Whenever I write anything that supports Palestinian self-determination, I sit down before publishing it to estimate the consequences that may arise if the piece sees the light of day. I edit my grammar and fix my punctuation, then I look at the possible ways a person may interpret my criticisms of Israel as antisemitic. It’s almost like imagining the steps ahead while playing chess.
I think about the possible arguments I may have, the confrontations I may encounter and the friendships I may lose, and most times I seriously consider dropping my writing all together. I feel sad that, as a Palestinian who has the privilege to be at Georgetown University, I can still feel the effect of the powerful voices outside of campus that can silence mine.
This fear of mine arose when I became a student at Georgetown. I quickly became aware of the heavy influence pro-Israeli lobby groups have on silencing the voices inside the U.S. government and the students here on campus. As a freshman, I found that the more I got attached to my new life, the quieter my voice got when I talked about Palestine. I was scared that speaking up would make me lose my education at Georgetown and my future career.
I was scared of speaking up as I constantly saw congresswomen like Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) being dragged for her outspokenness about boycotting Israel when she is of Palestinian origin. My loud voice in the halls of Harbin fell silent when we talked about Palestine as I saw congresswomen like Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) labeled as antisemitic for criticizing Israel’s government. But the more I compared myself to these congresswomen, the more I realized how small I am and how easy it is to have my entire career end before it starts.
I realized I was not the only one who experienced fear of speaking up. In my first months as a freshman, I was surprised by the amount of people that would approach me and whisper to me their undeniable support for Palestine. I could always see the guilt in their eyes for suppressing their voice into a mere whisper.
I have had to accept it when some of my friends told me that they do support Palestine but could not afford to lose their career over such a controversial topic because they wanted to be active in other issues to which they have dedicated their career. For a while, I hated them for it, as I watched Students for Justice in Palestine struggle to find support in the student body, but now I understand why. Sometimes it is easier to remain quiet just to remain standing until the end.
I grew up hearing all about the First Amendment and I was excited to come to the United States and practice some of the rights of speaking up without being scared like I used to be in Israel, but I have found myself more scared than ever to speak up. When I was in middle school, my teachers told me that making the international community aware of what’s happening is the way to improve the situation in Palestine. I came to the United States excited to tell my story as a Palestinian, only to be shocked to find that students already knew it.
Despite knowing the risks of speaking out, I have come to realize that our time here is worth nothing if we do not speak up about the issues in which we believe, and that includes every conflict in the world. Underprivileged communities all around the world rely on our voices as future leaders to make change.
It is very scary to speak up sometimes. Believe me, I was so scared I started ignoring who I am as a Palestinian, but as the future advocates, lawyers and politicians of the world, students should realize that standing up for what we believe in and acting with integrity is more important than any position that we will ever achieve in our careers. Go out and join clubs you are interested in, protest and do not worry about the lobbies on Capitol Hill, and argue with your friends about what you believe in so that one day you do not become one of the voices that oppresses others.
Malak Abusoud is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.