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March 26, 2014 - Image 12

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-03-26

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4B s

Wedneday, 014 . 5B

've always been aware of the Palestinian
struggle and the Palestinian cause before
coming to college," said LSA senior Bayan
Founas. "But at the time, I never understood
how important it was to connect it to my
personal identity."
Founas is a member of Students Allied for
Freedom and Equality - a campus organization
thatpromotes activismregardingissues related
to Palestinian social justice and human rights.
She said her experiences with identity politics
and Arab- and Muslim-American issues at the
University pushed her to get involved in the
Arab-Israeli debate on campus.
For many students, the history and politics of
the conflict between Palestine and Israel might
have been issues that were made familiar to
them by their upbringing. But for others, these
topics may be completely new.
"Before you're aware of all these things,
you don't really engage with them," said LSA
senior Yazan Kherallah, referring to many of
the same issues Founas brought up, such as
identity politics and challenges faced by Arabs
and Arab-Americans.
Kherallah, SAFE's Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions chair, became motivated to engage
in issues related to the conflict as a freshman
in response to the Arab Spring, a wave of
government-topplingcivil protests that started
in Middle Eastern countries in 2010. As a
Syrian, Kherallah said he wanted to learn more
about the region and even his own identity.
"The Arab Spring, what it really spurred me
to do is just to engage with things and figure
out what can you do on a concrete basis to
improve situations, and stand up for my rights
and other people's rights," Kherallah said.
LSA sophomores Erica Mindel and Becca
Levin, of I-Lead and the Israel Cohort,
respectively, said they became more engaged
in the issues surrounding the conflict early on.
Both took a gap year in Israel before coming to
the University.
"I think that I've always been aware that
there's a conflict in the region," Levin said.
"I definitely see my awareness of it and my
interest in it starting in high school and then
growing in Israel because I was able to explore
it firsthand as much as I could."
Other students did not become involved in
the issues of the region until they came to the
University.
"I think when you're in high school, you
don't necessarily see the link between yourself
and BDS," said LSA senior Farah Erzouki,
SAFE co-chair. "But once you step onto a
campus where the funds of the University are
going to these companies, there's a much more
direct link."
However, for most University students,
what's going on in the Middle East or how it
may factor into their lives as students isn't
something that they're often exposed to.
In the early hours of Dec. 10, SAFE members
and supporters went to six residential dorms
and slipped mock eviction notices under the
doors of 1,500 residents as a part of the group's
boycott and divest initiative.
The notices referred to Israel's practice of
settlement building in Israeli-occupied areas
following the Six Day War in 1967. These areas,
which include the West Bank, East Jerusalem

and the Golan Heights, are generally already
populated by Palestinians. The mock eviction
notice charged that Palestinian residents are
forcibly evicted in order to make room for the
Israeli civilians who inhabit the settlements,
and asked students to imagine themselves
going through the same experience.
Overall, the goal of SAFE's Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions campaign is to call
on the University to sever its financial ties with
several companies that hold contracts with the
Israeli military that are involved in abuses of
Palestinian human rights and the occupation
of the territories. These companies include
General Electric, Caterpillar, Heidelberg
Cement and United Technologies.
The sparks of the debate
As students woke up to the mock eviction
notices throughout the day, questions and
arguments were sparked across campus.
LSA sophomore Micah Nelson, executive
board member of JStreet Umich, a student
organization that supports a two-state solution
- a right to a homeland for both Israelis and
Palestinians - said that for her, the reactions
to the mock evictions were almost more
upsetting than the evictions themselves.
"It felt like an argument on campus to me,
between Hillel and SAFE, and I didn't feel
really comfortable in either of those spaces,"
Nelson said. Hillel is one of the largest Jewish
organizations on campus, and provides
programming for Jewish students on a variety
of issues relating to politics, faith and culture.
Many students and campus organizations
tweeted in support of SAFE with the associated
hashtag, #UMMockEvictions, but a large
number of students also expressed feelings of
being triggered and targeted by the eviction
notices.
This, in turn, led to further backlash. The
discussion not only involved BDS movements,
but also examined why the mock evictions
made people uncomfortable, questioning what
it meant to hold Jewish, Israeli or Palestinian
identities on campus.
Several months later, these questions are
still ongoing, reinvigorated by the submission
of a divestment resolution to Central Student
Government. The resolution, which would call
on the University to establish a committee to
investigate the conduct of the four companies
and divest from them, was indefinitely tabled
by the CSG Student Assembly on March 18,
leading to asit-in protest by SAFE members
and supporters.
The debate surrounding both actions has
prompted the question:What is the appropriate
way to address these issues of identity and
climate on campus?
In this case, most of the disconnect seems to
come from drastically differing views on what
student activism is and what it should achieve.
Navigatingidentities
Students with identities tied to the conflict,
suchasIsraeli,JewishandPalestinianstudents,
often find the political biases, stereotypes and
ramifications of the conflict hard to avoid even
on days where there aren't protests.

I

LSA sophomore Mohammed Hamdan, students as thi
Palestinian Student Association executive Middle Easter
board member, gave the example of walking representation
into a campus dining hall with a Michigan PSA is something t
t-shirt. settings. He sa
"Wearing that shirt, I could just personally from a variety
feel like it was not just oh, Palestine, there's heard or values
dabke, music, the food - it was more like 'oh, "At some lev
OK, the BDS movement, the Israeli-Palestine as I do that
conflict, that protest that happened on the Diag that's really
last week,"' Hamdan said. important,"
Nelson, of JStreet UMich, said she often Stanzler
runs into politicized misperceptions of what a said. "Then
Jewish identity means on campus. you have to
"I think a lot of times, people just assume try to be as
that if you're Jewish, you have a connection proactive
to Israel which is not true for everyone," as possible
Nelson said. "And I think a lot of times that's in terms
overgeneralized like, 'oh, Zionist.'" of helping
Even in spaces where individuals are to create a
specifically designated as students, such as classroom
University classrooms, identity still comes into climate
play. where that
Erzouki, from SAFE, said that because of can actually
her identity as a Palestinian solidarity activist, happen."
she's not always comfortable in the classroom.
"I'll give University professors credit where A polarized
it's due; I have been in classes where I feel like discussion
it's a safe space to express my views," Erzouki
said. "But there definitely are situations where For some
I feel very intimidated to express myself." students,
LSA junior Eli Batchelor, advisor to the focus
the PSA, said Palestinian students often of student
feel misrepresented in campus academic activism is
discussions on the issue, some of which are led to alleviate
by Jewish professors, even if those professors tension in cami
attempt to remain neutral. I-Lead and
"Even if the Jewish voice is offering a affiliated cam
Palestinian narrative, it's still a Jewish representative
voice," Batchelor said. "There's not the equal umbrella orga
representation within academia. And a lot of Israel-affiliated
Palestinian students feel withdrawn. They expressed con
don't want to take those classes for that very felt was currei
reason. They don't want another Jewish person Mindel charact
telling them their story." Nelson said
Jeff Stanzler, a lecturer in the School was effective
of Education who teaches a class in which caused increase
University students mentor high school "It simply ju

ey go through a simulation of
n affairs, said marginalized
of both Jews and Palestinians
hat worries him in classroom
id he's not confident students
of identities have their voices
understood.
el, as an educator, if you accept
A lot the ti
on this Caml
institutional
sometimes have
view of what
LSA senior Y
pus climate.
J Street Umich, two Israel-
pus groups, as well as a
from the Israel Cohort, an
nization under which most
d groups on campus operate, all
cerns about a campus that they
ntly very polarized, something
terized as discouraging.
that though the mock eviction
in raising awareness, it also
ed polarization on campus.
ist pushed people back to their

corners," she said.
The groups' ideal outcome is a non-polarized,
non-binary campus - a place where the focus is
on dialogue between the two groups.
"We think no solution can be reached in any
situation without bringing together and hearing
the opinions and the needs of everyone involved,
so that's why we think dialogue is the perfect
opportunity
for people
to come
} .together and
ime activism express their
concerns,"
Levin said.
pus is reall LMindel
added that
I-Lead
lized. People understood
why dialogue
might not
a very sanitized be viewed
as the most
direct route
t activism is. to change.
For her
group, the
importance
was its
~ potential
azan yierall h long-term
impact.
"Maybe
nothing has
been tried
beyond dialogue right now because we feel like
there isn't alot of dialogue, and we don't know
what else we can do," Levin said, citing the
need to hear and celebrate all narratives.
"I don't think we're looking to just stop at
dialogue, but the point is that we need to get
back to dialogue."
Overcoming dominant viewpoints
In contrast, both SAFE and PSA
representatives, two Palestinian-focused
groups on campus, viewed actions like the

mock evictions and the BDS campaign as
necessary in challenging and overcoming what
they see as a pro-Israel dominant viewpoint on
campus and beyond.
"We live in a society where there is a very
one-sided discourse on Israel and Palestine, and
the mock eviction challenged that," Kherallah
said.
When it comes to an ideal outcome, both
SAFE and PSA are striving to avoid perceived
one-sidedness of the issue. For SAFE that means
developing mock evictions and BDS campaigns,
dialogues and teach-ins. For PSA that means n
creating opportunities for Palestinian students
to share and celebrate their cultural identity,
instead of a politicized one.
Kherallah said SAFE chose to take a more
controversial action like the mock evictions,
which have occurred on other campuses as
well, to have a more far-reaching impact.
"A lot of the time activism on this campus
is really institutionalized," Kherallah said.
"People sometimes have a very sanitized view
of what activism is. With this, it was really
groundbreaking in the sense that people who
never heard about this issue - the conflict or
the fact that their tuition money is invested in
this - had their eyes opened."
Erzouki said that SAFE felt actions like the
evictions were ultimately about expanding the
discussion and information available on the
issue.
"The University is a place where all of your
views are going to be challenged," Erzoukisaid.
"The mock evictions didn't target anybody.
They may have challenged political views, and
I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
I think we're at this University to receive an
education, and to be challenged on what we've
been taught, and formulate on our opinions on -
those bases."
PSA's Batchelor expressed a similar
sentiment. He said that he viewed BDS and
similar campaigns as an opportunity to expand
the discussion to include more perspective
from the Palestinian perspective, not halt it.
SEE PAGE 8B FOR MORE

defining stud ent
activism:
the israeli-palestinian
conflict at the university
by Shoham geva

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