An Arab and Muslim studies professor from San Francisco State University joined American University students for a virtual event on Oct. 29 entitled "The Palestinian Exception to Calls for Social Justice."
Rabab Abdulhadi discussed calls for Palestinian human rights in the United States. AU professors Irene Calis and Zein El-Amine co-hosted the event, which Calis referred to as a call for justice.
"It is about the real material consequences of working towards the emancipation of Palestinian life, land and dignity," Calis said.
Abdulhadi said that people should recognize that criticism of Israel is not the same as anti-Semitism.
"Israel should not get exceptional treatment because Israel is not exceptional. Palestine is not exceptional," Abdulhadi said. "The U.S. is not exceptional, and we argue against exceptionalism. This is a question of justice."
Abdulhadi also discussed her experience fighting against censorship in her line of work and activism.
The conversation was co-sponsored by various student groups, including but not limited to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), African Students' Organization and AU Pride. The Department of Sociology and the Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies served as academic sponsors of the event.
Junior Kiran Waqar, a member of SJP, said that the number of co-sponsors was significant in representing the interconnected concern for justice in Palestine, which many students at AU feel passionate about.
"It can be difficult for a lot of people on American University's campus when they feel like their values aren't seen in a lot of places," Waqar said. "I think a really big part of [the event] is community building and showing people that they can speak up for what they believe is right and that they have other people supporting them."
Junior Aqsa Rashid, also a member of SJP, said another goal of the event was to paint Palestine in a light that students don't often see at AU, one devoid of the logistics of policy that might constrain conversation and debate.
"We're not approaching it from that lens," Rashid said. "We're approaching it like how we can come together as a community that cares about people and justice."
Abdulhadi also spoke about how to keep going when activism work becomes frustrating or hopeless. Abdulhadi advised thinking of this work as a "labor of love."
"Think of what we're doing as coming together to enrich and support each other," Abdulhadi said. "Of course, it's exhausting to do all of this stuff, day in and day out. But what option do we have? What choice do we have?"
In reflecting on the event, Waqar found Abdulhadi's words to be a revitalizing path to justice.
"It's hard to have energy after a long day and on a Team call, but I did," Waqar said, referring to Microsoft Teams. "I had energy because there was hope, and that hope is a return to self. This was one of the most effective, genuine events I've been to on campus. It felt like I could finally breathe; I didn't realize how much I was holding on my chest."