By Farah Harb
The Arab American News
ANN ARBOR – On Saturday, March 31, the University of Michigan’s Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), in conjunction with Students for Justice in Palestine (SPJ) at both Michigan State University and Eastern Michigan University, hosted PALIFEST — A celebration of Palestinian culture in an event that included dancing, ethnic performances, an ethnic fashion show and Palestinian food.
The event took place from 3-6 p.m. at William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center on the University of Michigan campus.
“We have our strength in numbers, so we decided that we all wanted to come together in a big community event to start building a Palestinian solidarity group and strengthening our allies and connections with each other,” said Reem Khatib, one of the organizers from SAFE, in a hall that hosted many attendees who got a chance to sit together to share food. “There is no better way to do it than by celebrating our culture, so we came together and it took us a few months to execute the idea.”
Khatib also said the event was a collaborative effort between the three organizations.
“We all pitched in,” she said. “We chose a place on our campus; a student from Michigan State University’s mom made the food, so it was more family-friendly kind of planning.”
Khatib said they decided to host this event as a way to celebrate the Palestinian culture in a festive way, as opposed to the heavy issues SAFE has been working with in contribution to the Palestinian cause.
“The reason we did it is because a lot of the time the work that we do is very stressful and emotional; it takes a toll on our emotions,” she said. “It is intense because we’re advocating for human rights in Palestine. So, we wanted to take a break from that emotional toll and celebrate and remember why we do what we do.”
The event started with a moment of silence to commemorate the 18 Palestinians who were killed on Friday, March 30 in Gaza during the “Right of Return” protests with Israeli forces.
“We wanted to bring into light what is happening currently and make sure that people are aware, but for the rest of the night we want people to remember their culture, dance and enjoy each other’s company,” Khatib said.
She also briefly discussed SAFE’s biggest win this year, a first in 17 years. A divestment resolution was passed at the University of Michigan.
The resolution mandates that the university investigate any American companies that are profiting off of human rights violations in Palestine.
“HP, for example, provides the technologies for the checkpoints in Palestine that Israeli forces use to harass and discriminate against Palestinians between the borders,” Khatib said. “We also had Boeing, which provided the aircrafts and machinery that was used in the 2014 bombing of Gaza.”
Khatib said the resolution has been accepted 13 times since 2004 by students at the University of Michigan.
“And every year it has been shut down,” she said. “But this year we had a lot of momentum and 45 student organizations signed on, including the Black Student Union [and] the Latino La Casa; and [we had] support from other universities. For the first time, we were able to pass it.”
If U of M finds that these companies are in violation of human rights under international law, it will pull its endorsements.
“Currently the university donates millions of dollars to these companies and it is not fair for us students tuition to a school that helps the occupation,” Khatib said.
According to Khatib, student activists from SAFE, as well as others, have been receiving hate messages for supporting the Palestinian cause and have been blacklisted.