Being Palestinian at Columbia University:

by Layla Saliba

Being Palestinian at Columbia University is to be an inconvenience, a constant thorn in the side of the university. Being Palestinian means writing op ed after op ed to your administration, begging to have your humanity acknowledged. Being Palestinian means waking up everyday and seeing your people, those who share your name and those that look just like you, people related to you, in the worst moments of their lives, pleading to the world in a language that is not their own, begging to stop the bombing and destruction.


Being Palestinian means sharing your family’s evacuation fundraiser, $5000 or more per person as demanded by the Egyptian authorities with everyone you know so that your remaining family members survive. Being Palestinian is having students with opposing views treat you as if you aren’t even human, as if your pain is not real and your feelings do not matter. Being Palestinian means seeing many of these students insist on “needing to repair campus” and “leading with empathy” when they have shown none to Palestinian students who have lost entire sides of their family. Being Palestinian means watching these students vocally condemn property damage on campus but remain silent when every university in Gaza has been destroyed. Being Palestinian means seeing Minouche Shafik display more concern for a broken window than any of the Palestinian students who have lost family. Being Palestinian means being attacked with chemicals and having your peers make fun of you, having your peers wear skunk costumes, and use false accusations of “fart spray” despite filing multiple police reports and still dealing with health issues.


When you say that you are angry about any of this, you are deemed violent. When you are depressed, you’re called dramatic and told to get over it. When you simply express your cultural heritage by wearing a keffiyeh, you get called anti-semitic and told that you make other students uncomfortable. When you talk to reporters, you are told that you speak “at length and with nuance” but your words will be butchered and your family story misrepresented.

But as difficult as it is being Palestinian at Columbia, I realize that it is nothing compared to what Palestinians in Gaza are dealing with. My relatives tell me that the air smells like blood, that the stench of decaying bodies lingers in the air. 1.9 million Palestinians, more than the entire population of Manhattan, have been displaced, their apartments and homes turned into rubble courtesy of American made bombs. Mass graves filled with hundreds of Palestinians, their arms zip tied. Palestinians in concentration camps, stripped to their underwear and their limbs zip tied to fences.


Amidst these terrifying realities, I am in awe of our student body that continues to stand up for what is right. Even as elected officials like our very own Eric Adams and outside agitators such as Bill Ackman collude to interfere with campus happenings, students have continued to speak truth to power. You give me hope, in a time where things feel so incredibly bleak. You have made a difference for children in Gaza. If your words didn’t matter, they wouldn’t exhaust their resources trying to silence you. As people in power continue to double down and villainize Palestinians, I invite you to listen to the words of Dr. Haya Alyan, “In the meantime, Palestinians continue to be cast paradoxically — both terror and invisible, both people who never existed and people who cannot return. Imagine being such a pest, such an obstacle. Or: Imagine being so powerful.”