May 20, 2011

Pro-Palestine demonstrations draw mixed reactions

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) distributed fake eviction notices in dorms and staged a mock military checkpoint this week to commemorate the 1948 Palestine war and resulting displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

The events were part of the RSO’s annual Nakba Week, which this year included a film screening, guest speaker, and culture fair. Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” refers to the 1948 Palestinian exodus following the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and subsequent Palestine War.

To publicize the week’s events, SJP distributed 210 flyers Sunday night designed to look like eviction notices. According to SJP President Sami Kishawi, the flyers were placed on the ground in the middle of hallways in each of the houses in three dorms on campus: South Campus, Pierce, and Max Palevsky.

“The point was so that when people woke up the next morning they would be able to see it lying in front of their door,” Kishawi said, “We know that housing has a few guidelines, so we figured we could put them in the hallway area, and we did that in a random area so that people wouldn't think they’re being targeted, specifically.”

Still several students alleged that SJP broke housing rules with its flyers. Fourth-year Grace Chapin, an RA for Flint house in Max Palevsky, sent out a house-wide e-mail Monday morning letting residents know that they were not being evicted and that the distributors of the flyers should not do so in the future.

Second-year and Resident Master’s Assistant in Max Palevsky Stephen Lurie said he doesn’t know whether the flyers broke house rules, but he wishes SJP had chosen a different means of publicity.

“I thought it was a clever idea, but I think it’s another sad example of the sort of lack of productive discourse that we have on this campus about Middle East issues,” Lurie said. “I fear this type of communication, whether or not it will be followed-up with cooperative discussion, will be radicalized.”

Kishawi said that he consulted with SJP’s RSO advisor and Assistant Director of the Student Activities Center of ORCSA Arthur Lundberg, though the decision was made by the RSO without Lundberg’s explicit permission.

Lundberg could not be reached for comment. According to Assistant Director of Student Development Stacey Ergang, who is substituting for Lundberg’s role with political advocacy student groups, said that ORCSA has not received any feedback about the publicity campaign.

On the back of the “eviction notice” flyers is a schedule of Nakba Commemoration Week events, including an event for Tuesday listed as “Surprise” taking place at “We’ll find you, Noon.” The event turned out to be a mock military checkpoint.

Closing Hull gate and slowing down student foot traffic, two students posed as Israeli soldiers with cardboard guns and refused to let other students participating in the protest from passing through the gate. While the soldiers yelled and forced the other students to the ground, one student posed as a doctor attempting to treat participants who were forced to the ground. Another student posed as a member of the press and snapped photos.

Between 1:20 and 1:30 p.m., a period of heavy foot traffic between classes, several students stopped momentarily to observe what was going on. Only a few students stayed to see how the protest would play out.

First-year Divinity School student Baqar Syed, one of the few students who lingered to watch the protest, said he felt the demonstration was effective because most people don’t remember the Nakba.

Kishawi said the flyers and mock checkpoint were meant to catch students off-guard and raise awareness. “We hoped for a shock factor…We figured we’ve done fliers in the past, we wanted to make sure this could no longer be ignored, we wanted to bring awareness to the events,” he said.

Noha Syam, an exchange student from Egypt, believed that the protests were a good way of grabbing student attention.

“It’s good that people can see this, because those who can’t follow the news can follow it here,” Syam said.