International students undergo a lot of mental stress from homesickness during their study abroad journey. For Palestinian students, the scenario is even worse. Recent tensions between Palestine and Israel have led to severe destruction of Palestine’s infrastructure and economy.
On Oct. 29, The Gaza Health Ministry reported that the death toll among Palestinians passed 8,000, mostly women and minors.
Palestinian students studying at UPEI are deeply affected by witnessing their homes being destroyed and their people being labeled as terrorists by some media outlets.
This situation has also contributed to an increase in hate crimes within North America. A recent tragic incident involved a 6-year-old Muslim Palestinian child being stabbed to death 26 times in New York, USA.
In this context, Palestinian students at UPEI may feel vulnerable and excluded from the community. Thus, it is our responsibility, as members of the UPEI community, to ensure they feel safe and included. On a personal level, we can achieve this by regularly checking in with our Palestinian friends, colleagues, and neighbours. On a community level, there have been requests from Palestinian students to display their flag alongside those of other countries at the W.A. Murphy Centre.
This advocacy has resulted in a form that can be filled out to express support, demonstrating sympathy and inclusion.
Muslim Student Association, led by President Mahmoud Ahmed Elmoslemany, has taken charge of the initiative. President Elmoslemany said that it shows those opposing the advocacy that discriminatory and violent acts against these people, due to their place of birth, are unacceptable at UPEI.
“I hope UPEI will come together to support the Palestinian students on campus who have family back home and no idea how they are doing or what will become of them tomorrow,” said Elmoslemany.
Palestinian students have also voiced their concerns:
“The point of having a flag at the Student Center is to make the students feel at home regardless of the university’s political views,” shared an anonymous Palestinian student.
“There are a significant number of Palestinian students and students who have had an interaction with Palestinians and know about their struggles. Having the flag raised will emphasize UPEI’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Another anonymous Palestinian student stated that, “displaying the Palestinian flag at our university embodies our commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and inclusion. It fosters a welcoming environment for all, acknowledging the cultural richness and diverse perspectives of our community. It signals solidarity with marginalized communities worldwide, promoting understanding and empathy. This act promotes an atmosphere of mutual respect, nurturing a space where every voice is valued.”
“I want to see my country’s flag flying there so that, when someone asks me where I am, I can point to it and say, “This is where I am from,”. Who doesn’t want their country’s flag flying there? My country is a part of me, and I really would appreciate it if my flag is represented,” added another Palestinian student.
Non-Palestinian students also spoke up.
“UPEI prides itself on being a place of acceptance, openness, and welcome for all international students. Palestinian students on campus should feel safe and see themselves represented as part of our campus. There are Palestinian students at UPEI, I know this. UPEI should already be flying the Palestinian flag,” shared one of them.
Another student compared rising death toll of women and children in Palestine to genocide of Indigenous Peoples of Canada.
“UPEI has been very forward about raising awareness about the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and their suffering during colonisation, so it’s only fair that we shed a light on the sufferings of Palestinians now, rather than later. It is important to identify the constant breach of humanitarian laws against the people of Palestine by Israel,” they said.
Ifra Zaidi, the elected Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion student representative at UPEI SU, has also supported the advocacy to raise the Palestinian flag:
“It is necessary to have the Palestinian flag raised in the W.A. MurphyCentre alongside others. UPEI takes pride in its diverse student body, and failing to represent this diversity is inconsistent with our values,” she said.
“Inclusion of the Palestinian flag symbolizes our commitment to inclusivity and respect for all students’ backgrounds. Raising the Palestinian flag also shows solidarity with the Palestinian people and addresses the lack of action by UPEI in this regard. This simple act allows our university to take a stance on human rights and social justice issues, helping our students feel heard and represented, while sparking important dialogue.”