The Palestine Talk

Dear Olin, 

You are about to read the all-student email I sent at the end of my senior year in 2022. Today I believe that email is more important than it ever was. There have not been many Palestinians at Olin – to my knowledge, the only two were in my class of 2022. By the time we both graduated, we had left our marks on our classmates by engaging them in our family histories and our culture. As anyone who attended Olin at that time could attest, I sent a lot of emails about Palestine, and you can still see some of the posters I hung up around campus. I tried to do my part to be an activist from Olin’s apolitical bubble, and I am still engaging in activism in my post-college life. The way I see it, I owe a lot to Olin – I learned so much about myself here. But Olin also owes a lot to me, and to the other students who fought for their rights here. My class began a lot of the work that you see happening today at Olin – we fought for better considerations for students who experienced sexual abuse, we fought for gender-neutral bathrooms, we fought for the climate, we fought for racial justice, and we fought for Palestine. I believe my class only had the ability to fight and only found success because we uplifted each other’s causes. There have only been two Palestinians at Olin, but the people who I studied with amplified the Palestinian voice and cause as if it were their own. I hope that you will read my words and feel what my classmates felt – that Palestine is your issue too. My people are facing genocide after decades of slow ethnic cleansing. We have been suffering in the diaspora and from the occupation. We need you to be the Palestinian voice at Olin. 

Email from 2022:

As my final semester at Olin comes to a close, I grow more and more worried about what will happen when I leave. I am one of the few Palestinian students to ever attend Olin, and in my time here I’ve been trying really hard not to let anyone forget it. Being Palestinian defines so much of my identity, both because it is my culture that I love and because it is the identity for which I am the most hated. Every friendship I have starts with “the Palestine talk”, a frankly exhausting endeavor in an attempt to make sure my friends know what they’re signing up for. But they’re mostly graduating, and I don’t want the Palestinian story at Olin to die, so here’s the Palestine talk, one last time, for all of you.

My dad’s parents grew up in a farming village outside of Haifa, called Al-Mansi, which no longer exists. In 1948, they were forced from their homes and into refugee camps. Because of the way the UN categorized names, my family name was changed from Bin Seidan to Al-Ahmad. My grandfather at the time was, we think, 7. His original records don’t exist anymore. The UN decided he was 5, which is the only reason he was able to start getting his education, and gave him the birthday of January 1, the birthday they assign to all refugees whose records are lost. My dad’s family is not unique – my grandfather was one of at least 750,000 people forcefully made refugees in 1948. My mother’s family is from Hebron, a city in the West Bank. After 1948, the economic opportunities for Palestinians in all occupied lands were scarce, and they were forced to move more and more into what is now Jordan (at the time all of the West Bank was occupied by Jordan). In 1967, Israel gained control of the West Bank and suddenly what was supposed to be a temporary move to find work meant they could no longer go back to their home in Hebron. This is what happened to another 280,000-325,000 Palestinians. I tell this story to new friends when we start to get close – 9 times out of 10 the conversation ends with them sobbing and me numb. 

Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees across the world – the same number resides in the Palestinian territories and Israel today. I am counted in that number. This month, Israeli forces raided a mosque during Ramadan and barred Palestinian Christians from entering their churches on Good Friday and Easter. They also bombed the Gaza Strip, which has been under blockade since 2006 and is widely considered to be an open-air prison. No one at Olin is talking about it. This is not unique or new – this kind of treatment of Palestinians has been ongoing for 74 years, and it has been more deadly than this in the past. No one at Olin is talking about it. The story of Palestinians is often not told, the humanity of my people ignored as we get slaughtered by a military that is funded by the US government. The story of Palestine is also not unique – it’s the same story of all indigenous people forced from their homelands or forced to live under their colonizers. The Israeli Defense Forces (the ridiculously named Israeli military) trains police forces in the United States – the same police we protest today in many movements for their horrifying treatment of black men and women. I bring this all up because I know that many do not engage with Palestinian activism because they believe they do not know enough, it’s too complicated, or it’s not their place. I invite you all to reconsider that. You know this story here in America – it’s the same story in a different language. By staying silent, you are allowing what exists today to continue.

This year, I started the BOW Students for Justice in Palestine. This organization isn’t my first form of activism for Palestine on campus, but it will be my last. When I graduate I will be passing the leadership on to a Babson student. Currently, we have very few active Olin students. I am begging you all – please don’t let the fight for my people on this campus die. Please don’t let Palestine be forgotten at Olin. All I want is for the next Palestinian girl who comes to Olin to not feel so isolated and alone and to not face as much racism and ignorance as I did. You all hold the power, now and always. Start talking about Palestine.

Here are some websites to check out if you want to learn more:

And here is the BOW SJP Instagram – the link to join the WhatsApp is in the bio:

Maya Laila Al-Ahmad 🇵🇸

I haven’t shared much of my family’s story to many in the Olin community in detail, but I want to share pieces now because it hurts to know that this community that supported me and I supported during my time at Olin can be silent while my family and people fight to live through a genocide. My dad grew up in Gaza City, most of which is now rubble. The church my family used to go to on Sundays in Gaza was bombed on October 20th killing 18 Palestinians, 3 of which were my cousins. The cemetery where my grandparents were buried has also been destroyed in bombings.  None of my family that had left Gaza was able to return for their funerals because you can’t simply visit Gaza as a Palestinian and not fear for your own life. The killing and destruction in Gaza has been happening for years. When my dad was a kid going to school in Gaza in the 1980s, 6 of the students in the class he entered with didn’t make it to graduation and were killed by bombs or the Israeli Defense Force. If he were a kid in Gaza today only 6 would be considered lucky. My family chose to stay in Gaza from 1755 being the earliest documented up until my grandparents’ generation passed away in their home in Gaza that is likely now rubble as well. My dad and his brothers were lucky to be able to leave before it became a blockade where that choice is no longer a choice people in Gaza can make. I called it a choice, but it was never really a choice. Leaving Gaza is to leave your family’s home that you’ve stayed in for years and years and leave the family you grew up with, cousins, siblings, and know that you may never be able to peacefully return and for my dad that holds true 38 years later. And if he hadn’t left, who knows if he’d be alive today after over a month of genocide that this community had been silent about. I echo Maya’s plea to support Palestinians and keep our fight alive. 

David Tarazi 🇵🇸

Some groups to follow to stay updated on upcoming Free Palestine actions:

Student organizations: MIT Coalition Against Apartheid (@mit_caa), Wellesley for Palestine (@wellesleyforpalestine), Harvard Palestinian Solidarity Committee (@harvardpsc), Tufts SJP (@sjptufts), Northeastern SJP (@nuslsjp and @nusjp)

Boston organizations: Jewish Voices for Peace Boston (@jvpboston), Boston South Asian Coalition (@bsac_boston), If Not Now Boston (@ifnotnowboston), Boston Liberation Center (@bostonliberationcenter), Massachusetts Peace Action (@masspeaceaction), Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Boston (@bdsboston)