Students for Justice in Palestine: Discriminatory evictions are real

Last week, Student for Justice in Palestine placed mock eviction notices in student dorms to call attention to one of the most abhorrent features of Israel’s occupation of Palestine: the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories. In response, Leah Sarna and Yishai Schwartz wrote an op-ed (“Evicting the truth,” April 24) that obfuscates the issues, going so far as to suggest that the extinct Ottomans, not Israel, are responsible for Palestinian home demolitions today.

Our initiative aimed to highlight that, in 2010, the Israeli government demolished over 100 houses and over 240 commercial and community structures belonging to Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, affecting the lives of over 13,000 people, including nearly 8,000 children, according to the US State Department. We wanted to juxtapose the destruction of Palestinian homes with the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements to highlight the discriminatory logic that drives Israeli policy.

Though Schwartz and Sarna criticize us for pursuing a “confrontational” approach and failing to promote “constructive conversation,” our notices have prompted an unprecedented level of discussion about the issue in the form of at least two op-eds, a news story, and countless conversations between students. This goes to show that creative activism, even of the mildly unorthodox variety, is not mutually exclusive with other forms of discourse: in fact, it can create more.

Moreover, we question Sarna and Schwartz’s standing to define “constructive conversation” when they cannot even bring themselves to say “occupation” without scare quotes — as if checkpoints in the West Bank were manned by aliens, not Israeli soldiers. That Schwartz and Sarna take greater offense to mock eviction notices than to the real eviction of real Palestinian families from real homes raises great doubts about their sense of perspective.

Indeed, even as Schwartz and Sarna throw accusations of “dishonesty” in our direction without directly contesting any of our claims, it is actually their claims that are far removed from reality.

Firstly, they characterize the evictions and demolitions as ordinary enforcement of zoning laws that “affect both sides” amidst a “thorny mess.” In truth, the demolition regime is neither hard to decipher nor equitable. According to Amnesty International, the demolitions are “inextricably linked with Israel’s long-standing policy of appropriating as much as possible of the land it occupies.” Thus the zoning laws are designed by one group (Israel, the occupier) and enforced against another (the Palestinians).

So long as Israel expands Jewish-only settlements in contravention of international law, it makes no sense to suggest that home demolitions are simply a matter of law enforcement; they are a way of curbing the growth of Arab neighborhoods. Compare the experience of Palestinians building in their own homeland with Jewish settlers illegally building on occupied land. According to Amnesty, the majority of Palestinians are systematically “denied building permits by Israel, even after lengthy and expensive bureaucratic and legal processes, so they have little choice but to go ahead without official permission.” In occupied East Jerusalem for example, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions estimates that Palestinians are short of 25,000 units but receive permits for less than 100 each year. In contrast, the Israeli government has authorized and subsidized the construction of 90,000 Jewish-only settlement units since the occupation of East Jerusalem began in 1967. Zoning technicalities, therefore, are a guise for a fundamentally violent and discriminatory land policy.

Secondly, Schwartz and Sarna claim that the demolition of some “structures” (read: homes) that provide “a haven for terrorist activity” is justified for “security” reasons. In fact, Israel ceased “punitive” demolitions carried out in the name of security in 2005, finding them ineffective. And at their height, only 15 percent of demolitions were carried out for “punitive” reasons. Moreover, the practice itself was particularly grotesque, whereby the Israeli military destroyed homes belonging to the families and neighbors of persons suspected of attacks on Israelis. Even if one accepts that one may punish an individual’s family and neighbors for an individual’s actions, Israeli authorities have never attempted to demolish homes belonging to the neighbors or relatives of armed Jewish settlers, like Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinians as they prayed in a mosque. At best, then, Israel’s “security” motive is racist; at worst, it is a criminal breach of international law.

Finally, Schwartz and Sarna criticize SJP for not creating “dialogue” with “pro-Israel” student groups. In fact, many of us have. We are also open to co-hosting debates about the Israeli occupation with any group on campus. But unless “pro-Israel” groups on campus believe that they are responsible for Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes and have the power to reverse it, we see no reason why SJP should specifically seek them out to discuss this issue. Our discussion is with the campus community as a whole. The fact that the Israeli occupation is subsidized by billions of American tax dollars every year and forms a major feature of American foreign policy calls for an open debate and discussion beyond so-called “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine” groups, and outside of Jewish and Arab communities.

Omar Mumallah is a junior in Pierson College. Abeer Obaid is a freshman in Morse College. Samer Sabri is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Yaman Salahi is a second-year student at the Law School. They are members of Students for Justice in Palestine.


  • 2006alum

    I’m glad SJPs are finally moving towards focusing on the more insidious aspects of the occupation. I really think that an article like this, and the action referred to, go a long way in making students think a little more thoughtfully about the implications of a military occupation, beyond just the “complicated politics of Gaza.”
    Also, very well written piece.

  • Y_2011

    Well done! “Our discussion is with the campus community as a whole. The fact that the Israeli occupation is subsidized by billions of American tax dollars every year and forms a major feature of American foreign policy calls for an open debate and discussion beyond so-called “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine” groups, and outside of Jewish and Arab communities.”

    I agree totally. I am neither Jewish nor Arab (or Muslim) but I should be part of the SJP’s audience too since I’m an American.

  • the_rivers_of_babylon

    This has all the honesty we’ve come to expect from SJP.

  • comment23

    The authors try to claim that the eviction fliers fostered constructive dialogue. They fail to recognize that the only reason this prompted discussion was because of the Schwartz and Sarna piece. Rather than respond with an equally silly theatrical stunt, the pro-Israel community at Yale decided to embrace true discourse and publish an op-ed in the YDN with an open invitation to SJP to engage in further dialogue. SJP can’t claim any of this credit and the Yale community should realize how potentially disastrous the stunt could have been had it not been for the calm and nuanced response of Schwartz and Sarna.

  • commentator

    Hear, hear!

  • robert99

    At least they’re not murdering Israeli students as they sleep. Perhaps their concern should first be directed at what is going on in/near the west bank.

  • Omar_Mumallah

    Trying to answer everyone who said something substaintial or at least mildly related to the discussion at hand.

    @ Comment23
    We were actually planning an opinion piece to discuss our notices prior to the Schwartz and Sarna piece. And what on Earth do you mean by “disasterous” — what is this fearmongering? And in any case you missed the point entirely — “dialogue” is not just between “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestinian” activists and agitators. We sought to, in a small way,engage the campus community as a whole and I feel that this tactic in no small measure succeeded.

    @2006alum, thank you kindly.

    @Y_2011, I appreciate that as well, please feel free to e-mail me at any time if you would like to talk about this issue further.

  • lightandtruth

    OK I agree with SJP statements that a fundamentally violent and discriminatory land policy drives Israeli policy and that.Israel’s “security” motive is racist; at worst, it is a criminal breach of international law. Now I would like to hear from SJP how the Palestinians governing Gaza or the West Bank or any other area are non-racist, law abiding, pacifists. I look forward to your examples of such behavior. Perhaps you can start with last weeks mortar attack on a school bus.

  • ignatz

    Er, “occupation”? Are educated people really going to revive the canard that the land was once lawfully owned by Palestinians-formerly-known-as-Arabs and then unlawfully seized by Israel? Come on, folks, let’s be serious. Jordan exercised sovereignty over the entire West Bank prior to 1967, when it lost that territory in a war of aggression against the State of Israel.

  • Arafat


    Is it true that SJP is affiliated with the following group?

    If so then why should we trust a word from any SJP member?

  • Arafat
  • BaruchAtta

    Let’s put it this way. Students recognize the stigma of a “Discriminatory” eviction notice. However, that does not compare to what the Arabs are doing. The only way for an honest representation of what the Arabs are doing is for this (and I do not recommend or support it) to slit the throats of a few students while they sleep. Ok, I said it. Truth is, that the Arabs are slitting throats of babies, blowing up school buses, and firing missiles at civilian targets, and doing this constantly. The Arabs want to kill all of the Jews, and deny the Holocaust while they do it.
    What was the main worry in Libya, that Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi would start a blood bath with the dissenters? With his own countrymen. All the more so, in Israel, do the Arab hoards wish a blood bath with Israeli blood.
    So don’t complain that some Israeli actions are “discriminatory”.
    So if the Students for Justice in Palestine should want real Justice, then they should try to “Justify” the three month old baby that was murdered along with his brothers and sisters, and parents, while they slept.

  • Arafat

    Here is the unedited version of a MSA spoeksman. It’s a wonder Omar and his friends never write anything condmening them. sarc/off

  • divlik

    Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967. Perhaps Mumallah and his associates will write a companion background piece explaining how King Hussein stifled Palestinian claims for nationhood and a Palestinian state for two decades.

  • alsoanon

    this is a wonderful piece — thanks for writing it.

  • Omar_Mumallah

    @ divlik — I easily could. E-mail me and I could write about it. I’m dead serious.

  • aaper2011

    It’s obvious that home demolitions are meant to clear land for Israeli settlements. Since 1967, 25,000 Palestinian homes have already been demolished. Enough is enough! The U.S. should really work to stop this, and so should we — let’s contact our representatives at!