Before coming to Yale, both of us were given the advice that almost all Arab parents give to their children: do not talk about Palestine. We quickly realized that our parents’ advice was not unfounded. Our entire first and sophomore years, we never felt comfortable speaking about Palestine in any context — in many spaces, even saying we are Arab felt like a political statement.
Things changed abruptly in May 2021. Israel’s violence in Sheikh Jarrah fueled a worldwide surge of anger that ruptured the culture of silence at Yale. We, along with several other Yale students, hastily met over Zoom and within hours wrote a statement of condemnation of Israel’s actions. We were furious, we were hurt, and we needed the Yale community to hear us and to recognize Palestinian suffering. We decided to make our group an official organization that would fill the gaping lack of space to talk about Palestinian rights and experience under occupation. We didn’t affiliate with any national organization, choosing instead to create a group – Yalies4Palestine – that would address the issues grounded in the unique contexts of Yale.
We sent our statement to the YCC so the Senate could vote on whether to endorse it. As soon as we released our statement, we were accused of being “one-sided” and failing to recognize the “other side” of the conflict. If we wanted to be included in campus dialogue on Palestine, we could not explicitly demand recognition of Palestinian suffering. If we wanted to be palatable, we had to sacrifice a call for justice for the sake of dialogue.
But even when faced with this reaction, we continued trying to engage in dialogue. This year we started a campaign calling on Yale to end its contract with G4S. But this time we were dedicated to reaching out to a wide variety of Yale and New Haven organizations, including Slifka leaders, to ask for dialogue before submitting our resolution to the YCC. The draft of our resolution was leaked to the far-right website Daily Caller, which sent location-targeted ads to students on social media. An email was sent to the Yale Friends of Israel panlist warning that we were attempting to stifle Jewish voices on campus. When we called for community conversation, we were accused of silencing discourse. We trusted that these organizations would help us. Only days later, that trust was broken.
Every time we have spoken up on behalf of Palestine, we have been shut down, silenced, slandered and explicitly threatened and intimidated — including by leaders of Slifka Center. These aggressive reactions led us to realize that most people at Yale were not willing to listen to us. We realized that we could no longer sacrifice our belief in justice in exchange for a type of dialogue we weren’t even allowed to participate in.
We seek to redefine dialogue at Yale. We have created previously nonexistent spaces where we could talk about Palestine without being demonized. We gathered on Cross Campus to paint and sell tote bags. Dozens of Yalies would stop to ask us questions about the Palestinian-inspired artwork and even join us in painting. We hosted teach-ins, where students from a wide range of political beliefs and previous understandings sat around tables and talked to each other. We collaborated with other student organizations, like YUPP and the Women’s Center, for reading groups and workshops where students could think about the intersections between the Palestinian cause and their own movements. We have created spaces where people are not afraid to ask questions, challenge dominant historical narratives, and voice their solidarity with Palestinians.
In the process, we have created a movement of people at Yale dedicated to a true understanding of justice and compassion. This movement has grown into a community bound by a collective purpose we have not felt in most spaces at this institution. We have pushed each other to grow as organizers, artists, students, and teachers, and we have created an organization that has a place for everyone who has ever felt silenced by the boundaries of “dialogue.”
The definition of dialogue in its present form sacrifices the rights of Palestinians to accommodate the discomfort of those who sympathize with Israel. The kind of “dialogue” that we have been urged to pursue – the kind that doesn’t allow for challenging the status quo – only serves to sanitize the violence of the occupation and to restrain critique. But the tides of discourse are changing, and we have seen how Yalies have become more willing to stand with Palestinians. We are proud that Y4P has helped redefine dialogue around Palestine on our own terms. As we approach graduation and reflect on our co-founding of Yalies4Palestine, we urge our fellow students and organizers to not compromise and not wait for a seat at the table. Build your own and welcome those who genuinely seek the pursuit of justice.
Ruqaiyah Damrah is a senior in Saybrook College studying History and specializing in the Middle East. She is the co-Editor-in-Chief of Yale Journal on Israel and Palestine and one of the co-founders and the current head of Yalies4Palestine. Contact her at email@example.com
Ismael Jamai Ait Hmitti is a loitering senior in Saybrook College studying History and specializing in the Middle East. He is one of the co-founders and a current member of Yalies4Palestine and a member of the Perspectives: the Yale Journal on Israel Palestine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org