10 Palestinian students returned to the West Bank this week from a tour of more than 40 colleges across the United States where they spoke about the challenges facing Palestinians in their quests to achieve their right to an education.
The two-week tour, held from Nov. 10-20 under the banner “Building Unity, Wrecking Walls” as part of the Right to Education campaign at Birzeit University, was one of the first of its kind in recent memory.
It was all the more striking for its insistence on discussing both Israeli obstacles against the Palestinian right to education as well as the challenges faced by youths of color in the United States.
Coming amid mass protests across the United States against police brutality in the wake of the killing of Mike Brown, a black youth from the state of Missouri who was unarmed and posed little threat to police when they shot him, the tour emphasized the need not only to share Palestinians’ experiences with Americans but also to “exchange information between Palestinians and US social movements fighting related issues of racism, colonialism, and attacks on education.”
Kristian Davis Bailey, a Stanford alumni and the US coordinator of the tour, told Ma’an that the tour “was designed to demonstrate that people and movements in the US also need the support of Palestinians, and for students from both locations to begin thinking about what ongoing relationships and joint struggle across borders might look like.”
He quoted one of the students on the tour, Mahmoud Doughlas, as telling him: “We tried to connect the dots between the struggles between the African American society and the Palestinians and we found this major solid ground that we share together — it’s that we are not allowed to narrate our own history.”
Indeed, for many of the Palestinian students the tour revealed a side of the US and its history that they scarcely knew existed. Bailey pointed out that the silencing of the voices in the United States shared many parallels with the struggles faced by Palestinian voices in reaching the global community.
“Israel and its hasbara machine have worked very hard to define the narrative of Palestinians and to obscure the injustices of the occupation,” he told Ma’an.
“This tour allowed Palestinians to shatter those walls and present their own unfiltered narratives to American audiences. Once people hear what’s actually happening, it becomes clear that pressure against these violations through BDS is the least we can do. Understanding the parallels and connections between Palestinians and peoples’ struggles in the US provides some inspiration for joint struggle for us to undertake together.”
The students’ tour across the United States, which covered five regions, began at a vigil in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson for Mike Brown, where the 10 Palestinian students gathered to pay their respects and meet with local activists working against police brutality and the mass incarceration of black youths.
Deema al-Saafin, a senior at Birzeit University who took part in the tour, said that her experience had shown her that the obstacles faced by Ferguson activists were surprisingly similar to those they experienced back home.
“The Palestinian struggle is not a unique one and is part of the broader imperialist-colonialist struggle that many people worldwide are victims of. Thus Palestinians cannot resist alone, and local resistance should be paired with international resistance,” she told Ma’an after returning to the West Bank.