This week marked a new observance for Binghamton University. Israeli Apartheid Week, a national campaign to “raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies toward the Palestinians,” was commemorated by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
Based on student reactions, the most controversial tactic of the weeklong observance was the posting of fake “eviction notices” on students’ doors in several residential communities.
The “evictions” notified students that “If you do not vacate the premises … we reserve the right to demolish your premises without delay.” The notices then go on to explain that “Since 1967, Israeli occupying forces have destroyed nearly 27,000 homes and other structures crucial for Palestinian livelihood, resulting in the internal displacement of more than 60,000 indigenous Palestinians.”
Tyler Albertario, the president of SJP, estimated that the group distributed between 150 and 200 eviction letters between Mountainview College, College-in-the-Woods, Newing College, Dickinson Community, Hillside Community and Susquehanna Community.
He said the purpose of the notices was to expose BU students to the realities of everyday life for Palestinians in the West Bank, who he said receive real eviction notices every day from land developers supported by the Israeli government.
“Palestinian families receive eviction notices like that on a daily basis, and by distributing similar eviction notices, even if they’re fake … it raises awareness among students,” he said. “Yes, it raises some eyebrows too, but it’s necessary to break this spell that this campus has been under for decades of not really questioning the line of undying and unquestioning support for the apartheid state of Israel.”
According to Albertario, the group aimed to get at least two buildings per residential community, based on which dorms they could gain access to. According to Investigator Patrick Reilly of Binghamton’s New York State University Police, unauthorized entrance to the dorms is against University policy. Members of the SJP E-Board have since met with UPD to discuss the issue, and SJP has been warned not to continue the practice in the future.
Jessica Bokor, a sophomore double-majoring in human development and linguistics, was one of the two students who filed a report with UPD after receiving a fake eviction notice on her door.
“Honestly, it’s scary. I’ve grown up hearing about this, and when I studied and learned in Israel last year, we were further warned that things like this happen on public campuses,” she said. “But it’s scary having it directed at you. It’s something I’ve never experienced before and never thought I would.”
Yosef Gerstein, a senior double-majoring in psychology and sociology as well as a former soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said he had firsthand experience evacuating or displacing people from their homes during his time in the IDF. He said that not only have Palestinians been displaced from their homes, but Israelis as well, when the Israeli government removed all settlers from Gaza in 2005.
“I had to remove my own citizens from their houses for the sake of peace, I had to put my own life on the line for non Israeli nationals, for Palestinians,” he wrote in an email. “[W]e all have a singular mission of protecting the lives of all Israeli citizens and following the orders by the Government that even contradict values we thought we held dear, like the expulsion of our citizens from their homes and the destruction of everything they knew, loved, and worked at in Gaza and Northern Samaria.”
Gerstein gave a talk Wednesday about the IDF and his time served. The lecture, sponsored by Bearcats for Israel, was the site of more friction between Zionist and pro-Palestinian students on campus. Students reported seeing anti-Israel material posted in and around Old University Union room 202, where the IDF talk was being held, including in the men’s and women’s bathrooms.
The posters, which featured mostly political cartoons, depicted an IDF soldier sweeping Palestine away with a broom labeled “ethnic cleansing,” and others showed an Israeli soldier wiping blood off his hands with an American flag. Many students who attended the event, including Gerstein himself, said they found the posters to be incendiary.
“As a former IDF soldier and student I find this worrying. I find it worrying that in the United States and in a academic institution that is supposed to promote diversity, respect, and growth they would allow this kind of incitement and hate on campus,” Gerstein wrote. “That they would allow Jews to be targeted for their political or national identity. I feel it is disappointing that students in general have very little knowledge of Israel or the Israeli Army.”
Albertario said those who put up the signs were individuals acting on their own, without the consent or approval of SJP.
In reaction to Israeli Apartheid Week, the Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO) is promoting the #Rethink2014 campaign, where pro-Israeli students post pictures of themselves holding signs that say why they do not support Israeli Apartheid Week. They are also planning a “peace week” next week, which Joshua Fisher, the education chair for BUZO, said is in no way a reaction to Apartheid Week.
SJP will continue Israeli Apartheid Week today with a talk by sociology professor Kelvin Santiago-Valles about racism in Israel.