This week’s meeting of Students for Justice in Palestine began as usual. Students ate falafel and chatted in English, Arabic and even Spanish. I sat next to Jane Wu who, like many of the students I spoke with over the course of the evening, had heard about the event online and decided to attend because “we don’t really get to see as many really personal experiences from people on the ground” in Palestine.

The evening’s guests were Hala Khalil and Ahmad Shwieke, two Palestinian students from Birzeit University , a private university in the West Bank. Khalil, age 20, and Shwieke, age 22, are representatives of “Right to Education,” a Palestinian group dedicated sharing “Student Voices from Occupied Palestine.” They joined eight other Palestinian students who are on a speaking tour of US colleges sponsored by National Students for Justice in Palestine.

“I want to talk about the education in Birzeit and how it’s violated. The education in Birzeit is violated in two ways: first the social life in Birzeit and second the teaching and research,” Khalil told the audience.

Throughout the discussion, the theme of violation was repeated.

Khalil and Shwieke offered a brief historical context – explaining that in 1948 Palestinians were driven from their homes. Today, life is complicated for Palestinian students living in the West bank, 64% of whom must travel through checkpoints with Green Visas, which distinguish them as Palestinians, to get to school.

“If you have the Green ID , which I have, you can’t pass checkpoints unless you have permission,” she explains.

The audience spent much of the Q&A asking Khalil and Shwieke personal questions. What are they studying? Law. What are their plans for after college? Shwieke plans to get a PhD abroad and wants to “do something that will be of benefit to my home country.”

Khalil played a video with footage from a recent “break-in” at their University. The video is in Arabic, but in the background, Israeli tanks and soldiers are approaching the campus. Shwieke also talked about recently controversy over Palestinian textbooks. He played a video of Hillary Clinton condemning educational materials that “glorifies a culture of martyrdom.”

This comment was met with sneers from the audience, and the video concludes, “the right to education starts with the right to set and study your own narrative.”

The audience asked what they could do to get involved. The speakers advocated for BDS, a policy platform of includes boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel.

Engineering senior Lauren Ballester, an organizer of the event, was happy with how the event played out. The “lived narrative makes it a lot more genuine and a lot more relatable,” she said. Ballester counted 70 students in attendance, a “pretty good turnout.”

After leaving Penn, Shwieke and Khalil will be speaking at colleges in New York and New Jersey before returning home to Birzeit to continue their studies.

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