You can’t ban their stories

When he was 6-years-old, Hanza Roshdi, now 22, was unfazed by the bullets that would fly through his window. It was common when he lived in Bethlehem, West Bank. Rockets were launched at his house. Tanks were parked so close that he could reach out of his window and touch the antenna.

The West Bank, and other areas of the Middle East, have been embroiled in Israeli-Palestinian violence and discourse since the collapse of peace talks in 2014.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order last week banning refugees from entering the United States for 120 days and also banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations for three months. Those countries include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.  It was also announced last week, according to a CNN news report, that “the Israeli government has recently approved an expansion of 2,500 homes in the West Bank in defiance of the resolution, which called for a halt in settlement construction.”

The two-state solution, which former Secretary of State John Kerry warned was being threatened due to the construction of additional settlements, calls for a Palestinian state (consisting of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem) to coexist with an Israeli one.       

The order targets countries in the Middle East and Trump has nominated David Friedman, who has ties to Israel’s far-right. He has also threatened to cut off aid, close PLO offices in Washington and restore the organization to terrorist group status, according to Global Research. Some Palestinians are worried that though they are not currently on the list, they could be next.

Roshdi reflected on his own perspective of the violence given these circumstances and recent events. For him, the situation in Palestinian territory is one that requires proper labels before even talking about solutions— it’s not a conflict, but an occupation.

“There’s a military occupation in Palestinian territory because we can see how soldiers are killing innocent people in Palestine,” Roshdi said. “It’s an occupation because it’s people dressing in military uniform, fighting against people that don’t have any type of weapons, only stones. Conflicts are something going on between two people (who) have the same power. When you talk about people oppressed by superpowers on their own land, it’s an occupation. When we say it’s a conflict, that’s putting down our cause.”

Although many oppose what’s occurring in Palestine, others in Israel disagree, citing that there is a biblical, historical and political connection to security and the land.

Matthew Charnay, who serves as the Jewish Life Coordinator at DePaul, believes the situation has a lot of gray areas, which he believes makes it difficult to pinpoint who to blame and how to go forward.

(Graphic by Lauren Johnson / The DePaulia)

“The nuances, the intricacies and the history here is so long and involved that’s it’s really difficult for anybody to be knowledgeable on everything that’s going on,” Charnay said. “Every settlement is different and every neighborhood is different. What line got drawn during what war is different. Players, on either side of it, are using the politics to push an agenda, that’s not necessarily the politics that are happening. It’s easy to ignite feelings about faith, imperialism and colonialism. We put our own context on it, and not actually what’s going on.”

Having enough knowledge of the issues in his country was also a concern for Roshdi, as he contemplated the decision to leave home in 2012. Wanting to further his education so that he could bring change and growth to Palestine, Roshdi made the decision that he didn’t want to stay. With the encouragement of his father, he decided to come to America. His flight landed at O’Hare in March.

Roshdi described it as “a different world.”

Two years after his arrival, this new world started to bring a lot of doubt and confusion.  When thoughts of his constant marginalization become unbearable, Roshdi is reminded of the strength of his father, who is a successful businessman. Whenever Roshdi is called a terrorist or something racist is said to him, he thinks of his father’s resilience despite similar circumstances.

Having this mindset, Roshdi decided to pursue his studies at DePaul University. When he’s not in the classroom he has other priorities, such as raising his younger brothers. In his culture, however, brother has a multilayered meaning.

“The relationships between brothers and sisters in Palestine has a deeper meaning than the general term. Akh means brother. If anything happens to my brother I would be the first one with him,” Roshdi said. “Even if we fight against each other, I would not leave him alone. That’s our mentality. Having your brother on your side, giving you the strength to be more powerful in the future.”

This element of solidarity can also be seen through the friendship Roshdi shares with fellow DePaul student, Husam Issa.

Issa and Roshdi first met at an Arab-culture event on campus in November 2013. After discovering they were both from Bethlehem, it was an immediate click.

“I remember that day we went home together,” Issa said. “My whole high school, I didn’t have any Arab or Palestinian friends. When I meet this guy, and go to his house, all of it comes back to me. He spoke Arabic. He met my family. His family came from Palestine. My mom and his mom became really good friends. I enjoyed hanging out with him more than anyone else because I needed that reminder of home.”

Issa‘s role goes beyond being Roshdi’s right hand man. He also serves as an activist in his community and works in promoting justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for Palestinian people. Although Issa considers himself a leader, he doesn’t look at his role as  having any hierarchy.    

“Being president does not make me more important than anyone else,” Issa said. “Everyone has roles, and I help everybody with their roles. I don’t try to take advantage. I try my best to set an example, and teach the younger students as much as possible. It means a lot to me because I have people to take care of. It’s a way of giving back home, and doing something on campus. It needs to be done.”

That question of what must be done has been asked all around the country in these last few weeks. With protests around the country trying to reverse the Trump administration’s executive order on refugees, many are wondering, “what are those steps needed to bring peace?”

Charnay believes that our first step towards change is giving less attention to what he calls the “the extremes,” and more attention to the ones fighting for equality.

“Instead of pacifying the people on the extreme side, we need to be focusing on the middle people, the bridge builders,” said Charnay. “What linchpins do they need to come to a solution. We’re never going to be able to make the extremes happy.”

As for Roshdi, he believes the younger generation of Palestine is going to make a difference in the world, starting with himself.

With the order now being challenged, Roshdi sees this as the right time to understand the world around him as well. He hopes for the future, not just for himself, but for the world he lives in, too.

“I want to make change through myself being more educated, and being a successful businessman,” Roshdi said. “If that happens I would be doing more things in Palestine like developing the education there and have more ways to think of what’s going on around the world. If anything happens in the United States, it’s going to affect the whole world because it (influences) the main politics. I didn’t think about that when I was in Palestine. It’s not just Palestine. If we know how it works, and we learn more about it, we could change a lot.”

The DePaulia respects the privacy of students and provided aliases in the story to keep the identities of these students anonymous.