Debate continues over Palestinian author visit

Palestinian-American author Susan Abulhawa speaks to a class of CSUB students before delivering the 7th annual Kegley Institute of Ethics Fall Lecture on Oct. 18.

As a native Palestinian who grew up in the United States, Susan Abulhawa has both an insider’s and an outsider’s view of the Middle East conflict between Isreal and Palestine. To her, it’s more than a war. It’s an ethnic cleansing which she likens to the plight of Native Americans during American expansionism. Isreal aims to wipe Palestine off the map, she says.

Her views were debated intensely at CSUB on Oct. 18 when she delivered the 7th annual Kegley Institute of Ethics Fall Lecture in the Doré Theatre. Earlier in the day, she participated in an intimate Q&A with students in a classroom setting.

As a backdrop to her visit, the Palestinian Authority is currently pushing the United Nations Security Council to recognize Palestine as its own state. In the afternoon Q&A, students quizzed Abulhawa on whether she thought a two-state nation is the best solution to the struggle.

“To me, the political construct doesn’t matter as long as the rights of human beings are respected, regardless of their religion,” she answered.

Her focus on the human rights aspect of the conflict grew out of a trip she took in 2002 to the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank, where she witnessed first hand the aftermath of what she calls a “massacre.” This visit made such an impact that she wrote about what she saw. Her writings turned into her first novel, “Mornings in Jenin.”

“Writing found me,” said the former biologist. “It became apparent to me after being in Jenin then coming back here that I was in the wrong place in life. So I said a prayer … A few months later I was laid off from my job. It was scary. I was a single mom. I mortgaged my house and started writing about Jenin, not realizing I was writing a novel.”

Abulhawa urged students to seek all angles of truth about the situation in the Middle East  and not rely on limited or biased sources of information.

“As Americans it’s important we educate ourselves about what’s happening,” she said. “This is the most intractable conflict of our time.”

While some who attended Abulhawa’s talk were displeased by her pro-Palestinian stance, others lauded KIE for inviting the speaker to tell the lesser-heard point of view. The debate is continuing to play out, with The Bakersfield Californian running several op-eds by members of the community.

Christopher Meyers: ‘The banality of evil’ lives
Howard Silver: Abulhawa’s blood libel
Kamel Haddad: Abulhawa presented a harsh but justified picture of Isreal
Mike Miller: Arabs abused by governments everywhere – except in Israel

– Jennifer Burger, CSUB Public Affairs Coordinator