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Illustration by Shahd Nigim

Beyond Silence — On amplifying palestinian voices in nyuad

We are grateful for the support from community members but this acceptance of our reality and our decision to celebrate the Palestinian identity as a form of asserting our existence continues to be a product of a painful healing process.

In May 2021, at the peak of attacks on Gaza and violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem in the form of forced expulsions, regular attacks on civilians, the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque during the holy month of Ramadan and the harassing of people in prayer, Students for Justice in Palestine at NYU Abu Dhabi and allies of Palestinian students organized an event to emphasize solidarity with the Palestinian people. The event intentionally spotlighted the lived experiences of Palestinians on campus who were directly affected by the violent occupation in Palestine, including Palestinians who grew up in the West Bank, Palestinians who have family throughout Palestine, and Palestinians who were born and raised in the diaspora, their villages, towns, and cities in Palestine destroyed, forcefully expelling their grandparents from their land.
Then, on the commencement of the same year, SJP and their allies collectively decided to wear a Palestinian kuffiya along with the cap and gown during commencement to show their solidarity with the Palestinian cause following the attacks on Jerusalem and Gaza in the summer of 2021. This tradition continued in the commencement ceremony of the Class of 2022. Students sought solace in wearing the kuffiya, a scarf often representing resistance and strength, after the heavy blow of institutional silence that they encountered a few days before their graduation. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but on their commencement day, the students’ kuffiyas were worth a thousand unsent emails.
Ever since the events in May 2021, SJP has been in regular contact with the administration, including the Dean of Students office and Spiritual Life and Intercultural Education, in order to navigate means of institutional support of the Palestinian student body and their allies. During the early stages of these communications, SJP has hoped for structural and immediate forms of institutional support, such as sending an institution-wide email condemning the repeated violation of human rights in Gaza and East Jerusalem as they did following George Floyd’s murder or the rise of anti-Asian violence in the US. SJP has also asked administration to help them share the list of educational resources that SJP and their allies have compiled for community members to learn more about the Palestinian cause. However, after a multitude of mentally and emotionally taxing and frustrating meetings with administration in the summer of 2021, we came to understand that our requests cannot be granted given the unique position of our institution, both geographically and within the NYU global network. While heartbreaking and disappointing, the answers SJP and their allies received for their requests held a long-coveted transparency from the administration’s side that generated the need for unconventional alternative ways to break the silence. These include informed interactions with the student body about Palestine, cultural and educational events hosted regularly and proactively by students, and making the Palestinian identity, reality, history, and culture, more salient on campus both inside and outside the academic sphere.
Our endeavors to represent our Palestinian identity on campus would not have been as successful without our professors from Palestine, the Arab world, and other countries who continue to guide us and offer their support. Their extensive knowledge of the history of the Palestinian struggle, their connections with various influential Palestinian figures, and their constant reassurance of our right to refuse to engage in debates questioning our identity and right to exist have been integral to our work and our sense of belonging on campus. In the past, they have connected us with Palestinian filmmakers who talked to students about their films, actively participated in our events by sharing their knowledge and their stories, and helped us branch out to the Palestinian community in Abu Dhabi. While some Palestinian students on campus have encountered microaggressions in the classroom with faculty attempting to silence them and subvert their Palestinian identity, the professors who support us counteract this kind of violence, making it all the more important for faculty to be proactive and intentional in understanding their students’ identities.
The support that we have gotten from faculty, students, and other community members since May 2021 and since the establishment of the Student Interest Group has allowed SJP to better amplify the voices of Palestinians across different platforms. SJP intentionally creates a platform for engaging with Palestinian culture by giving interested students a role in the design and execution of the event. We also try to open the stage for creative expressions that capture the learnings and sentiments after events.
We host educational events that involve storytelling and informational creative depictions of different aspects of the reality of life in Palestine that are often neglected by many. During SJP’s Palestine 101, which happens every Fall semester, community members are invited to learn about different aspects of the Palestinian identity, including the history of different parts of Palestine, different Palestinian gender and racial identities, and Palestinian art through an educational lens. Moreover, we hosted a storytelling event in Fall 2020 where community members from Palestine shared their personal attachments to Palestine in the form of stories from their past, which are usually untold during our day-to-day interactions.
Apart from these events, we wanted SJP to have a structural presence on campus, especially given our individual transience in our roles as SIG leaders. For this reason, we started a podcast in Spring 2022, aimed at providing a more permanent and perhaps even more personal medium through which the NYUAD community can learn about the Palestinian struggle, culture, and history through the lens of other members of the community. The podcast provides a platform for amplifying Palestinian voices on campus and the voices of the Palestinian cause’s allies by providing an otherwise seldom available non-academic space to talk about all things Palestine.
SJP’s Dabkeh workshops, which first started in Fall 2021, are another way that we have tried to extend SJP’s presence on campus beyond a one-time event. We got students from all different countries of the world interested in learning our traditional dance, and we met once a week to learn new moves and practice the beats of Arabic music. Being able to teach and talk about such an important aspect of our culture to other students was a deeply valuable experience for us, especially seeing as it made our SIG more accessible to other non-Arab students. A Palestinian mock pre-wedding ceremony, or “zaffeh”, culminated our semester-long efforts in Fall 2022, after which SJP’s Dabkeh students performed in two dance groups to tens of enthusiastic attendees. While seemingly a simple cultural aspect that may not be unique to Palestine, performing our traditional dance on the highline on a breezy November evening (or really, whenever we hear a hint of upbeat Arabic music) has allowed us to show our community that we, Palestinians and their allies, still and will always exist. Even if we cannot always break the silence with words, we have faith that our music and our coordinated loud thumps on the ground during dabkeh might just do the trick.
As proud as we are of the work that we do at SJP, at the end of the day we must ask ourselves, are we satisfied? Can we do more? The new ways we have found to break the silence surrounding the Palestinian cause are a result of a long and tiring process of back-and-forth expectations and disappointments. We found power in taking the initiative of amplifying Palestinian voices on campus when others tried to suppress them, but that was only after we heard the echo of our voices as we called to break the institutional violence and nothing but the echoes. We are grateful for the overwhelming support from community members that SJP has, but this acceptance of our reality and our decision to celebrate the Palestinian identity as a form of asserting our existence is and continues to be a product of a healing process — one that often tends to be painful. Nonetheless, as Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once said, “And we [Palestinians] love life, as long as we are able to find a way.”
This piece is cowritten by the E-Board of Students for Justice in Palestine. Email them at
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