Before Hanaa Ibrahim ’22 could come to Kenyon, Israeli authorities put her on a waiting list to get out of her home in Gaza. She missed her first semester. As she was finally leaving, they told her she could not return to Gaza for a year.
“I have to sacrifice for my dream. I have to sacrifice for my education,” she said during a talk last Friday.
After nearly a semester in Gambier, Ibrahim shared some of her experiences with a group of 18 students in Bemis Music Room. The event was part of the Discrimination Advisors’ Storytime, a bimonthly series that gives those in the Kenyon community the opportunity to tell their stories. Though she said she was trying to avoid being too political, she added, “Palestinians are always tied to politics. It’s hard not to talk about them.”
She prefaced her talk by admitting that she did not have a script, then proceeded to speak about the attacks she has lived through. She said the first time she was not sure she would survive was a New Year’s Eve spent above a dentistry while she heard fighting outside. There was an assault in 2012, then another in 2014. She described living in a state of constant stress back home.
When she arrived at Kenyon, she was surprised by the number of people who were not familiar with the political issues in Gaza. She took the opportunity to try to spread her story. It was only until she had gained some distance from Gaza that she was able to try to understand her life there, she said.
Ibrahim spoke candidly about her struggles and fears. She mentioned that the United Nations marked Gaza unlivable by 2020 because of overcrowding and told stories of the pain she and others have experienced because they cannot return home. Her friend, who goes to school in Cairo, Egypt, had to watch her father’s funeral on Facebook Livestream, and Ibrahim herself missed her grandmother’s funeral. “I really want you guys to appreciate what you have,” she said.
About halfway through, she stopped to point out that she didn’t have a specific point to what she was saying. “I’m just trying to be vulnerable,” she said.
Ibrahim answered some questions from the audience at the end of the talk. One student asked her how she found motivation in the face of adversity. Ibrahim looked at her, then said, “Sometimes I don’t.” She added that she came to Kenyon for a purpose, to improve herself, and that she tried to constantly remember that. Still, she admitted, she has bad days.
Ibrahim peppered her talk with pleas for students to pay attention to what was happening in Gaza. “If you’re a human, you would care about this,” she said. Later, she urged, “Please read more. Please ask more.”
“Being a Palestinian here now gives me so much pride,” she said. “It’s not only about death, wars and conflict … It’s about being human.”