September 12, 2013
I sit down with Aseel Bannoura. Her face is cheerful, her eyes are bright, her words are astoundingly articulate. Her eloquent English allows her to be perfectly frank with me as I start to ask her questions. Her frankness alone takes me by surprise, but even more striking is the lack of bitterness or anger in her tone. She just tells it to me straight. Even with a whiff of humor now and then.
She is a student at Al-Quds University, a Palestinian University with campuses in Abu Dis, al-Bireh, and in Jerusalem, where Aseel attends. Her English fluency is in part because she is part of a dual-degree program with Bard College at Al-Quds.
The situation is a bit complicated. On many levels. For one, she explains, ‘[It's an] unidentified college by Israelis. They want us to leave the college… It’s the only institute named after Jerusalem, but not identified by Israel Al-Quds.’ I interpret this to mean: it exists, but it is not officially accepted as one of Israel’s Universities by Israel.
The situation is complicated on a basic, ground level, as well. “We have gas bombs there,” she plainly states.
What? My jaw drops, I’m stunned. Okay, call me naïve, I guess I should not be too surprised knowing the conflict. But, when reality jumps off the newspaper page and right into my face I am shocked by it. Aseel goes on to tell me one went off just this week! The students were crying, everyone was upset, parents were horrified, she recounts. I cannot even imagine.
In addition to terrorism and violence, Aseel and other Palestinian students have to engage the daily challenge, frustration, and humiliation of crossing the border through the check point between the West Bank and Jerusalem. “Even the American students know about this, know why we’re late to class.” It’s the same story as with every other Palestinian: potential hold-ups, interrogation, intimidation. I try to conceive what this is like. It’s beyond my imagination. I’ve had experiences being discriminated against and harassed for being a woman. It’s horrible–sickening. It’s one of those experiences where you don’t realize how strongly it’s going to affect you until you’re in it. To face similar and worse oppression twice a day, everyday is unfathomable to me. But, she, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of others do it. Everyday. They keep living. They must. It’s the only way they will survive.
She would like to see that Palestinians get the 1948 lands back. One third to one half of the Palestinians have emigrated, she explains. Despite the diaspora, she says, “Nobody ever gives up their history. [We all have the] right to return.”Fast forward to today:
As I was preparing to post this interview I came across the news there was a recent uproar at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Bard was not the only college in partnership with Al-Quds, Brandeis and Syracuse were, as well. That is, up until mid November. As explained by Algemeiner, “Brandeis University and Syracuse University formally ended their ties with Al- Quds, after a rally held by Islamic Jihad on the Al-Quds campus, which its president, Sari Nusseibeh, did not initially condemn.”
I found Aseel’s words on the occupation all the more poignant in light of this recent tragedy. “I think we’re all able to live together. We’re all humans.” One can only hope.
For more on the alliance between Bard College and Al-Quds University and the University’s recent severing of relationship between Brandeis and Syracuse due to a rally last month read: