Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine (KSJP) annually organizes a series of events as part of the Israeli Apartheid Awareness week that aim to increase awareness about the conflicts occurring along the border of Israel and Palestine. From March 28 – 31, KSJP sponsored an acting workshop, a guest speaker and a vigil to bring students together to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To kick off the week of events, Maytha Alhassen — a Syrian-American renowned journalist, historian and social-justice artist — came to campus to present an acting workshop titled “Integrative Abolition: Theater of the Oppressed Exercises for Embodied Freedom.” The event was designed to open a dialogue on the overlooked influence of news outlets.
Alhassen started off by introducing participants to the acting essentials of using facial and body movements as tools to express emotion. She then divided participants into smaller groups for an activity she called “Changing the Headline.”
According to Alhassen, “The goal is to shift [the headline of a news story] to tell it from the most marginalized in the story to reclaim their power.” Alhassen used this activity to highlight the role that news outlets play in reporting about reality for people who did not witness an event.
“I enjoyed the workshop because it was interactive — it was a new idea,” Kirollos Mikhaeel ’22, one of the students in attendance, said of incorporating recent news headlines in theatre exercises. Though he had participated in similar workshops before, Mikhaeel found Alhassen’s take to be an engaging way to connect with relevant issues.
By centering the activity on the marginalized characters, Alhassen guided participants to examine how word and rhetorical choices can express bias. “What this game does demonstrate is that this perception of an objective side tends to always side with corrupt power,” she said during the workshop.
Following the exercise, participants reflected on how the pairing of words with bodily motion could emphasize the human presence in a situation much more than a six-word headline.
Later that day in the Peirce Pub, Alhassen Peirce presented her talk, “Intersectional Abolition: No Ban. No Wall. No Prisons. No Cops.” Alhassen focused on her concept of “engaged wit/h/ness,” where personal testimony and identification act as tools in movements of change. She ended her time on campus reminding students of their own power to enact change.
The awareness week continued on Sunday evening when 30 students and professors gathered together in front of Rosse Hall to host a vigil honoring the lives of the 240 Palestinians who died in the past year as a result of the regional conflicts. This year’s Israeli Apartheid Awareness week marks the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return,” a six-week campaign of protests that began in the Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018. The 30-minute ceremony provided a space for members of the Kenyon community to share personal experiences, poetry and thoughts for the victims and the people who continue to live in regions of violent conflict.
Hanaa Ibrahim ’21, co-president of KSJP, began the ceremony by sharing a personal reflection on the violence she had seen firsthand in the Gaza Strip and heard about from loved ones while she has been at Kenyon. Members of KSJP explained the situation at present in Palestine, then listed the names of several Palestinian victims ranging from 11 to 65 years old.
Sophia Alpízar Román ’21 is a member of KSJP and attended a number of the events of the Israeli Apartheid Awareness Week. “I think that it’s important to come to these events to meet Palestinians, to know in general about what has happened and what has continued to happen to them, especially because we have many people here at Kenyon who seem to not know about it,” she said.
Nour Bouhassoun ’20, co-president of KSJP, hopes that these events increased awareness about the conflict and helped students realize the United States’ role in the conflict. “Whenever we talk about justice, our goal is for Palestine to be included in that discussion,” she said. “Israel works in collaboration with the United States and they both create a global system of repression … As U.S. citizens, they have a responsibility to hold the government accountable to the crimes because their taxes are going into militarization.”
Sunday’s vigil commemorated the anniversary of a march that exacerbated an already violent conflict. As armed attacks continue and tension remains, the end of this year’s Israeli Apartheid Awareness week marks the start of another year of unsettled disputes in the region.
RuiKun Geng ’21 contributed reporting.