Navigating advocacy and safety: Supporting the Palestinian cause as a student abroad
Ahmad Alsarhan

Studying abroad is a privilege that we should never take for granted, providing the opportunity to travel and learn at some of the world’s best universities. However, in light of recent conflicts involving the Zionist entity and their genocidal actions against the Palestinian people, there has been a new layer of complexity added to this transformative university experience.

As a freshman in the United States, I’ve heard about numerous hate crimes being committed against Arabs, Muslims and supporters of the Palestinian cause. From the brutal murder of a six-year-old Palestinian American boy and the attack on his mother to the most recent shooting of three Palestinian students wearing the keffiyeh. These hate crimes have created an atmosphere of insecurity. Even in my own community, incidents like people entering the mosque during Friday prayers for three consecutive weeks swearing and shouting remarks at us highlight the need for caution when advocating for the Palestinian cause for justice.

In educational settings, I usually avoid political topics to maintain professionalism and respect. However, when the conflict in Palestine escalated in early October, students in one of my classes proposed focusing our final group project on the issue. They wanted to report about events starting to emerge locally to show solidarity for the Zionist entity. As the only Arab and Muslim in the class, expressing my concerns led to slight tension. Despite an attempt from a classmate to condescendingly guilt-trip me into attending events associated with the Zionist entity, I stood firm in my decision not to attend any such event.

Recognizing the tension in the situation, I approached my professor to indicate that I did not view this group project as the appropriate outlet to discuss the conflict. I explained that I had much to say on this issue and was not at all intimidated about speaking my mind, as well as allowing my group members to explore whatever sides they wished to pursue. My professor thankfully understood my perspective and worked with me in finding a neutral solution.

The saying “Choose your battles wisely” holds true when advocating political, humanitarian and just causes. Engaging individuals with a prejudiced mindset can be more useless than speaking to a brick wall, but civil and respectful dialogue can be effective for those genuinely curious and willing to learn. It’s crucial not to be offended by genuine ignorance, recognizing that some people may not have been exposed to the truth of the situation in Palestine. Aggressive engagement only deepens the hole they are in, when it is our duty to help shovel them out through informative conversations.

Before engaging in conversations, being well-informed is essential. Keeping up to date on current events, historical context, and the parties involved empowers us to make a more significant impact while ensuring our advocacy is based on facts and comprehensive understanding of the issues.

While protests and demonstrations are powerful means of advocating for change, it’s important to choose events carefully and act responsibly. I attended a public gathering in early October to discuss the conflict in Gaza and mourn the lives lost of its people. Nearby, a Zionist event was taking place where a large group of their supporters made their way to where we were. It became a large standoff between the two groups, as emotions were high and people protested back and forth. If the area hadn’t been secured with local police, the situation could have escalated and become extremely violent and hostile.

Avoiding violent standoffs and participating in peaceful demonstrations and information sessions with the local community is something I encourage. Show the power in numbers and be there to advocate peacefully for the cause. Supporting direct and known charitable aid organizations and boycotting establishments in the West that align with the Zionist cause are also both significant, non-violent tools in the broader effort to provide much needed support and promote justice in Gaza and for the Palestinian people.

Justice will prevail in Palestine. It is our duty to show support for this cause with a careful balance of personal safety awareness, informed engagement and meaningful action. Do your part to show your support and try to stay safe. In case of emergency, be familiar with the embassy contact, local safety measures and authority contact information. Together, we can make a meaningful contribution. Free Palestine!