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Palestinian flag flies at RC

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Cara Cooper & Maggie Christ

 

After years of pushing, and amid much controversy, the Palestinian flag is now flying at Roanoke College.

The flag on the fifth flag pole on the Back Quad rotates every couple of weeks with the flag of RC’s international student’s home countries. Roanoke has students from 25 different countries around the world, but the largest population of students from one country is Palestine.  There are currently six Palestinian students enrolled at RC.

Yahia Abuhashem ’12 came to Roanoke four years ago from Palestine, after a long struggle with getting out of the Gaza Strip. He noticed that, even though Roanoke had Palestinian students, they never flew the flag of that nation.  The United States government took a stand that they would not recognize Palestine as a state due to a terrorist regime, Hamas, believed to be in power there.

Mahmoud Thahar ’13, also from Palestine, points out that RC has had Palestinian students for 10 years, and this is the first time any of them have gotten the chance to see their flag flying on campus.

“Over the past 3 years I have talked to Lorraine Fleck [Director of International Education] about the issue,” Abuhashem said. “They didn’t really give us much attention.  Every time they just gave us the same reason that the school adopts the United Nations policy and since the UN does not recognize it, the school cannot fly the flag.”

The reason this controversy exists is there are significant differences between what constitutes as a nation, state, and delegation.  A nation is defined in the dictionary as a group of people sharing the same language, culture, or traditions while occupying the same territory.  By this definition, Palestine is a nation; however, its status as a nation-state is the thing that is up for debate.  Israel became a nation-state in 1948 when its boundaries were clearly defined.  The boundaries of Palestine are still being questioned. 

The PLO applied for statehood through the UN in 1988, and as of today 130 countries around the world recognize it as a separate independent state from Israel.  Recognition of a state by the UN does not need to be confirmed collectively, but is decided individually by each existing state.  The UN as a whole, and the United States, considers the PLO a delegation, because they are allowed to sit in on Security Council meetings, however they cannot vote.  The thing that is holding Palestine back from gaining statehood, in the eyes of the US, is the occupation of Israel within their borders.

            The Palestinian students have urged the school to change their stance because, as of July 2010 when the PLOs status was upgraded to a delegation, the Palestinian national flag has been flying at the UN headquarters in Washington, D.C., along with the flags of every other US recognized state in the world.  If this were not the case, Palestinians would not be granted Visas to come study at Roanoke College, or anywhere else in the United States.

Last December, a resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly that supported the right of Palestine to self-determination.

As a private institution, Roanoke College does not have an obligation to be politically neutral in terms of following the same policies as the US government.  However, Abuhashem, along with Thaher and Esraa AboJassar ’14 believe that by flying the flags of other nations around the world, is in itself a political stance.

The statement of the flag flying on campus is important to these students because it represents their identity.  While their statehood is up for debate, their nationality is not.

“We did not choose to be born Palestinian, and being Palestinian is our identity,” Abuhashem said “Imagine yourself with no identity.  If someone asks you ‘where are you from’ and your nation is not recognized, you know like ‘I’m from that part of the world, I don’t know what to call it’.  For us, it is our identity, it is our culture, it’s everything.”

“Regardless of politics, you cannot in anyway disprove my being here on this planet.  No matter what you choose to call me, or not matter what I choose to call myself,” AboJassar said. “As a Palestinian I’m trying to prove my existence, as a Palestinian and as a human being.  I feel it is unacceptable for a person from some other nation to come and decide for me what’s my nationality.”

  Abuhashem realizes the turmoil between the US and his country and what some believe the nation of Palestine is.  But, in regards to the flag on Roanoke’s campus, he believes the government issues should have nothing to do with that.

“Regardless of the school’s neutrality or political views, the only statement being made by flying our flag is that we have 6 Palestinian students that we would like to represent,” Abuhashem said. “That we would like to proudly represent.”