It was when his classmates began to spit at him that Rackham student Omar Halawa realized that he felt he could no longer live openly as a Palestinian in Kuwait. Overnight, Halawa went from rarely ever facing discrimination to having to hide his Palestinian identity.
“My mother told me that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. That’s like someone telling an
American your friendly northern neighbor, Canada, had just invaded,” he said.
Halawa was one of two speakers sharing his personal stories at the Palestinian Real World event organized by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, an organization that seeks to promote Palestinian issues on campus.
SAFE President Carmel Salhi said he wanted these two speakers to represent a more humane aspect to the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The purpose of this event is to specifically get out a narrative of a Palestinian story. Palestinians are not just actors on a great national stage; we are trying to humanize the cause so that they are not just political pawns,” he said.
But rather than humanizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, LSA sophomore and Israeli Student Organization spokesman Orrin Pail said the event presented more of a one-sided view.
Absent from the speakers’ discussion was any credit to the Israeli government for granting Palestinians freedoms and education.
“He presented only on side of the story, and his outlook on the future is very pessimistic,” Pail said.
In contrast to Hawala’s story of living with a concealed identity in Kuwait, the other speaker, Rackham student Bashar Tarabieh has lived under territory occupied by the Israelis.
Tarabieh shared his personal narrative of living in Golan Heights — territory under Israeli occupation. “There is more than sufficient evidence, some of which comes from Israeli military documents, that indicates that most of the people living in Syrian villages by the Golan were forcibly evicted during the war and were not allowed to return after fighting,” he said.
Tarabieh shared an incident in high school that molded his political views. While in high school, 200 fellow high school students marched into a village carrying a Syrian flag in honor of Syrian Independence Day. When the high schoolers encountered the police, they threw rocks at them. The police in return began to shoot and suppress the marchers with tear gas.
One woman handed out onions in an effort to help the students being tear-gassed, because the smell of the onions overpowered the effects of the tear gas, Tarabieh said. Yet, Tarabieh said when he saw her a couple minutes later she was lying on the sidewalk, shot between the eyes.
“It made realize there is no logic and no rules. It’s the injustice of the occupation that made me decide to be an activist,” Bashar said.
Even though Halawa and Tarabieh came from different backgrounds, both agreed that a single secular state would be the best solution to the conflict.
“The only sustainable solution is a secular state that does not discriminate against creed, or religion, or color,” Tarabieh said.
The question-and-answer period eventually turned into a political debate with pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli sides discussing the feasibility of a two-state solution or a binational state. Neither side came to a clear agreement on any of the issues encompassing the argument.
“I really liked the debate. I liked both sides being bounced back and forth. (Tarabieh) showed knowledge on the subject while the other side lacked knowledge,” 5th year LSA student and vice chair of SAFE Salah Husseini said.
LSA freshman and chair of Israeli Student Organization Or Shotan was upset that even though Tarabieh attended Hebrew University, they still did not agree on certain issues. “I was shocked that he showed no appreciation for the Israeli system from which he reaped so many benefits. As an example: Can a Palestinian show radical extreme views such as his in any other Arab country around the world? Or gain such an education by a state-funded school such as the Hebrew University. A great example of this is Omar’s story,” he said.
Halawa did not disagree with binationalism — the creation of one state with Israel and Palestine functioning as separate entities — but did not view it as the best way to solve the problem.
“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a bruise — it’s just covering the truth. I can’t sit here and tell you that either side is more entitled to the land. Both sides are entitled to the land,” Halawa said.
— Whitney Rae Markell and CC Song contributed to this article