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Dalhousie Keeps Failing Palestinian Students

In more ways than words, Dalhousie isn’t living up to its own standards of social responsibility

Dalhousie University’s weak attempts to support and console Palestinian students impacted by the ongoing violence in Palestine falls flat amidst outward concern for Israel, with little regard for Palestinians on display.

On Oct. 17, Dalhousie President Kim Brooks issued a statement intended to acknowledge the impact of the recent escalations in Gaza on the Dalhousie University community. Although Dalhousie tells prospective international students it “understands that humanitarian crises cause unique challenges for students,” and various international human rights organizations have called attention to and condemned Israel’s ongoing and systemic violation of human rights in Palestine, the school’s statement did not express either of these points. 

The statement only mentioned the violence and loss experienced by Israelis and initiated by the Palestinian resistance group Hamas on Oct. 7 but failed to mention the violence and loss Palestinians are experiencing and have been experiencing for decades. It also failed to acknowledge the glaring humanitarian crisis in Palestine that was already brewing for decades before Hamas even came into existence. 

The hypocrisy of Dalhousie’s humanitarian stances

Dalhousie’s statement brought attention to the university’s stewardship of international humanitarian law in the same breath that it failed to recognize Israel’s obvious disregard for international humanitarian law. When contrasted with Dalhousie’s clear messaging surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, such an oversight only confirms the success of Israel’s decades-long campaign to systematically dehumanize Palestinians

The statement mentions that Dalhousie has “reached out to offer supports to directly affected students, faculty, and staff,” but as a member of the Dalhousie Palestinian Society, I was never aware of Palestinian students being reached out to, nor were any Palestinians consulted before the statement was sent out, to my knowledge. 

Dalhousie may be a global community, but apparently it is not one where Palestinian students, faculty and staff deserve mention, much less empathy. It took over three weeks for the President’s Office to issue an apology that finally acknowledged the violence and loss experienced by Palestinians. It still failed to recognize the oppression and occupation underlying the violence in Palestine. 

Our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion must involve understanding that the harms experienced by an oppressor do not negate the existence of oppression. It only confirms that oppression hurts us all and that our liberation is ultimately tied up in the liberation of others. 

Emotions on Campus and in the Community

Roa’a Abu Osba, a Palestinian student at Dalhousie, said she was extremely disappointed by the university’s response. 

“It’s shameful to see how little the university cares for its Palestinian students and how any emails sent out have been to satiate individuals that have expressed their concerns on the matter,” she said.

There has been much concern about the safety of Jewish students on university campuses. We must continue to reject antisemitism and its recent rise, while also recognizing that many Palestinian students do not feel safe on campus and deserve the same care and concern. 

Abu Osba said many Palestinians, like herself, “don’t feel safe or adequately accommodated within the campus,” and are disheartened “to observe an academic institution contradicting its own principles of inclusivity and fairness.”

Given how Islamophobia is embedded within the racist dehumanization of the Palestinian people, Muslim students have also been profoundly affected by recent events. Islamophobia and antisemitism have no place in our communities, and both must be condemned. 

Being anti-Zionist is not antisemitic and the distinction between the two must be emphasized. There are many Jews who are against the actions of the Israeli government and are calling for a ceasefire. Independent Jewish Voices Canada held a Halifax Jews Say Not In Our Name rally for a ceasefire on Nov. 2.

Dalhousie’s Support for the Israeli Occupation

As important as words are, actions speak louder. According to the list of publicly traded securities published on the university’s website, Dalhousie invests millions of dollars in Israeli weapons manufacturers that supply the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) with weapons used to brutally murder thousands of innocent Palestinians. They include:

Israeli companies that benefit otherwise from the occupation of Palestinian land and control over resources include:

Kieran Muller, the Dalhousie student who made the Dalhousie Palestinian Society aware of these investments, said finding them was “extremely disheartening and frustrating” and that “it feels as though Dal’s words and promises of standing up for international humanitarian law are void.”

“Absolutely nothing about Dalhousie’s investments align with, in their words, values of equality, diversity, inclusiveness, democracy and concern for human welfare,” Muller said. “Any university that supports, directly or indirectly, ethnic cleansing in any way should be shamed and questioned.”

An inconsistent history of social responsibility

The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement calls on universities to “withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.” The BDS movement was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid BDS movement, which Dalhousie participated in. 

A report published by the Dalhousie Investment Committee recognizes divestment as a tool of social change “credited with changing the course of history.” In the 1980s, Dalhousie – along with other education institutions – had divested holdings in three companies with links to the South African apartheid regime. This applied economic pressure and isolated South Africa economically, which was vital to the apartheid regime’s demise

Dalhousie should follow their own precedent of divestments and divest their holdings in companies that sustain Israeli apartheid and occupation. This would also truly align with their statements of concern for human welfare and promises of standing up for international humanitarian law. 

In August of 2022, the Dalhousie president and other Canadian university presidents visited Israel “to build and deepen research partnerships between Israeli and Canadian universities.” Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East issued a statement about the visit and its serious human rights implications. 

Multiple human rights organizations concluded that Israel’s practices are apartheid under international law, including the restrictions on education for Palestinians. The visit to Israeli universities ignores these findings and may be seen as the Canadian universities giving tacit approval to Israel to continue their system of apartheid and restrictions on Palestinian education.

Pro-Palestine Mobilization at Dalhousie

The Dalhousie Palestinian Society aims to be a place for Palestinian students and supporters of the Palestinian cause for freedom to unite. The society’s goal is to create an environment for Palestinian and Arab students to feel at home and connect, while also welcoming students from all backgrounds who would like to get involved. 

The society was established last year with the goal of promoting Palestinian culture and being a place for students to learn more about Palestine. Throughout the past few weeks, it has taken on a different role and is focused on promoting awareness of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and speaking up for Palestinian human rights. 

In the last few weeks, the Dalhousie Palestinian Society has been hard at work organizing the following events and actions:

Petition to Dalhousie (Oct. 17): A petition  that collected over 1,300 signatures was organized following the statement sent out by the President’s Office on Oct. 17, asking for Dalhousie to recognize Palestinian suffering due to the ongoing Israeli occupation and attacks on Gaza. Members of the society met with the President’s Office after sending her the petition and an email attached to it. They demanded the Nov. 11 apology be issued and are still in contact with the President’s Office on potential future statements. 

Numerous events have been organized in recent days in support of Palestinian community members.

Kuffiyeh Week (Oct. 23-27): A week-long event to stand in solidarity with Palestine and encourage students to wear a kuffiyeh on campus. The kuffiyeh is a traditional Palestinian scarf that promotes Palestinian culture, heritage and resistance. 

Student Walkout (Oct. 25): A walkout was organized in response to the Palestinian Youth Movement’s call for a national walkout. Over 100 students showed up and the walkout merged with Saint Mary’s  University’s student walkout. They demanded universities end their funding of weapons manufacturers and call for an end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and Canadian funding for Israel. 

Palestine-Israel Teach-In (Nov. 8 at the Rowe Management Building): A historical context lecture given by Dr. Omar Edaibat that delved into the history of Palestine and Israel and provided a safe space for the community to learn and ask questions. Almost 100 students attended, and the lecture was covered in The Signal.

Trivia and Chai Fundraiser (Nov. 25 at the Killam Library): An evening of trivia, chai and food in collaboration with Islamic Relief at Dalhousie, the Dalhousie Sudanese Society and the Pakistani Student Association. Around 50 students attended and profits from the event were donated to Palestine and Sudan.  

Students at the Palestine-Israel historical context lecture given by Dr. Edaibat.– Photo Credit: Amana Abdosh, Dalhousie Palestinian Society.

Basma Galal, a first-year pharmacy student who supports the society and its events, said the ongoing violence has strained resources, greatly disrupted healthcare services, and led to hundreds of thousands of Gazans being displaced. 

She said it is important for all students, including those in healthcare, “to advocate for the rights of Gazans and Palestinians, whether it be through attending rallies, sharing informative posts, or demanding local representatives call for a ceasefire.”

Follow the Dalhousie Palestinian Society on Instagram to receive updates on events and initiatives on campus and in the community. 

Reflections on the Future

Dalhousie is complicit in the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestine and Palestinians. This has become clear to Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian freedom following the events of Oct. 7.

Palestinian and pro-Palestine students, faculty, staff and community members must unite and demand real change. Calling for a ceasefire in Gaza is the first step, but the demand for change needs to include more. It should be long-lasting and demand an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. This must include demanding an end to all funding and support of the Israeli occupation – including the millions of dollars from Dalhousie. 

The Palestinian movement is currently at its strongest and it must not die down. The movement needs to continue and increase with each individual act and collective demonstration until Palestine is finally free.

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