On Friday evening, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Northwestern hosted “Palestine 101,” a teach-in on the history of Palestine in a contemporary context. The event was meant to educate students on the current situation in Palestine and Israel, including human rights violations occurring in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The presentation was delivered in Harris Hall to a full crowd, which included Northwestern students, alumni and students from other Chicago-area schools. The creators intended it for students who wanted to learn more about Palestine and how to stand in solidarity with the struggles of the Palestinian people.
Weinberg seniors Serene Darwish and Dalia Fuleihan began by talking about terms, defining the current situation in Palestine as an "occupation" rather than a "conflict." A conflict, they told the audience, implies specific events and time periods, but an occupation is ongoing.
“You’ll hear in the mainstream media about a calm before a conflict,” Darwish said, going on to say that the Palestinian narrative is often left out of the discourse when it is presented this way.
The majority of the presentation catalogued the “tools of occupation,” such as arbitrary arrests and detainments, a denial of the right to assemble peacefully and imposed barriers on traveling or obtaining legal paperwork and documentation. Palestinians who lack any form of citizenship are not protected by any formal government, making them targets of labor exploitation as well as the denial of other basic human rights, the presenters said.
“Palestinians in Palestine are internally displaced,” Darwish said. “The people you see on TV are actually refugees in a state that is bombing their hometowns which they can’t go back to.”
Noor Ali, the Multicultural Student Affairs assistant director, shared her story of living in the West Bank during the Second Intifada, a period of intensified Palestinian resistance in the early 2000s. At the time, she was in 11th grade.
“A 10-minute drive would take three hours because there were so many checkpoints,” she said. “We called it ‘get to know your land’” she said, because people would drive through smaller villages in order to get around the checkpoints.
Ali said that people were not allowed to leave their homes for more than three hours in order to get groceries, and often times there was no running water or electricity.
The presenters said Palestinians living in the state of Israel are “second class citizens,” saying the areas to which Arabs are systematically confined are poorer and more overcrowded.
“What would you call all of this?” Darwish asked the audience.
“Genocide,” an audience member called out. “Apartheid,” said another, with others echoing the word.
Before beginning the question-answer session at the very end, Weinberg sophomore Ruba Assaf, SJP co-president, and Medill sophomore Zahra Haider, SJP vice president of public relations, spoke about NU Divest. They said the campaign calls on the University to pull investments from corporations such as Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin, all companies are complicit in specific human rights violations in Palestine, they said.
“The University has $7.9 billion in assets,” Assaf said, noting that some of that comes from students’ tuitions and fees. The campaign calls for greater transparency in financial information, indicating that there is little information available about specific investments made, she explained.
Assaf noted that Northwestern did not divest from companies profiting from the South African apartheid in the 1980s.
“Let’s stand on the right side of history,” she said.
NU Divest has written a resolution, which will be proposed to ASG.
Daniel Isaacson, a Weinberg sophomore, and ASG senator who will likely have to vote on the resolution, said that he came to Palestine 101 to learn more before the vote.
“I was raised in a Jewish family and I was raised to be very pro-Israel,” he said. “I realized there was a large part of the narrative I had no idea about.”
Isaacson says he hopes more educational events continue on campus.
“Seeking out voices of Palestinians and activists on campus has changed my views from high school,” he said. “I’m encouraged to learn more.”
Daniel Ruswick, a McCormick freshman, came to the event to learn more about the situation in Palestine after being invited by a friend. “You don’t always think about occupation and the way it effects every day Palestinians,” he said. “I do stand with Palestine, but I don’t know as much about it. [Palestine 101] has made it clearer and exposed the issue in a way I wasn’t aware of before.”