Susan Abulhawa walked up to the podium in Meyerson Hall and recited anti-Palestinian Israeli laws as pictures of violence against Palestinians in Israel flashed by on the projector behind her.
Then she abruptly cut off when the screen went dark. “I promised myself I’d stop when the pictures did.”
Palestinian-American author Abulhawa opened the second day of the National Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions Conference on Penn’s campus at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Addressing a crowd of more than 200 people, Abulhawa — the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, an independent organization that establishes playgrounds as safe refuges for Palestinian children in Palestine and Lebanon — spoke of the injustices Palestinians face in Israel and the Middle East.
“There is something humiliating in perpetually having to prove that we are human,” she said.
Comparing the Palestinian struggle to those of the civil rights activists, anti-Vietnam leaders and apartheid South Africa, Abulhawa condemned the United Nations for inactivity and called on Israel “to abandon their nation of superiority.”
“You will never break us,” she said as she neared the end of her speech. An overwhelming applause erupted from the crowd.
Human rights activist Andrew Kadi followed Abulhawa, recounting some of the progress BDS has made.
Kadi said the movement’s message about the mistreatment of Palestinians led speakers and musicians, like Elvis Costello, to cancel appearances in Israel.
Kadi and Abulhawa each expressed their disappointment in Penn administration’s handling of the BDS conference.
“Your university should have applauded you,” Abulhawa said.
Kadi upheld that the University’s behavior was “outrageous and despicable” to an approving crowd.
Omar Barghouti, a founder of BDS, and Palestinian-American Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi both delivered video messages at the opening address.
“As human rights activists, the BDS movement will bring freedom, justice and equality to apply universally to all humans irrespective of color, ethnicity or religion,” Barghouti said.
Khalidi praised PennBDS for creating a place for dialogue where Americans could learn more about the Palestinian situation in unbiased and non-antagonistic framing.
“A movement like this gives activists an opportunity to … talk to Americans who are not knowledgeable about these issues and explain exactly what the situation is for the Palestinian people in Palestine or Palestinians inside Israel,” he said.
The address attracted people from around the country.
“The speech was amazing,” said Suha Najjar, a Palestinian-American. “[Abulhawa] really made us feel like it was our responsibility to take care of this issue.” Najjar traveled from Michigan to attend the conference.
University of Michigan student Michael McHenry who recently got involved with BDS, also made the journey to the conference. “BDS gives me a real hope of accomplishing something,” he said.
This article has been corrected to reflect that Kadi did not say that Macy Gray and Meg Ryan had canceled performances because of the BDS movement’s message about the mistreatment of Palestine.
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