” — Totally agreed. I’m pretty sure Palestinians building their homes on their land aren’t undertaking some coordinated political plan. Can’t say the same for settlements, which are funded, planned, and coordinated by the state.

  • ThisOpEdisHilarious

    I applaud SJP for a bold, creative, and focused gesture that has succeeded in instigating a debate and also drawn attention to a fundamental issue of the conflict: illegal occupation by Israeli military and citizens of non-Israeli lands, recognized as Palestinian, Lebanese, or Syrian lands by international law.

    These authors — also boldly — frame “Occupation” in quotation marks in an attempt to delegitimize, mythologize, and even belittle the illegal Israeli occupation of non-Israeli lands. Occupation is deplorable as are acts of violence against innocent civilians.

    This discursive tactic represents their effort to elide the occupation from the conflict and to portray what is in fact a brutal, calculated, and systematic process of land confiscation, eviction, ethnic cleansing, and colonization as a “necessary” and humane course of action supposedly designed for security purposes.

    I also find hilarious Schwartz and Sarna’s delusional and inaccurate portrayal of Arab and Ottoman urban planning history. They would do well to read a book or two, or at least a Wikipedia entry, about the topic. From Ibn Khuldun’s philosophy of urban development to the Tanzimat to the colonial French and British joint-venture infrastructure initiatives, the “area of the world” “we are dealing with” bears a rich and dynamic history of urban planning, zoning, architecture, and city development.

    In fact, as Eyal Weitzman argues in Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, the Israeli military has devised land confiscation and city destructions strategies whose goals are precisely to destroy the urban and societal fabric already in place in Palestinian towns and cities.

    Schwartz and Sarna might benefit from a visit to Nablus in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to see first hand these forces — occupation of an integrated, historical urban fabric — at work first-hand. Or they could simply speak and listen to a classmate, who has lived under an illegal military occupation, as they seem prepared and willing to do.

  • godard

    ThisOpEdisHilarious:
    I, too, applaud SJPP’s political action and I am glad to see a voice of reason questioning this offensive piece.

    “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.”

    A haven for terrorist activity? Such as the Palestinian children who were born under the *illegal* Israeli occupation? Born and raised in a de facto concentration camp? This zionist blindness is deeply troubling. And I don’t want to hear the lame counter argument of anti-semitism either.

  • MJG

    “de facto concentration camp”………..”zionist blindness”

    Lol. I guess the authors have their answer- there will be no reasonable discussion. It was a nice try.

  • yale_senior

    Yishai,

    It seems to me that all Palestinian discourse that is not directly related to talking about the terms of the final peace treaty is treated as “disrespectful” rhetoric. That you cannot grant that far too often Palestinians are removed from their homes due to circumstances out of their control shows, makes you into an apologist for a system that no Jew can stand behind. That system is not Israel, but it is settlements. I would like for someone in YFI to defend settlements on their merits, with out equivocating some similar Palestinian flaw. What SJPP was attacking, as it clearly stated, was not Israel’s right to exist, but merely the aggressive and often deeply damaging settler movement in Gaza and the West Bank.

  • Alex13

    Nice op-ed guys! Dialogue is definitely very important. It is unfortunate that SJPP hasn’t been responsive to your requests for dialogue, especially when most other students at Yale who care about this issue do a pretty good job of sitting in rooms together and talking about it, even if their perspectives are wildly divergent. And I agree with a lot of the nuance you add to the eviction situation.

    That said, as someone who is pro-two-state-solution (and as someone who has lived through some of the bombings you mentioned – and you’re right, we shouldn’t start using warning sirens to inspire empathy among Yale students), I wasn’t really offended by the “eviction notices.” I don’t think they were counter-productive to discussion; if this op-ed is any indication, they seem to have actually provoked discussion. Sometimes when people feel very angry about something, and like their opinion is not being respected in official channels, direct action can seem like the only answer. I hear your point that you have repeatedly invited these students to your discussions and events, but sometimes calm discussions aren’t particularly appealing to people. And the direct actions they engage in, so long as they are nonviolent, can often lead to calm discussions further down the road.

    As much as I am absolutely a zionist and absolutely believe in Israel’s right to exist and thrive, I also believe that some of Israel’s military and policy decisions have destroyed or significantly hampered the lives of far too many Palestinians. I do not resent Students for Justice and Peace in Palestine for bringing this to our attention, for asking us to care about these Palestinians’ lives. We should. And we should be able to do so without saying “Yes but …”.

    By the same token, to the commenters above who say that we must understand suicide bombers in terms of the oppressive context in which they were raised – of course we must. Among other things, this insight can help those of us who are friends of Israel (YFI affiliated and otherwise) see that continued occupation is not, in fact, in Israel’s best interest. But just because someone grew up in the occupied territories doesn’t mean that when they murder Israeli civilians those civilians are any less dead.

    We will only achieve peace when we stop trying to explain away each other’s pain.

  • the_rivers_of_babylon

    Nice article, but I don’t think it goes far enough. I don’t see what’s sad about demolitions of illegal homes. There’s nothing wrong with enforcing building codes.

  • jnewsham

    @the_rivers: Oh, so the settlements should come down, too?

    @Authors: You’re joking if you believe there’s any equality to the way in which “these evictions run both ways.” That’s why there aren’t any Palestinian settlements in Israel (note I did not say that there were no Arabs living in Israel, or even in cloistered communities), but there are 300,000 settlers in the West Bank.

  • Am_Yisrael_Chai

    Simple enough. The reasonable among us should slip a notice into random Yale residences for every Israeli man, woman, and child harmed by the so-called “Palestinians.” Or better yet, a notice for every missile fired into Israel.

    For your reference, here are the missiles fired into Israel by the so-called “Palestinians” since the start of the year:
    Jan 1 – In the evening, a mortar shell fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip landed near a kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.
    Jan 2 – A projectile fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip hit the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Jan 4 – In the afternoon, a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip exploded near a kibbutz in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council.
    Jan 5 – Two mortar shells fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip landed in open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Jan 6 – In the morning, a mortar shell fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fell in the Sdot Negev Regional Council.
    Jan 7 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a projectile at Israel.
    Jan 8 – At about 2:20 pm, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired four 181-millimeter mortar shells at Israel, all of which landed in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, saying that it had fired six mortar shells at an Israeli military post near Nahal Oz.
    Jan 9 – In the morning, Palestinians fired a Qassam rocket into the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Jan 10 – In the evening, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired three rockets at Israel.
    Jan 11 – In the morning, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket which exploded south of Ashkelon.
    Jan 16 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired three mortar shells at Israel, all of which exploded in an open area near a kibbutz in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council.
    Jan 17 – In the morning, a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip exploded in an orchard near a community in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.
    Jan 18 – In the early afternoon, four mortar shells fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip landed in open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Jan 21 – A mortar fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip landed in an unspecified location in the western Negev.
    Jan 25 – In the evening, a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fell in an open area in the Sdot Negev Regional Council.
    Jan 31 – A Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip exploded in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council.

  • Am_Yisrael_Chai

    Feb 4 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket into the Sdot Negev Regional Council.
    Feb 6 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired two mortar shells into the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.
    Feb 8 – At around 11 am, two mortar shells launched by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip landed in a kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Shortly after 2 pm, two more mortars were fired at the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council from the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
    Feb 9 – The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine fired a projectile at an Israeli military jeep in the morning.
    Feb 14 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket into the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Feb 23 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired three mortar shells at a kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for mortars fired that day, saying it launched two shells at IDF forces. Around 9:30 pm, Palestinians fired three Grad missiles at Beersheba, one of Israel’s largest cities.
    Feb 26 – A mortar shell fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Feb 27 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket at the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Mar 3 – During the night, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a projectile at the Sdot Negev Regional Council. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its militants had fired a C5K rocket at an Israeli military tower near Kissufim.
    Mar 4 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired two Qassam rockets at Israel.
    Mar 5 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at a site in the western Negev.
    Mar 9 – After nightfall, a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Mar 16 – Palestinians fired a rocket into Sderot.
    Mar 18 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired four mortar shells at Israel. Around 4 pm, Palestinian terrorists fired six additional mortar shells into the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Mar 19 – In the early morning, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired 54 mortars on Israeli communities within a period of 15 minutes.

  • Am_Yisrael_Chai

    Mar 20 – On the Jewish holiday of Purim, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a mortar and two Qassam rockets at Israel.
    Mar 21 – After nightfall, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket at the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Mar 22 – Around 4 pm, Palestinians fired four mortar shells at Alumim and Sa’ad. In the evening, Palestinians fired a Grad missile from the northern Gaza Strip and several mortar shells at Ashkelon.
    Mar 23 – During the night, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a Grad missile at Ashdod, which landed in an open area south of the city. At 5:30 am, Palestinians launched another Grad missile at Beersheba. Four hours later, Palestinians fired a third Grad missile at Beersheba. Later, Palestinians fired seven mortar shells at the Eshkol Regional Council and one at the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. Some of the shells contained white phosphorus.
    Mar 24 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired twelve projectiles at Israeli towns throughout the day, reaching deep into the country.
    Mar 26 – Early in the morning, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets into Israel.
    Mar 27 – A Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell near Jabaliya attempted to launch a projectile into Israel
    Mar 29 – Palestinians fired an unspecified number of Qassam rockets at Sderot.
    Mar 31 – Around 7:30 pm, Palestinian terrorists in the northern Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket that landed in an open area south of Ashkelon.
    Apr 5 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket at the Eshkol Regional Council.
    Apr 7 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a Kornet anti-tank missile at a school bus in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, outside Sa’ad. In the explosion, 16-year-old boy Daniel Viflic was critically injured with a shrapnel wound to the head, and the driver was moderately injured. Over the next three hours, at least 45 additional Palestinian projectiles hit Israel.
    Apr 8 – Palestinians fired at least 24 mortar shells and 6 rockets at Israel.
    Apr 9 – Palestinians fired over 65 projectiles at Israel.
    Apr 10 – Palestinians fired about 20 rockets and mortars at Israel.
    Apr 12 – Gazan militant group Tawhid and Jihad claimed to have launched two missiles at Nirim at 7:50 pm.
    Apr 15 – Palestinians fired two Grad missiles at Ashdod from the Beit Lahiya neighborhood of al-Atatra in the northern Gaza Strip.
    Apr 18 – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket at the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

    These are just missile attacks. I didn’t include bombings or other murders.

  • ignatz

    It wasn’t Israel that confined the original refugees to those UN-run “camps.” And it isn’t Israel that keeps the current inhabitants — virtually none of whom ever lived in what is now the State of Israel — in those UN-run “camps.” Perhaps those who are so focused on the imperfect living conditions in the UN-run “camps” should seek to dismantle the UN agency that runs those “camps” and to resettle these descendants of actual refugees in another Arab country. Oh, wait — I forgot! No other Arab country wants them! Now why do you suppose that is?

  • Poyani

    “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.” Yishai Schwartz

    Yishai Schwartz just successfully lobbied to remove Pro-Palestinian scholar Norman Finkelstein removed from the debate at Yale’s MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS AT YALE. What a bold-faced liar.

    For the record, there is one more reason why houses get demolished, which Schwartz conveniently forgot to mention. Their inhabitants happen to be of the wrong race! That is what happened in the Palestinian village of Al Arakib, a village older than the state of Israel itself, which was recently demolished by Israeli soldiers with encouragement and moral support from Israeli high-schoolers brought in to enjoy the beautiful sight of a “lesser race” being put in its place!