A personal cause – Tariq Shahwan and the Palestinian cause

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“I see it as a duty of mine to convey the message of the Palestinian people,” Tariq Shahwan, a Palestinian in his fourth year at American University said. Shahwan grew up in Jerusalem to a Palestinian father and a German mother. Growing up there, he witnessed firsthand what he says are some of the biggest injustices placed on the Palestinian people by the Israeli authorities.


“The Israelis are occupying the Palestinian people,” Shahwan explained. “The Palestinians want to have a sovereign nation in the areas of The West Bank and Gaza, but they can’t because they are being controlled by Israel, by sea, by land, and by air. They control trading, they control taxes, they control every part of life for the Palestinians.” Having such little control over where you go and what you can buy, and even how much it costs is something that directly effects the Palestinian people.


Shahwan is fortunate enough to be able to travel freely and often brings items back home with him from school to avoid paying inflated prices, but it’s not that easy for everyone, although he hopes that by sharing the story of his people, maybe that will begin to change.


“This is a very personal cause for me,” Shahwan said. He works with the Students for Justice in Palestine, a national organization that brings awareness about the situation, and he is glad to have had the opportunity to attend conferences and discussions about what’s going on, but he doesn’t often go through Students for Justice in Palestine, opting instead to use his own experience to get others interested, and hopefully talking about the situation, but he has a few rules for himself when doing so.


“I don’t like to confront people with politics first, I confront them as being a friend, and I think once they know me as a friend and they know who I am nonpolitically, they will be more receptive to the politics that I have,” Shahwan said. He is careful not to alienate people from the cause, as it’s something that is still a very touchy subject for some.


“I don’t directly approach people and talk about politics, I do it as a conversation starter and only if they ask first,” Shahwan explained. He is careful to make sure people are okay with what may be turn out to be an uncomfortable conversation at times.


One of the biggest things Shahwan wants people to understand is why many Palestinian activists want Israeli investments divested. Certain products, he says, are made by Israeli firms, but on Palestinian land.


“According to the Geneva Convention, this is illegal, and so anything made on these lands should be boycotted because they’re not made legally because they’re on occupied lands,” Shahwan explained. In simple terms, the international community does not recognize these lands as Israeli, and yet Israeli companies use them as though they are part of Israel, creating a problem for the international community. Shahwan also acknowledged that this situation is complicated, and can be confusing for people to understand at times.


Much of the conversation in America regarding this whole conflict has been very pro-Israel for a long time, but Shahwan believes that the tides are turning.


“I think people are slowly realizing that Israel doesn’t have much of a case,” he said. He realizes it’s happening slowly, but is encouraged by what he’s seen so far. He is also encouraged by what he says is a new and more organized effort by the Palestinians to get their message out.


“The PR machine that is Israel is weakening, and the PR machine the is Palestine is becoming better. I think that the national support in the US is moving more towards Palestine because we are taking methods from other movements similar to that of Palestine and then applying them to ours, and I think that is making people more aware of what our situation is,” Shahwan said.


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