Palestinian identity explored in new course
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Beginning next semester, SF State's College of Ethnic Studies will offer its first course that will focus solely on the history of Palestine and the region's people.

Today, Palestinians make up the largest refugee community in the world, with more than four million living in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, the professor who will teach the Palestinian course, said the class will cover historical and modern day aspects that form the Palestinian experience. The class, ETHS 630, is titled "Refugees in Exile: The Palestinian Diasporic Experience," and will be an advanced seminar for upper division students.

"Palestine is at the heart of the Arab world," Abdulhadi said. "This class is something that needs to happen."

According to the professor, students will study several topics, such as Palestinian identity, refugee displacement and crucial documents that have affected the country's history, such as the Oslo Accords, PLO and UN charters. The class will also look at the positions major communities and countries have on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Additionally, Abdulhadi said that her class will also analyze different news outlets in English and Arabic to help students get past biased information and form well-rounded ideas about how different media cover the same topic. "We'll read the San Francisco Chronicle, Palestinian newspapers [and] we'll look at CNN and Aljazeera [just to name a few]," she said.

Abdulhadi first developed and taught this class at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Born and raised in the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestine, Abdulhadi joined SF State in January 2007. Now that she'll be teaching the course at SF State, she said she can't imagine a better school to introduce the material.

"I think this is the perfect place to [teach this class on Palestine]," she said. "This university has a social justice approach. The [Ethnic Studies] college's roots came from struggle and all of the community needs this.”

Jackie Husary, a senior majoring in international relations, is Palestinian-American and chairs SF State's General Union of Palestinian Students, or GUPS. Husary is excited about the course and feels it's going to fill a void. "There's lots of curiosity about the Palestinian conflict, its people and culture," Husary said. "I think that even non-Palestinians are going to want to take this class."

Husary also said that with this course being offered, SF State is "shedding this prejudice it has had against Arabs and Palestinians." He cited past struggles GUPS has faced with the university, including being sanctioned in 2002 after a dispute with Israeli students during a Pro-Israel rally.

Loubna Qutami received her bachelor's degree in sociology from SF State and is currently a first-year master's student in the College of Ethnic Studies. She's also Palestinian-American, in GUPS and one of Abdulhadi's current students. Qutami said the introduction of the ETHS 630 class is crucial for Arab and Palestinian communities who need an educational forum where their narrative can be told.

Qutami said that often times Americans talk about Palestinian society in past tense, as ancient people of history. Rarely, according to Qutami, are Palestinians discussed in a modern context as people who are relevant to the world today. "I think this Palestine course is most important because it's going to be a modern day discourse and take Palestine out of a historical context," Qutami said.

Qutami hopes that the course will help people develop a deeper consciousness about Palestine than they had before. "I hope the students won't just sit and listen to the professor, but rather be inspired to do further research and ask questions -- to continue exploration about injustices and Palestine," Qutami said.

Abdulhadi believes that the course will inspire students and create a dialogue about past, present and future Palestinian issues.

"[Arab and Palestinian students] need to feel their concerns are being validated," Abdulhadi said. "When students are ignored, they become isolated. They begin to feel eclipsed and they stop dreaming."

ETHS 630, Refugees in Exile: The Palestinian Diasporic Experience, will be offered in spring 2009, Tuesdays from 4:10-6:55 p.m.

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