Mai Hasan and Nour Daghlas are college students. They are both tall; have brown hair; and wear sneakers, denim jeans and denim jackets. They speak English better than some USC students do. They look very American, as if they go to USC.
They do not, however, and their experience at the West Bank university they attend is much different than American universities, where money or entrance exam scores are some of the biggest hurdles to higher education.
As students in the West Bank, education is sometimes a matter of life and death.
It shouldn't be that way, Hasan, an English literature major, and her classmate Daghlas, an aspiring computer scientist, said. The two Palestinian students, who attend Birzeit University in the West Bank, said Israel does not grant them their right to education. They visited USC to share their stories on Monday night.
Hasan was seven-year-old when Israeli soldiers invaded her village. She survived, but one of her friends did not. She still asks herself, "Is there a reason?"
Daghlas once survived Israeli fire, while on his way back from school, by ducking behind a bus for hours.
After he escaped, he heard the soldiers being for their poor performance in training.
"That's what made me feel like I'm not a human, I'm not anything, just a moving target," Daghlas said.
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After their presentation, Annenberg Media talked to Hasan about her story.
Q: How do you make sense of the experiences you endured?
A: One part of the world is the colonizer, and the other part is the colonized. I mean, the whole system doesn't make sense. Israel is only setting an example of this system. It includes the whole world. So we're only people under occupation, and other indigenous people have suffered the same. So no one, when you have common sense, would accept this. That's why we still fight, resist and make the world aware of the system of capitalism – of colonialism – that we have to fight, and that we have to end it. We will talk about it.
Q: So the explanation of the current situation is that there's no common sense?
A: Well, the Israelis will give you a justification. But I can tell you that one injustice doesn't justify another. So if they say to you that 'we're doing this because we deserve a state,' nations don't have rights. People do. So in order for you to build a state, it doesn't have to be against someone else.
“One injustice doesn’t justify another,” says Mai Hasan on the mistreatment she encountered by Israeli soldiers.
Q: In your speech, you said that students from your university often protest the invasions by Israeli soldiers. Is it illegal for you to protest?
A: Those who get arrested are those who are very, very active and those who organize. For the masses of people who are participating, it's hard for all of them to get arrested. But those of them who get really into the action, they write as well, so it's not only action but action and words, this is where they might get arrested. So of course it's not legal, no one would legalize arresting someone for protesting.
Q: But is it legal under Israeli law?
A: The Israeli law has been arresting people since the establishment of the state. So of course they wouldn't legalize it for them to protest. No, nothing's legal for the Palestinians.
Q: What would happen if Israeli officials found out about the "Right to Education" tour you're participating in?
A: I would be glad if they knew. I don't care what they do. We, people, have principles in life. And I'm personally someone who can't live without fighting for a cause, because that would mean that my life is meaningless. I was born Palestinian, so I have something to fight for. If they knew or didn't know, what would it matter? I would say it anyways.
Q: You've always lived under occupation, and your parents probably have as as well. But you're still young. How is your attitude different from that of your parents, who haven't really seen much change in their lifetimes?
A: Usually young people are always more enthusiastic than elderly people. But when they were our age, they used to do the same. Now they have other things. They want to focus more on their families, on their work. But they never told us 'No, don't do it.' Because they know this is a cause, a just cause, that we have to do it. We always had hope, we never give up hope in Palestine.
Bombings, shootings, violence on the way to school? “You don’t know what it’s like,” Hasan says.
Q: How hard is it to share your story of violence, trauma and death in front of strangers?
A: It's hard. You guys, you don't know what it's like. When I say it, I'm always worried if I skipped something important, if I should have mentioned this or that before, or if I should have reviewed the history before I start. But at the end of the day, when you tell a story, people can identify with you as long as you say what happened with you. It's hard, but for me, I'm glad I'm finally talking about those people who didn't survive. Who had no one to speak for them, no one even to know their names, to recognize them. So I take it emotionally, I take it rationally, I take it all different kinds of ways.