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I am Palestinian, and I am human, and I am here

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He smelled of alcohol, his eyes drifting over me with a glassy, half-drunk gaze. From a distance, we might have appeared as friends. His arm was draped over my shoulder in a posture of familiarity, but when I tried to shift my body away from his vodka-scented breath, I found myself constrained by his steely grip. I blinked, my confusion shifting to alarm. Around us, other members of my senior class were mingling and sipping cool drinks beneath dappled shade, oblivious to my silent panic.

“This girl. This girl,” the stranger presented me to his cohort of half a dozen Caucasian males and a few flushed, smirking young women. I had been headed across the lawn to talk to a friend when the tall stranger had lassoed me with his arm. Speechless, I waited for him to finish his thought. “I heard this funny joke, wanna know what’s hilarious?” he slurred. I was puzzled, but couldn’t shake the feeling that the rest of the group already knew the punchline. His arm still rested heavy around me. I supposed this was just a typical case of drunk-fratboy, and I braced myself for some misogynistic joke or more nonsensical rambling. What he said next was neither.

“This girl thinks that Palestinians should have human rights.”  His companions laughed conspicuously as he turned to me, leaning in with drooping eyelids, his ruddy lips hovering close to my face. Too stunned to flinch, I felt a million needles sinking into my chest as he continued, “Sometimes, she holds meetings to talk about Palestinian rights. Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that awesome? Did you know there are people who think Jews and Arabs are equals?” Barely processing his words, I tried vaguely to pull away. He let his arm slide off my shoulders, moving his hand to grasp my forearm instead. He waved his flask at me. “Have a drink baby. What’s the matter?”

I tried to ignore the snickering of the group, lifting my head as high as I could. “Stop it.” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. “What’s your problem? Have a drink, baby.” His hand gripped my arm tighter. “She’s pretty sexy, isn’t she—for an Arab, I mean?”

“Stop it.”

“What’s your problem?” He repeated, his expression turning from mockery to something akin to hatred. My head swam. The touch of his fingers seemed to sap me of strength—as if by laying his hands on me, against my will, this man had brought the force of my people’s dispossession to bear. His sneer seemed to echo the denial I’d faced countless times during four years of campus activism and a lifetime of being Palestinian. You don’t count. Your people are less than people. Your tragedy is a myth. Shut up, and disappear.

I groped for some defiant retort, but the imposing cluster of tall, broad-shouldered men left me drained of my words. Mustering what dignity I could, I retrieved my arm and forced my way out of the circle. Stumbling half-blindly away from the cheerful crowd, I discovered I had begun to tremble. The familiar mixture of hot anger and leaden shame sank into my limbs. I hated myself for not being more courageous. I hated my nameless antagonist for touching me, and for the way his cavalier cruelty had pierced into me. I guess it’s fitting. I thought. This is the last week before graduation. My first semester at Penn, I’d dealt with chronic harassment from a Zionist classmate. Why should the ending be any better than the start?

*             *            *

My time as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania was defined by my involvement in the Palestinian cause. This commitment brought me into partnerships with incredible individuals from across my campus, and far beyond. Our choice to organize around this cause also exposed me and my peers to a level of hostility from our peers and administrators we never anticipated. While we organized vigils, arranged teach-ins and speaker events, and participated direct action, we also faced screaming IDF veterans, blatant faculty opposition, relentless accusations, and social isolation.

There are few things more exhausting than being told you don’t exist, that your heritage is both a lie and a disgrace, that your identity is untrue and also criminal. Students said this. Administrators said this. Every year, people on national and international platforms say this. My liberal friends smile knowingly and tell me I have a right to “my own narrative.”

I abide in the paradox of being both erased and punished for simply being born to my own mother and father. For carrying the pictures of refugee children in my wallet and in my heart, and for trying to say simply: look at these faces. If you forget they are Palestinian, could you agree that they are human faces? Only see them, only look at these faces. Then let us talk.

The greatest heartache, for me, has always stemmed from the refusal of Zionists to speak of Palestinians in human terms. If we ever speak of Palestine, we must only speak of security, of territories and weapons and UN resolutions, it seems. To me, that is in itself violence—the obliteration of a people through the mechanism of language, an erasure of their right to exist by insidious omission. We are an absence, or a crime, or a joke. Never people.

I am not unique. I know so many have known the universe inhabited by rage, hope, frustration, and pride that comes with a marginalized identity. This week, re-reading Maya Angelou’s books, for example, reminds me of the way others in this country have had to fight abuse, discrimination, and blind hatred on a more massive scale than I. To this day, many are considered in some way “less-than” by the simple virtue of their status as immigrant, impoverished, disabled, non-cis, non-white, non-male, or otherwise. And though the name of Nelson Mandela has, especially in past months, fallen frequently and lovingly from so many lips, he chose to describe his own life not as a total triumph but a long walk to freedom that, in the end, never ends.

*            *            *

I never learned the name of that inebriated man who robbed me of a sunny, care-free afternoon with friends. I spoke of the incident to only a few friends; at this point, a little cynicism is inevitable. I thought it better to put it behind me as quickly as possible and to attempt to celebrate my Senior Week and commencement with as little political interference as possible. I’d walk across the stage and receive a diploma, hard-earned in so many senses, and make my exit quietly.

This was not to be. Not exactly.

On Graduation Day, I sat in the front row beneath a sunny May sky, thinking very little of the ceremony except to anticipate its end. Beneath my cap and gown, I quivered with the stereotypical medley of nostalgia and hope. The morning slid forward, every moment laden and fleeting, as deans and professors took turns giving words of wisdom and farewell.

Our commencement speaker was John Legend, an American R&B singer and founder of the Show Me Campaign. I’d been curious, but had not expect to be so arrested by his words. They were soul-felt and refreshingly self-effacing, and drew me in as he spoke of the value of art, creativity and passion. As an aspiring writer, I appreciated that.

These words, however, were only Legend’s preamble. Suddenly, we heard him switching gears, growing more solemn, and turning his speech toward the universal.

“I also want to talk about how love changes the world. There are seven billion people out there….What does it mean to love those we don’t know? ….Love means we let go of fear and we see each others’ humanity.”

I leaned forward.

“…We see Trayvon Martin…as a boy who deserves to grow into a man.”

I clapped, along with many others in the audience. I recalled the way hundreds of my classmates and I had marched in honor of that fallen boy..

“It means American lives don’t count more than Iraqi lives.”

Wow, he went there. I clapped harder, thrilled that our commencement speaker had made mention of such a contentious but important topic.

He continued,

“It means we see a young Palestinian kid not as a future security threat or demographic challenge but as a future father, mother, and lover.”

A tremor swept through me. Legend had said the one word I’d never have dared to hope for. He said “Palestinian.”

Despite my conspicuous seat in the first row, I leapt to my feet. For a fleeting moment I stood, buoyed by the unexpected acknowledgement, and cheered with all the strength of my startled joy. In my final hour at Penn, my University community, including, I knew, that vodka-scented stranger, had borne witness to my people’s plight presented as it should always be: as one facet of the greater, unfurling human experience.

Yes. I am here. I stood proudly, my cap askew.  I am Palestinian, and I am human, and I am here.  Irrevocable, despite all the ways others have tried to erase us, my people remain.

(photo: Dana Shihadah)

(photo: Dana Shihadah)

Sarah Aziza

Sarah Aziza is a Palestinian American writer and activist born in Chicago, IL. She has worked with refugee populations in Algeria, Jordan, South Africa, and the West Bank. She recently relocated from Amman where she spent a year as a Fulbright fellow at UNRWA. In addition to pursuing graduate studies at NYU, Sarah works in education and advocacy among immigrant and undocumented communities in New York City. Her twitter is @SarahAziza1

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82 Responses

  1. Daniel Rich on June 3, 2014, 2:05 pm

    Can one couch surf as a Palestinian?

    May peace be your rightful shadow where ever you go.

  2. Scott on June 3, 2014, 2:05 pm

    I’m puzzling over the initial incident she describes. Perhaps because I’m two generations away from being a college senior. Still: I can’t imagine a gentile frat boy type caring enough one way or another about Palestinians to speak and act like that. And I can’t imagine a Jewish one being that sloppy drunk–especially at Penn. Which am I wrong about?

    • just on June 3, 2014, 2:16 pm

      You have GOT to be kidding!

    • annie on June 3, 2014, 2:26 pm

      “I can’t imagine a gentile frat boy type caring enough one way or another about Palestinians”

      really. a) why do you assume he wasn’t jewish. b) if he wasn’t why would it matter or why wouldn’t one of his friends be? because you can’t imagine a jewish student being, in her words, “half drunk”? c) apparently you are unaware of the kind of explosion that went on at PENN surrounding the BDS conference that many people (including 3 on our staff) attended. if you open sarah’s embeds you could get a clue. and there are also a number of MW posts, recent in fact, to inform you what’s happening on american campuses today.

      the days of “caring enough one way or another about Palestinians” on campuses across this nation are..OVER. it’s everybody’s business now.

      for recent info and

      and then there are probably at least another 100 articles about this topic on MW, at least.

      also, the kind of stupid gruesome crap guys say to attractive women, especially unattainable ones, is mindlowing. add a drink and it just gets compounded. add some friends you want to impress, racism, even moreso. and yes, sometimes jewish guys definitely do that stuff too. (i know this for a fact…the stories i could tell.)

    • Stephen Shenfield on June 3, 2014, 2:31 pm

      Scott: They were probably Jews. Haven’t you ever seen a drunk Jew? Or a Jewish bully? Your imagination has not adapted to the changes in reality.

      Sarah was fortunate to escape. Probably thanks to the fact that there were plenty of other people around — what might have happened late at night is another matter.

      I appreciate Sarah’s sensitivity in never mentioning that the bullies were Jews. But there is no really good reason why she should not have mentioned it. This is what many Jews are like nowadays, thanks largely to Zionism. It’s an unpalatable reality, but we may as well face it.

      • Sarah Aziza on June 3, 2014, 2:38 pm

        Thank you for your interest in my piece. The truth is simply, I don’t know whether the people who accosted me were Jewish or not, and truth be told, I’ve encountered hostility from people of all affiliations. The group of strangers were completely unfamiliar to me, and I never learned their names or religious background. Personally, I don’t think it’s very important–I’ve known Jewish allies who are passionate about seeing universal human rights in Palestine/Israel, and I’ve known non-Jews who are proud and staunch Zionists. I prefer to avoid seeing the issue along Jewish/non-Jewish lines. The only division that matters to me is pro-human rights vs. pro-exclusive privilege.

      • just on June 3, 2014, 3:19 pm

        “The only division that matters to me is pro-human rights vs. pro-exclusive privilege.”

        Exactly. Justice matters. So does the abolition of racism, bigotry, profound/willing ignorance, and the kind of violence that you have experienced.

      • bintbiba on June 3, 2014, 4:10 pm

        Sarah… you make us proud. Keep proud, strong , and hopeful. ‘ Sumud’ !!!

      • seafoid on June 3, 2014, 5:32 pm

        Wonderful people, the sha’ab al falastini.

      • LeaNder on June 3, 2014, 9:03 pm

        Great response, Sarah. How could you have known, really.

        No, it doesn’t matter. Every collective has its assholes. If I may.

        Great piece. Be well in anything you do!

      • Scott on June 3, 2014, 2:53 pm

        Thank you Stephen for a meaningful reply. I’m not as out of it as Annie thinks, have a daughter who was president of SJP U-Chicago a few years ago. And from Max’s books, videos, have seen young drunk Jews. It’s a new (and indeed perhaps Zionist) phenomenon–as I recall (quite well) from younger days, Jewish substance abuse vices were seldom alcohol.

      • michelle on June 3, 2014, 3:22 pm

        everywhere past present and future
        people are people
        none are excluded from
        right and wrong choices
        from experience; i’m sure that the over use of alcohol
        didn’t passover the Jewish people
        G-d Bless

      • Hostage on June 3, 2014, 3:31 pm

        This is what many Jews are like nowadays, thanks largely to Zionism. It’s an unpalatable reality, but we may as well face it.

        The governments of Israel and the USA have exacerbated the problem by rejecting the determinations of the relevant human rights treaty bodies and the ICJ regarding the fact that fundamental human rights are not subject to any derogation, even during armed conflicts.

        They employ outmoded ideas about “just wars” and “proportionality” to illegally dehumanize targeted civilian populations. So long as they choose to wage wars of choice against others, they claim that human rights will remain irrelevant or inapplicable as a matter of official state policy.

      • pabelmont on June 3, 2014, 5:45 pm

        Stephen: Anticipating the comment below of Sarah Aziza: we are, ahem, encouraged, on this website, to say “Zionist” rather than “Jew” when in fact that is what we mean. The bum may have been a Jew but the particular portion of his bad behavior that we are particularly noticing here marked him as a demeanor of Palestinians which comes close to being a Zionist. And he needn’t have been a Jew to be a Zionist.

        I once (1956, just post high-school) worked as junior member of a surveyor’s gang. Some of the older (Southern?) men in the crew made it clear that they hated or despised Jews, Catholics, Blacks, and who knows who else. For some people bigotry is built-in.

        Moreover, read Jan’s comment below.

    • Woody Tanaka on June 3, 2014, 2:32 pm

      Why can’t you imagine a young Jewish man at Penn getting drunk? Of course they do.

      • seafoid on June 3, 2014, 5:38 pm

        You are sadly deluded, Woody. It is prolly because you are jealous.

        They are the ethical inspiration for everyone at Penn so they couldn’t possibly drink or fornicate. (What a lovely word it is, too).

        It goes against everything they are taught.
        “Our Biblical ancestors were trailblazers charged with bringing blessing to all of humanity. Our prophets stood before kings and princes, critiquing their leadership and giving the greatest ever vision of universal peace”

        How could you possibly allow alcohol to pass your lips with those ancestors ?

      • Woody Tanaka on June 3, 2014, 6:16 pm

        “You are sadly deluded, Woody. It is prolly because you are jealous.”

        LOL. I am many things, but I don’t suffer from that affliction.

        “link to”

        I actually wish I could read that article. I would be interested in what they say.

      • iResistDe4iAm on June 4, 2014, 1:05 am

        In the interest of educational research, you can view most articles behind a paywall by using the power of a search engine:
        1. Go to article you want to read.
        2. Copy the article’s web address (URL), then paste it into Google and run a search.
        3. Click on the returned search result to read the full article (or alternatively, select the “Cached” version by clicking on the down arrow at the end of the URL).

        Note: This may be limited to a certain number of articles per day, and may not work for NEW articles (ie. those published within the last few hours).

      • seafoid on June 4, 2014, 4:51 am

        “There was something very troublesome about the Pope’s visit. From the moment he came off the plane, wherever he went, Pope Francis preached a consistent message; he spoke about peace, he prayed for peace and he coaxed others to join him in working toward it. Whether he was among Jews visiting a Holocaust Memorial or praying with the Palestinians in Bethlehem and at the Separation Barrier, his point was the same – a clear call for a two state solution, an end to violence and the building of good relations between Jews and Palestinians. He did not stop there. The Pope searched for like-minded people and determined that they would be his partners in his quest for peace. He alighted on President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, inviting them to join him in Rome to pray for peace. Incredibly, despite that neither of these two men is Roman Catholic, they accepted his invitation.
        Even the chief rabbis of Israel latched on to the Pope’s campaign. At the rabbis’ meeting with him the pope, which I attended, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau concluded his speech by asking the head of the Catholic Church to use his influence to gather religious leaders to discuss world peace. “Be a partner with us” he said “and establish an international interfaith conference to advance this crucial message.”
        Herein lies our disgrace.
        Our Biblical ancestors were trailblazers charged with bringing blessing to all of humanity. Our prophets stood before kings and princes, critiquing their leadership and giving the greatest ever vision of universal peace.Their sentiments were brought to our prayer book so that all our major prayers end with a call for peace. They were also echoed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which sought peaceful coexistence of Jews and Arabs in Israel and with neighboring states. In short, the pope used our lines.
        We can only admire his ability and determination to express a clear vision of peace and to persuade our president to join him in prayer, but I am left wondering why our own spiritual leadership failed to make the same call to our head of state. Rome is known for its impressive architecture and some rather magnificent places of worship, but Jerusalem too has a strong claim as a religious center and it would, after all, save a lot of time and money if our leaders began their prayers amid our people in Jerusalem.
        I admire the pope for making his way to the separation barrier to pray for peace there, but given that Bethlehem is just a short hop from Jerusalem, I wonder whether our own religious leaders could not have made the trip, offering thanks to the soldiers who protect us and acting as our ambassadors for peace.
        The Jewish people are charged with being the ethical leaders of the world, Jerusalem is meant to be the city of peace and we are meant to be the shining moral example; “a light of the nations” (Isaiah 42:7).
        But, instead of seeing us as an inspirational sovereign Jewish state, the nations of the world take pity on us. “You are incapable of taking care of yourselves,” they say, “so we will send peace envoys and religious leaders to stand in the breach and do your work for you.” We have become the world’s nursery, with a perpetual chain of babysitters dispatched by the international community to coax us into seeking peace.
        We live in a tough neighborhood, surrounded by people committed to our destruction. Successfully ending the occupation and signing treaties will take great military knowledge and strategic expertise. While that is the job of the military and political echelons, it does not detract from the role of our religious leaders to preach and pursue peace.
        The pope did not put us to shame because he worships differently or because of his credo that we cannot share. He shamed us because in the very areas where we share beliefs, we have abandoned our sacred role and relied on others to seize the initiative.
        Rabbi Gideon Sylvester is the British United Synagogue’s Israel Rabbi and the Senior Rabbinic Educator for T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. He writes in a personal capacity. ”

        They lie to us and they lie to themselves about lying to us

      • W.Jones on June 4, 2014, 10:45 am


        Thanks for posting the quote. The author wrote:

        The Jewish people are charged with being the ethical leaders of the world, Jerusalem is meant to be the city of peace and we are meant to be the shining moral example; “a light of the nations” (Isaiah 42:7).

        Maimonides’ view was that the passage in Isaiah 42, particularly 42:4, was about the Messiah, who would set judgment in the earth (rather than about the whole people or city).

        Although, naturally, everyone should be a shining moral example, including both the Pope and the people.

      • Woody Tanaka on June 4, 2014, 11:05 am

        Thanks, seafoid. Ugh. I don’t mind people being delusional about their ancestry. (I guess it’s more meanful to pretend that you come from a long line of peace-demanding prophets and sages to kings and emperors, rather than the reality that they were a weak, unremarkable people in a unnoticed corner of the world, notable solely for it’s position as a crossroads between some of the regions and states that actually did matter, and who made no lasting impact on the powerful, significant powers surrounding them until a Hellenized heretical offshoot of the religion caught the fancy of the people who ruled the world, back in Rome.)

        But I do find it stunning that Sylvester could be so delusional about the current world. No, Sylvester, you are not “surrounded by people committed to our destruction.” That is your pathology talking. You are at peace with two neighboring states and could be at peace with the other, save for your unwillingness to offer fair terms to Syria for the return of their land, the Golan. Further, any lingering hatred in the region is solely the result of the barbaric manner you have treated the Palestinians — feelings which could be salved by changing the way you treat them. But instead of noting this point, Sylvester doubles down on the barbarism by noting the Pope’s visit to the Apartheid Wall — at which the Pope demonstrated compassion for the oppressed Palestinians at that symbol of the Israeli’s barbarism — and instead of calling for Jewish religious leaders to join in that expression of compassion for the oppressed, Sylvester suggests that they should express “thanks” to the oppressors for continuing to oppress their victims. He then has the gall to suggest that, after petting the thugs who run the occupation, these so-called religious “leaders” would have standing to act as “ambassadors for peace.”

        Disgusting through and through.

    • on June 3, 2014, 2:41 pm

      “And I can’t imagine a Jewish one being that sloppy drunk–especially at Penn”.

      Wow. That is awesome. Thanks for the illustration of the level of delusion in the Zionist community

    • Jan on June 3, 2014, 3:05 pm

      You can’t imagine a Jewish college boy being sloppy drunk? Where have you been? I went to university some years ago and went to frat parties at Jewish houses such as ZBT, TEP etc. There were lots of sloppy drunk Jewish boys there.

      I can well imagine a Jewish boy, drunk or not, behaving as did this boor and racist. I would absolutely believe that this drunk was Jewish and not Christian. Few, if any Christians, unless they were Zionist Christians, would have any interest in confronting Sarah, and most Christian Zionists are not heavy drinkers.

      Meanwhile we hear about how Jewish students are intimidated on campus but do we ever hear about what happens to Palestinian students. Not at all. It seems that the only sensibilities that count are those of Jewish students, the “chosen” students.

      • Sarah Aziza on June 3, 2014, 4:07 pm

        Thank you all, again, for your concern. I appreciate all your thought and interest; however, I’d like to respectfully request we drop the question of the man’s religious identity. Again, I do not know his affiliation, and the trauma I experienced would not be any different if I had. I think trying to draw religious distinctions here would be a misguided effort.

    • Hostage on June 3, 2014, 3:07 pm

      And I can’t imagine a Jewish one being that sloppy drunk–especially at Penn.

      See the video of drunken Jewish Americans in Jerusalem @

      • W.Jones on June 3, 2014, 3:39 pm

        Good point, Hostage. If they are like that when they are there, why would they not be like that when they come home and go back to their Ivy League college?

        Penn not long before had an anti-JStreet meeting called the JStreet challenge with maybe 700 people in attendance. The attendees attacked Dershowitz for saying he disagreed with settlements. It would not be a surprise to see them act this way.

    • W.Jones on June 3, 2014, 3:58 pm


      Did you know there are people who think Jews and Arabs are equals? “She’s pretty sexy, isn’t she—for an Arab, I mean?”

      “Arab” is the classical, typical Zionist label for Palestinians. Even if you ask them to say “Palestinian”, they still say “Arab”. It may likely be because “Palestinian” identifies them with the land that the Zionists claim.

      Everyday conservative Americans are much more likely to use “Muslims” as the key negative term, because the conflict has been sold to them in terms of Islam. They also are more likely to just call Palestinians “Palestinian”, since to us the term “Arab” is more likely to denote Saudi Arabians.

      Classical, standard Zionists might talk about Iraqis, Egyptians, etc., but when it comes to Palestinians, the term they use is “Arabs”.

      The other thing to notice is that Evangelical, Christian Zionists are likely to be more rare at Ivy League Schools and also less likely to drink much. Meanwhile, Sara has mentioned Palestinians being repeatedly negated at the school, which suggests that it is not Christian Zionists, but people who are more “invested.”

    • talknic on June 3, 2014, 9:10 pm

      @ Scott ..” I can’t imagine a Jewish one being that sloppy drunk–especially at Penn. “

      No need to imagine

      “Which am I wrong about?”

      Posting BS here.

  3. just on June 3, 2014, 2:09 pm

    An incredible and beautifully written autobiography of a Palestinian citizen of the world.
    Whatever you do, please don’t stop writing– you have an awesome gift.

    (I mean no disrespect to you Sarah, but I have to say that when I read your account of the drunken, racist boor and the reaction of his ‘snickering’ and complicit audience, that I felt I was reading about a veritable rape. It sent horror and chills right through my core.)

    Congratulation on your graduation. I am glad that providence saw fit to have John Legend and you come together on your special day. I wish you great success as you pursue your graduate studies. I look forward to hearing more from your mighty voice.


    • Woody Tanaka on June 3, 2014, 2:34 pm

      It was definitely a battery and a sexual assault and likely a hate crime as well

      • W.Jones on June 3, 2014, 5:20 pm

        I am glad and grateful that Sara wrote about all these experiences and that she has done so in a redeeming way. As Jesus said: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Way to go, Sara.

        Battery is an offensive, unwanted contact, is it not?

        “Simple battery may include any form of non-consensual harmful or insulting contact, regardless of the injury caused.” -Wikipedia

        He put his arm around her and then grabbed her arm to tell her something. I don’t think that each contact was by itself offensive or insulting, but if it is done in the context of insulting her, doesn’t that make it an insulting contact too?

        As for sexual assault, I don’t think that the contact or comments were necessarily sexual. In this case, the offensive contact was based on her national origin or race, so the battery would be a hate crime in Pennsylvania. (

        The main thing I am not fully certain of is whether grabbing someone’s arm in the context of insulting them is an offensive contact, but I expect it is. (Maybe Hostage can clarify this.)

        The main difficulty, practically, is having a witness to confirm that the person said those things. The act itself should be on a video camera on campus and it is, presumably, not to late to take legal action.

        The best thing I can think of for Sara to do is to share her story widely, as it is inspiring, uplifting, and disproves the nationalists’ invented claims about how discrimination works on American campuses. Despite claims of discrimination where Zionist students feeling uncomfortable with other students opposing the Israeli system, Sara’s story is the reality of what Palestinian activists endure- the suspensions and arrests of Palestinian Solidarity activists at Northeastern, Irvine, Florida Atlantic University, and elsewhere are other cases.

  4. Stephen Shenfield on June 3, 2014, 2:19 pm

    “The greatest heartache, for me, has always stemmed from the refusal of Zionists to speak of Palestinians in human terms.”

    They know (intuitively) that if they ever relate to Palestinians as human brings, even for a single second, they will no longer be Zionists.

    • seafoid on June 3, 2014, 5:30 pm

      That is such a repudiation of everything Judaism used to stand for.
      Zionism is such a tragedy. The wrong answer to WW2.

  5. W.Jones on June 3, 2014, 3:35 pm

    Thanks for writing, Sara. Your story is an example of why I love Palestinians: Because they are repressed, brutalized, humiliated, suffering, expropriated.

    Your story of the Zionist classmate harassing you on the time soon before your graduation, after your years of speaking out for Palestinians’ rights, touched me. I am not sure what the answer is for the suffering in the world. Christians and Muslims can look to Jesus’ suffering as an example for inspiration. Ultimately, I hope, Palestinians will not undergo spiritual or physical death. In essence, speaking out against the abuses is part of living and growing. It reflects within oneself the mentality of “Sumud”- Steadfastness.

  6. michelle on June 3, 2014, 3:35 pm

    for myself
    i would rather be the oppressed
    than the opressor
    the oppressed truly have love & hope
    the opressor has only hate & no hope
    G-d Bless

  7. Taxi on June 3, 2014, 3:40 pm

    Sarah Aziza: yet another beautiful Palestinian. Inside and out.

    Another fine example of Palestinian courage and endurance.

    Viva Sumud! The ultimate Palestinian weapon.

    Sarah Aziza, it’s grrrrrrrrrrrreat to know you exist!

    • seafoid on June 3, 2014, 5:40 pm

      The young Palestinian generation is very impressive. So many strong people

      • ritzl on June 3, 2014, 8:04 pm

        Agree. They’re finding effective ways/political avenues, and maybe more importantly the urgency-coupled-with-courage needed to pursue them.

        Even in the face of hurricane they’re stepping into, they’re prevailing.

        It’s VERY empowering, with hopeful being a distant, passive-y, maybe even vestigial, second place.

      • Kay24 on June 3, 2014, 10:09 pm

        I hope they will be able to progress and achieve much more than the previous generation, who have suffered so much, lost so much, and are still struggling for their basic rights and freedom. Good luck to this charming young lady, and others like her, who are simply asking the world to understand, that they are human beings, who have been demonized by their occupiers, to justify that occupation and land theft.

      • seafoid on June 4, 2014, 1:44 am

        I think they have the advantage of all that Israel has done, all the bad faith.The hasbara is less monolithic and people are more eager to listen.

  8. just on June 3, 2014, 4:26 pm

    I had to go back and read your other posts, Sarah. Your writing is sublime. I love how Annie summarized it:

    “Annie Robbins says:
    June 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    this is an incredible essay. i have read it numerous times and keep coming back to it.

    it is perfect in every way.

    ‘to remind all those struggling for this cause in their respective spheres, you are not alone…….I’m sure I am not the only one who feels, to my very core, that this struggle, in all its absurdity and injustice, is a worthwhile one….I have found a deep joy in knowing I stand on the right side of history….. with a passion for humanity that constantly revives my own sense of hope. I would never trade such genuine inspiration for the superficial calm that comes from succumbing to the status quo.'”

    You are a very special person.

    • annie on June 3, 2014, 4:56 pm

      yes, sarah is a sublime person. and working with her, as well as so many of the students in this movement, is a blessing in my life. it’s a real honor to feel part of this movement and have the good fortune to work with such amazing young people who’ve made this movement what it is…so many of them of course, are palestinians.

      once again, as has happened in the past, when i first read it i just cried. you just can’t imagine what it is like to have something so real arrive in your inbox. it’s over the moon mindblowing. definitely the best part of this job, without a doubt.

      i have read it numerous times and keep coming back to it.

      lol, if you only knew! i’ve already read sarah’s most recent article at least 20 times.

      • W.Jones on June 3, 2014, 5:29 pm

        I know what you mean, Annie. A similar crushing moment occurs in MIRAL where the Israeli female prison guard canes the Palestinian schoolgirl Jebreal for participating in demonstrations.

        At one screening, [the filmmaker] says, Barbra Streisand questioned the film’s account of a whipping Jebreal received. “You know what I wanted to do? I wanted to pick up [Jebreal’s] shirt and show her her back,” he says.

  9. Ecru on June 3, 2014, 4:54 pm

    Asking a Zionist to relate to Palestinians as human beings is akin to asking a member of the SS to relate to Jews as human beings. They simply can’t afford to – if they ever admit it to themselves, even for a moment, then the supremacist philosophy they’ve built their lives upon, that they’ve used to justify their numberless crimes against humanity will simply crumble to nothing. Their self-image as “Ubermensch/Chosen” is at stake – and the cost of losing it too terrible for these repugnant “people” to contemplate.

  10. justicewillprevail on June 3, 2014, 6:36 pm

    Really good piece. I found it very moving. What is great about it is that it puts anyone with an open mind in the shoes of the abused, and should be an admonition to all those feeble appeasers of, and colluders with, zionism. The obnoxious assault at the beginning and the ceaseless struggle to be recognised as human outlines precisely the soul-sapping effects of discrimination and racism. The negative space Palestinians in particular are assigned is cruel and perverse harassment. while the pathetic sexual inadequacy of her abusers only makes it more galling. One of the worst aspects of this is that it happens on a campus, a place where everyone should be treated with respect and equality. Instead the authorities collude in the degradation of their students, who they actually have a duty of care to.
    But great to hear the affirmation of your identity at the climax , especially thrown in the face of the authorities supposed to protect your rights – how sweet to hear. John Legend, you are one now. Sarah is already – you have stuck to your guns stood up for yourself and graduated, despite the bully’s hope that you would disappear, slink away, or worst of all, internalise and accept their value judgements. Congratulations, you are beautiful.

  11. Keith on June 3, 2014, 6:42 pm

    UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA? Well, that explains a lot. Where but at an Ivy League school would an undergraduate drink vodka? I mean, Jeez.

  12. RoHa on June 3, 2014, 7:44 pm

    ‘My liberal friends smile knowingly and tell me I have a right to “my own narrative.”’

    I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but it sounds really condescending.

    • annie on June 3, 2014, 8:33 pm

      RoHa, do you mean maybe too uppity? listen again with the context:

      There are few things more exhausting than being told you don’t exist, that your heritage is both a lie and a disgrace, that your identity is untrue and also criminal. Students said this. Administrators said this. Every year, people on national and international platforms say this. My liberal friends smile knowingly and tell me I have a right to “my own narrative.”

      now as a mental exercise imagine witnessing your loved one endure a brutal assault. the assaulter however, claimed the assault did not take place. then the press claimed the assault did not take place either and there was no victim. and that in fact, according to the assaulter and the assaulter’s supporters – the victim, your loved one, doesn’t even really existed at all.

      and your friends say, in comforting you, it’s ok you have a right to your own narrative. um, that might indicate (to someone) perhaps the assault wasn’t an assault? like perhaps there had been an alternate reality where there was no victim?

      there are people who say quite publicly that palestinians don’t exist and there are no palestinians. the fact they exist is not just narrative, it’s also the truth.

      • W.Jones on June 3, 2014, 10:07 pm

        Right, Annie. Either the liberals who say that don’t realize the oppression that is going on, or else they do and are condescending in asserting that what’s important is just two “narratives”.

        That is, if I see a boyfriend beat up his girlfriend, and then when everyone denies it tell her that she has a right to her narrative, then it can be condescending, because I failed to say that her “narrative” is not just her “narrative” in a world of moral relativism, but what actually happened.

        It’s just more of the humiliation Palestinians go through that some liberals tell them that.

        However, it’s possible that those liberals really don’t now what is going on, and are quite clueless, as I once was, in which case they would not really be to blame, in my opinion, since they are at least open minded about different narratives. Anyway, she did not say that her liberal friends were bad, so Sarah was not being judgmental, just asserting what she goes through, even with her liberal friends.

      • RoHa on June 3, 2014, 10:50 pm

        No knowing what “own narrative” is supposed to mean is a bit of a barrier, but I read it not as comfort but as amused dismissal.

        “Yes, we know you have that silly idea, but we won’t try to dissuade you. Your naivety is so cute.”

        But on either your interpretation or mine, it’s a damned insulting thing to say.

  13. Citizen on June 3, 2014, 7:56 pm

    Thank you, Ms. Sarah Aziza, for sharing this encounter. It reflects so much about why I think and feel the Palestinian struggle for recognition as fully human reflects a core index of the banality of contemporary evil in our world. Imagine what Shakespeare would do with this single incident, your experience, in a play.

    • Citizen on June 3, 2014, 9:28 pm

      Also, please read this; it details how some Jews in America are listening to you:
      PS. I’m not Jewish, but I listen too. And I am on your side, the side of the comparatively powerless. And I’m really old.

    • Mayhem on June 3, 2014, 9:42 pm

      @Citizen, re my post at
      about the fact that four prominent BDS activists are on trial before a PA court for “provoking riots and breach of public tranquility” after protesting against the performance in Ramallah of an Indian dance troupe.
      I originally provided the source
      link to in my post but for some reason it ‘disappeared’. Note that the article provides a reference to the Arabic source for the story.
      The story is corroborated by Ma’an News at

      • annie on June 4, 2014, 2:22 pm

        I originally provided the source
        link to in my post but for some reason it ‘disappeared’.

        your link was censored. it’s an islamophobic hasbarist website. we don’t have to serve as a functionary to that filth if we do not want to. if you have a point to make try doing it sans your racist sites.

        besides, Khaled Abu Toameh (who is a collaborating lying turncoat) is lying and deceiving in the article. he begins with a deceptive blockquote (blockquotes are almost exclusively used to cite another source), implying he’s citing someone when he’s actually citing himself in the article below! (my bold)

        The Palestinian Authority’s move against the BDS activists shows that it considers the movement a threat to Palestinian interests.

        A Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah explained that BDS and its followers make the Palestinians appear as if they are all radicals who are only interested in boycotting and delegitimizing Israel.

        “No, we do not support the boycott of Israel.” — Mahmoud Abbas, President, Palestinian Authority.

        interview with erekat:

        and yet, you and Mahmoud Abbas say, “Don’t boycott Israel. We don’t support the BDS movement.” How do you explain that contradiction?

        Saeb Erekat: We are with every single legal move any nation wants to take…

        Mehdi Hasan: What about non-nation groups? People, movements?

        Saeb Erekat: Non-nation…People, individuals, nations, groups….

        Mehdi Hasan: In South Africa President Mahmoud Abbas said, “We do not support a boycott against Israel”.

        Saeb Erekat: [INTERRUPTING] President Mahmoud Abbas said the following: “I’m not asking people to boycott the Israeli universities or so on, because I’m engaged with them for these nine months.”

        so these allegations are BS. in the future, if you wonder why your whole comment gets trashed (like linking to CIF ) you’ll know it’s your racist lying websites.

        Note that the article provides a reference to the Arabic source for the story.

        then simply link to the arabic source for the story.

        btw, we don’t link to memri or stormfront either. go to elder of zion if you want to read gatestone.

      • Taxi on June 4, 2014, 3:38 pm

        Mayhem included a link in his post “but for some reason it ‘disappeared’”

        Like the guy is so dense he couldn’t even work out that his “filthy” link was censored out of his published post. Obviously it was! And instead of asking himself WHY it was censored, all the bugger could do was whine and insinuate prejudice and conspiracy.

        We’ve seen this condition before. It’s what happens when your brain is pickled in ziocaine.

    • gapstander on June 4, 2014, 9:24 am

      Citizen! I can’t believe my eyes. I’m writing a play combining Shakespeare with the Palestinian narrative. Please tell me your thoughts!

      • Citizen on June 4, 2014, 12:07 pm

        @ gapstader

        My first thought is what I already said. Sarah Aziza’s article could be depicted in a play; the question is the build around it. What are your thoughts? I am a writer myself, with an education in world literature. I may work with you on this.

      • gapstander on June 4, 2014, 8:07 pm

        Can we discuss this privately? Is there a way? I’m not a creeper. I’m actually–ahem–a relative of Sarah Aziza. I’d love to talk further!

      • annie on June 4, 2014, 9:28 pm

        gap, if you’re a relative of sarah’s have her send me your email and if citizen is interested i might be able to connect the 2 of you.

  14. ritzl on June 3, 2014, 8:09 pm
  15. joer on June 3, 2014, 8:23 pm

    Your speaking out about a just but unpopular cause is extremely admirable. It’s also admirable that a movement accessible to Americans has coalesced and is now gaining traction.
    The one comment I have is that in America the Palestinian cause seems to be too centered in elite institutions. There is nothing wrong with trying to educate Ivy Leaguers about Palestine, but there is a whole world of people who are denied the opportunity to hear both sides of the story. There are also people who would show solidarity but they don’t really have a way. I’ve talked about this on this site before-that in BDS, the only one an individual can do who is not on the board of directors of some university is participate in the B,which instructs individuals what NOT to do. But what can someone actually DO to show some support?
    One thing I thought of is perhaps on Nakba day, people who sympathize with Palestine should be encouraged to wear a black armband. It would be interesting to see how many ordinary people would be brave enough to make a statement like that.
    That’s just one thought, but I think it is time for the BDS movement to have a sister movement that is more geared to action than to saying what actions people shouldn’t do. Maybe call it Bumper Stickers, demonstrations, speak up!
    Anyway, thank you once again for having the courage to be part of this historic movement.

  16. saraw on June 3, 2014, 8:44 pm

    I am grateful that you shared your story. Not a day passes that I don’t think of Palestine and its beautiful people.

  17. Basilio on June 3, 2014, 10:04 pm

    When you’re a Palestinian-American, sometimes it’s easy at all. There are different varieties of Palestinian-Americans. If you’re a secular, liberal type who is not religious but can speak the language well and know the culture, you feel kind of caught between different things – an American culture held hostage by pro-Israeli political groups, the racism that they encourage, this idea that all people born Muslim are alike and identical, and the Arabs and Palestinians who insist you should also be identical and part of some mass group think. As John Legend said, we’re all human beings. That’s something to keep site of, and Palestinians deserve treatment as human beings. All people deserve human rights, and that d-bag who joked about it probably descends from some European group that was denied human rights by another European group. I doubt all his ancestors enjoyed human rights.

  18. DaBakr on June 3, 2014, 10:41 pm

    if they were so drunk and out of line (which I can accept at face value knowing the UP campus very well myself-assuming it was a friday/saturday night) But if author didn’t know identity of ‘frat-boys’ how could they have discerned her identity unless she was wearing some article of clothing they assumed was ‘arabic’. There are so many 100s of foreign students walking around UP campus at any given time its hard to imagimne this wasn’t some odd drunken encounter that is on no way typical. UP is SO rich and endowed they have a police force that rival philly cops and their are call boxes and UP cops all over the place. Author doesn’t look any more Arab then she does Sephardic, Asian/Latin mix. The myth of drunken bullying Jew-boy/Gentile-boy harrassment at UP is overblown. There have been some incidents but by far the student body is too consumed with attaining the gpa average they need to go on to make the bazillions in their corporate , medical, legal jibs they are surely almost guaranteed. There is more harrassment by Haredi of ‘immodest’ Jewish women in Jerusalem then any pattern of Arab-abuse at UP. Maybe this guy was just a drunk jacoff.

    Most of the students I know of (and remember from my other time spent there years back) were more likely to bend over backward to welcome a student from Palestine, Arab countries, or other interesting places. Even Zionist radicals were welcoming up until the time it came for them to counter events/protests they considered anti-Israel. Then, of course they brought out their counter signs and got the big guns of the Zionist orgs to support them. But still-there si no pattern or any regularity to the event she describes. I could probably tell worse stories from my own ostracizing experiences as a younger person. You get over them, or should. Didn;’t anyone tell her people are idiots? Especially when drunk?

    • Woody Tanaka on June 4, 2014, 12:08 pm

      “But if author didn’t know identity of ‘frat-boys’ how could they have discerned her identity unless she was wearing some article of clothing they assumed was ‘arabic’.”

      In your haste to excuse this criminal behavior (what other criminal activity would you excuse as “myth”? Rape? Murder?), you really can’t conceive of the possibility that he recognized her from her activist work and that she simply did not know him?? Is your imagination so limited??

    • W.Jones on June 4, 2014, 12:37 pm

      Sorry about DaBakr. He is one of the “negative” commentors patrolling MW. His lengthy comment downplaying what happened to you is one more example of the kind of derision that you and other Palestinians face. Apparently he has also frequented Penn’s campus, so it is further proof of the animosity towards Palestinians’ rights at some elite campuses.

      God Bless you,

    • chinese box on June 4, 2014, 12:49 pm


      Ugh…how do you Sarah Aziza isn’t a prominent activist and/or person on campus, maybe that’s how they identified who she was.

    • Hostage on June 4, 2014, 2:11 pm

      But if author didn’t know identity of ‘frat-boys’ how could they have discerned her identity unless she was wearing some article of clothing they assumed was ‘arabic’.

      Illiterate as usual Debkaphile. The drunk wasn’t commenting about her attire, he was commenting about her political activism: “This girl thinks that Palestinians should have human rights.”

      There is more harrassment by Haredi of ‘immodest’ Jewish women in Jerusalem then any pattern of Arab-abuse at UP.

      So it wouldn’t do any good for a Palestinian woman to dress like a Jewish one if she happens to be dealing with a troglodyte on either side of the ocean, e.g.

    • annie on June 4, 2014, 4:12 pm

      how could they have discerned her identity unless she was wearing some article of clothing they assumed was ‘arabic’. There are so many 100s of foreign students walking around UP campus at any given time its hard to imagimne this wasn’t some odd drunken encounter that is on no way typical.

      debakr, the writer is not making the argument her circumstance is typical. it’s just her story, so accept that and move on from there.

      as an aside, i was fortunate to meet sarah and her parents when i went to the bds conference at PENN. the conference was amazing and represented a lot of work for these students. sarah was volunteering throughout the conference wearing multiple hats and was very visible the whole weekend. i was only there for a few days but i can imagine that on any campus how an activist like sarah, as smart, courageous, passionate and hardworking as she is, would stand out. it’s just a fact that sometimes there are people who know of you whom you do not know. or the flip side of that.

      especially with an ideological opponent (someone who represents a threat to your ptv, politically) might be on this frat-boys radar.

  19. spacecowboy68 on June 4, 2014, 12:35 am

    Beautiful inside and out, I’m always amazed at Palestinians whom have every reason to feel hatred towards Jews yet only want to be treated as humans. I’m a white gentile who reads MW to much and my blood boils at the mention of Zionist and their treatment of Palestinians. You are a much better and more evolved human then I and I assure you anyone whom makes you feel marginalized or sub human isn’t worth your time or attention. PS my Jewish roommate in college could drink any 3 frat boys under the table and my other Jewish roommate was a meth addict, I liked the drunk better.

  20. CarlH on June 4, 2014, 7:18 am

    I wish it were a simple task to convince people we must always see others first as people, but human prejudices make it difficult and frustrating. I wish also there were a million more stories told as well as yours. Americans must come to think of Palestinians like neighbors, and reading and hearing their stories will do a lot to cause that to happen.

  21. Andrew Keith on June 4, 2014, 7:47 am

    Thanks for sharing your story, you are a fabulous writer, please keep writing! You are not human, you are superhuman!

  22. Talkback on June 4, 2014, 8:18 am

    I am Palestinian, and I am human, and I am here.

    Oh yes you are, gorgeous. :D

  23. Citizen on June 4, 2014, 9:18 am

    ” I am Palestinian, and I am human, and I am here. Irrevocable, despite all the ways others have tried to erase us, my people remain.”

    Like a beautiful flower growing up through the concrete, yes, Sarah Aziza, you are.

  24. James Canning on June 4, 2014, 1:42 pm

    Great story. Great-looking gal, too.

  25. Persianprince11 on June 4, 2014, 4:05 pm

    Well put! The World may try to commit genocide of the Palestinian people but Allah will NOT let the caretakers of our Holy places be humiliated and denied what was already their own-a country recognized by the Holy Bible, a people mentioned as “Philistines” long before the Hebrews in the said Holy Bible, and a country whose suffering continued for almost 70 years now! Shame on the World that it can resolve crises, establish countries, move military to many parts of the world, place sanctions but will not move a finger against Hebrew State terrorists who murder our families (not speaking as a Palestinian but someone who has lost my cousin to these State terrorists) in the same struggle to liberate a land GOD HIMSELF liberated in the Holy Bible and He also punished those who wonder the world without peace who now claim it. Let the World know and shame the world for not acting in good conscience (as they did when they waited to act on Rwanda or Bosnia’s Srebrenica) to give dignity and respect to a people who lived on these lands long before the Hebrews of America, Europe, and East Africa emigrated. Both Hebrew fundamentalism called Zionism which is equal to Nazism, Islamic fundamentalism, and acts that terrorize Israeli children as they do to Palestinian children has no place in a Future two State or two country solution. Hebrews are our cousins whether they want to accept it or not having shared the common bloodline of Ibraham (Abraham) and distant cousin to Jesus from Isaac and the Tribes whereas we had Ishamel. Our languages have similar root words. Our religions share similar common beliefs as Monotheism, and i can go on but the point is made. It s high time both sides agree to disagree, establish mutual respect between us, and its hard for us to say this having lost loved ones but our test in life is not whom we lost or the education we acquired but how we lived and how we respected out neighbors.

  26. wes on June 5, 2014, 5:58 am

    Persianprince11 says:
    June 4, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    “a people mentioned as “Philistines” “””””””””””

    hey prince persia why not pass these lyrics onto the Ayatrollah

    Don’t bogart that joint my friend
    Pass it over to me
    Don’t bogart that joint my friend
    Pass it over to me

    Roll another one
    Just like the other one
    You’ve been holding on to it
    And I sure will like a hit


    Roll another one
    Just like the other one
    That one’s burned to the end
    Come on and be a real friend

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