Faculty members, students hold Pause for Palestine event about history, ongoing conflict in Palestine

<p>A mural in Palestine, 2014.</p>

A mural in Palestine, 2014.

Editor’s note: Two students speaking at the event were concerned about facing harassment if quoted and attributed in this piece, in light of recent events regarding harassment and student safety at other college campuses. 

The Chronicle is committed to maintaining journalistic standards and credibility in our coverage. After speaking with the two students featured in the article, The Chronicle has elected to grant anonymity to the students who requested it. The Chronicle has confirmed the accuracy of the quotes published through our own recording of the event.  

A group of faculty members and students spoke about the history of and ongoing conflict in Palestine at a Thursday event sponsored by Duke Students for Justice in Palestine, the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies and the International Comparative Studies program.

The Pause for Palestine event’s speakers included Frances Hasso, professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies and Jessica Namakkal, associate professor of the practice of international comparative studies, gender, sexuality and feminist studies and history. Two students who wished to remain anonymous, a sophomore and a second-year master's international student from Palestine, also spoke. The professors later gave attendees a chance to hold an open conversation. 

“I know it can be really hard in the classroom, when you feel like you are outnumbered,” Namakkal said. “... One of the reasons we decided we needed to do this immediately was so you could see the other faces in this room and say, ‘Actually, we're not alone.’”

Student voices 

The sophomore speaker, who is originally from Palestine but was raised in the United States, shared a prepared speech to an audience of around 50 people. 

They acknowledged how “incredibly overwhelmed, anxious and stressed” they have felt in recent days about the developments in Palestine.

The student began writing their speech after returning from a rally for Palestine held Sunday in downtown Raleigh. They said that while they normally feel “motivated and excited” to continue their activism for Palestine after rallies, they felt “absolutely hopeless and drained” afterward. 

“I feel drained from the constant fight to defend my identity, to prove that my people are worthy of human dignity,” they said. “I’m drained from being anxious about having to attend class at a pro-Zionist university, from receiving threats from my peers who harass anyone who utters a single criticism of Zionism.”

“I’m drained from the dirty looks I get as I’m trying to pick up my lunch. I’m drained from worrying about my friends and family overseas who simply want to live their lives. I’m drained as I watch the media label Palestinians as terrorists, while people in other lands who resist occupation are dubbed heroes,” they continued. “I’m drained from my morals constantly being questioned. I’m drained as I try to convince my professors to even say the word Palestine.” 

The sophomore criticized the narrative they have noticed that forgets “crucial context” about the deaths of Palestinians and the “open air prison that is Gaza,” which is currently under a “complete blockade” after Israeli authorities announced Monday that they would bar the entry of electricity, food and water into the region. 

The master’s student spoke about their personal experiences while living in Palestine.   

In one of these instances, a few months after they completed their undergraduate degree in the U.S. and returned to Palestine, they awoke to armed Israeli soldiers in their family’s home. 

That same night, their brother was taken away by Israeli soldiers, accused of throwing stones at the soldiers' Jeeps. Their family did not know about their brother’s whereabouts for 17 days, after which they learned that he was sentenced to prison for a year.

Their brother’s wife, who was pregnant at the time, gave birth while he was in prison. When the child was four years old, the master’s student heard him talking about the Israeli soldiers and asked their sister-in-law how he knew about them. She responded that she had told him about them.

“I was like, ‘Why are you talking to him, why does he have to go through this? He’s still young, let him live. Let him live,’” the master’s student recounted. 

But she pushed back on that idea. “He needs to know all of this. He will face it one day,” she said.  

Despite this, the master’s student believes that their experiences are incomparable to those of Palestinians living in Gaza. 

“Is violence the right way? It's not. But if somebody has no other option, I can't put myself in his shoes because my suffering is not the same,” they said. 

The sophomore speaker said that Palestinians are “some of the strongest people on this earth.” 

“We don't look for pity. We have strength within ourselves. That's why despite no military, no funds, and barely any international support, we are here. Palestinians are here. We are loud, and we are proud, and there's absolutely no getting rid of us no matter how much people may try,” they said as the room applauded.

Media and discourse

Hasso urged the audience to do three things: to ask more questions about the history and causes behind the current war, to assume that they “have been and are being deliberately miseducated at all levels” and to educate themselves on how Palestine and Israel “do not exist in a vacuum.” 

Hasso also encouraged attendees to use their “curiosity and critical thinking skills” to look past the “fog of war,” as well as expand their circles to make relationships with new people and look for information elsewhere. 

“This manipulation is happening at an intense rate with the full complicity of all respectable media sources and the states,” she said. “So look elsewhere for your information. In fact, look many elsewheres. Use logic, use your brains, your humanity, ask questions and maybe make relationships with new people … Most of us are living in bubbles.” 

Hasso concluded her comments by showing two videos — a clip by AJ+ stating why the attack on Israel was not “unprovoked,” and a clip of the Electronic Intifada podcast with Shahd Abusalama, a Palestinian academic and activist.  

Namakkal gave a presentation about the meaning of decolonization, as well as the meaning of self-determination and who has the right to self-determination. 

Namakkal framed the definition of decolonization today through the return of land, the right to self-determination, and “a change in discourse that acknowledges Israel’s power as a settler colony.” 

“When this [change in discourse] is not recognized as a current process, then there is no discussion of decolonization. Then we have terrorist groups fighting against states and we're not talking about … a very historic and long project of an imperial expansion and colonization that continues vastly through settler colonialism today,” she said. 

Open discussion 

In the second half of the event, Hasso opened the floor up to comments and questions from the crowd. 

Several attendees criticized a lack of support for Palestine from prominent U.S. leaders including President Joseph Biden, who released a statement “unequivocally condemn[ing] this appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza” Saturday and called the Hamas attack on Israel “pure, unadulterated evil” Tuesday. 

Others criticized President Vincent Price’s Tuesday statement that urged the Duke community to denounce the recent attacks in Israel. They said that the message lacked nuance by not mentioning Palestine.

One attendee asked a question about how to navigate conversations with friends who are Zionists or pro-Israel. Namakkal suggested that students begin asking their friends why they agree with this cause, then encourage them to “look at some other histories together.” 

“There are lots of understandings of what it means to live under settler colonialism throughout the world. So take it on as a bigger question, if you're afraid of focusing only on one experience, because Palestinians know they're part of a bigger conversation,” she said. 


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Audrey Wang | Editor-in-Chief

Audrey Wang is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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