In a move that left students shocked, intrigued, and more aware, the University of Chicago’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) recently distributed over 200 eviction notices to the three largest residence halls on campus as part of the group’s annual Nakba Commemoration Week. The eviction notices were designed to realistically portray the protocol through which Palestinian families oftentimes find themselves permanently forced from their homes by order of the Israeli government.
Modeled after similar eviction notice campaigns at Harvard and Yale, students spent much of Sunday night hand-delivering the eviction notices to randomly selected dorm rooms and suites throughout campus. The front of the eviction notice reads:
We regret to inform you that your suite or housing unit is scheduled for demolition in the next three days. If you do not vacate within the next three days, pursuant to Code No. 208.2A, we reserve the right to destroy your housing unit. We do not maintain responsibility for anyone remaining inside.
In smaller font, the notice contextualizes the eviction by referencing the number of homes demolished since 1967 and how arbitrary home demolitions, already condemned by various international governance councils and human rights organizations, serve to systematically and illegally punish Palestinian people living under occupation. The protocol outlined in the main statement is authenticated by the Israeli military’s standard procedure. Oftentimes, Palestinian families are unable to fully clear out their homes in time. Personal belongings are almost always destroyed in the demolition. And to avoid having to pay for the Israeli government’s services, some Palestinian families are forced to demolish the houses themselves.
On the back reads a brief disclaimer as well as a list of events hosted by SJP during the Nakba Commemoration Week.
At face value, the eviction notices appear to be a creative and eye-catching way to market events and publicize SJP’s overall mission. But the intended purpose runs much deeper. Particularly at the University of Chicago, awareness of the Palestine-Israel crisis is already relatively high. Within the last two years alone, students put together a notable panel critiquing the invasion of the Gaza Strip which elevated the discussion to such an extent that the University saw fit to invite former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to speak on behalf of leadership and the justification of Israel’s military activity toward Palestine. Editorials in the school’s Chicago Maroon regularly deal with pro-Palestine or pro-Israel sentiment on campus, and world-renowned scholar and professor John Mearsheimer recently introduced a course on the study of Zionism and its role in the growth of the occupation.
Still, the dynamic of discussion, awareness, and understanding continues to follow the same route it’s taken for decades. Simply put, the University community goes to events. SJP’s eviction notices on the other hand brought the event to the students, incorporating them into the global movement for international and individual justice. No longer can arbitrary or race-based home demolitions continue to occur on the basis that people just weren’t aware.
There is growing optimism that actions like these will transform campus activism and compel entire communities to condemn injustices all throughout the world.