Activists discussed solidarity between those facing struggles in Syria and in Palestine at a panel hosted by Students Organize for Syria and co-sponsored by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine and Columbia Apartheid Divest on Wednesday night.
The discussion touched on the issue of Palestinian occupation and liberation, which has proven controversial between groups on Columbia’s campus. But the panelists and students in attendance expressed hope that such division, especially within pro-Palestinian groups, could be remedied if activists put aside differences in response to the election of President Donald Trump.
Moderated by SOS organizer Nadine Talaat CC ’17, the panel consisted of Loubna Mrie, a Syrian-born activist based in New York City who participated in the early stages of the revolution, Nidal Bitari, a Syrian-Palestinian journalist, and Wael Elasady, a Syrian-Palestinian activist and co-founder of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights.
The three panelists spoke about ways to bridge the divide between the Syrian and Palestinian solidarity movements. This divide exists because Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime—decried by Syrian activists for its mass torture and killings—has historically provided support to the Palestinian liberation movement.
Elasady claimed that the perceived partnership between Assad’s regime and the Palestinian cause was exaggerated.
“Not only were they not allies of the Palestinian people, but in absolute critical moments in the history of the Palestinian struggle in the region, they actually fought against the Palestinians and caused great setbacks for the movement,” Elsady said. “The states in the region support Palestine only opportunistically, and only insofar as they further their regional ambitions.”
Meanwhile, Mrie said that thinking all Syrians share the same point of view is “orientalist.” She also criticized writers who pose as experts on the issue, including some in the American left.
Bitari, on the other hand, discussed his experience as a Palestinian in Syria and his attempts to reconcile his support for both Palestinian liberation and Syrian self-determination. This was particularly challenging for him, due to the fact that Assad’s regime is largely regarded both in Syria and abroad as one of the major supporters of the Palestinian cause.
During the question and answer portion of the panel, student questions focused on what can be done to remedy the divide between Syrian and Palestinian solidarity movements, as well as on what American journalists can do to more accurately portray the conflict in Syria.
All panelists agreed about the need for more open discussion and engagement within various advocacy groups and the support of both oppressed populations.
“It is imperative to stand in solidarity with all those who rise against their oppressors,” Elasady said.