Student-led seminar encourages discussion of Palestinian humanitarian crisis

In the wake of bombardments by Israel’s government on Palestinian people resulting in mass killings and the displacement of millions, students of UWT are speaking up. 

CORRECTION: The original version of this article contained incorrect details about one of the event’s organizers. The article has been updated as of 4/23/24.

Students and UWT faculty gathered on Monday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. in the SNO building, at the Center for Equity and Inclusion (CEI) kitchen for an arts and crafts seminar that featured discussion questions for students about the humanitarian crisis occurring in Palestine. 

A basket of bracelet-making supplies was laid out on the table next to poster boards, markers and colored pencils for students to make artwork while participating in an emotional discussion. Any extra signs that students made were donated to a protest group in Seattle in support of the movement to free Palestine. 

“The purpose is to spread awareness to the ongoing genocide in Palestine, giving the students a safe and comfortable space to express their thoughts through their words but also through art,” said Student Program Coordinator Danny Elmoussa of the CEI. 

Elmoussa said that he had been sitting on this idea for months, even before the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on Oct. 7. He designed the graphic posted on the UWT CEI Instagram, gathered materials for arts and crafts and wrote out his engaging seminar questions. 

Erandy Flores, UWT student retention and community development assistant consulted Elmoussa about the organization of the seminar, along with crafting his questions for the student attendees to maximize engagement.

“It’s a really tricky conversation and it’s one that doesn’t always feel safe to talk about, so I just really respect everybody for showing up and being willing to say what you need to say,” said Program Support Supervisor Siri Tiger Kuyera Kaunda of the Office of Equity and Inclusion. 

During the interactive seminar, open questions were raised about how students have been feeling about the social media coverage they’ve seen, whether they feel safe speaking about the issues on campus, and what people can do locally and nationally to support Palestinians. One student encouraged everyone to do more, within their means, than just repost on social media. 

“We’re seeing the media shift a bit into seeing this as not just a war but maybe a different kind of conflict,” said UWT student Madison Mayorga-Hall, a Lebanese-Palestinian and Puerto Rican student of Global Studies in an interview. 

Student Program Coordinator Danny Elmoussa of CEI stands with a poster that reads “It’s not complicated, it’s genocide. #FreePalestine.” Photo by Elissa Blankenship.

That conflict is a shifting definition of genocide to reflect what it looks like now, with new acronyms like Wounded Children, No Surviving Family, or WCNSF on social media, emerging from the bombings of civilian houses and hospitals in Gaza, according to Mayorga-Hall, who studies international and humanitarian law and policy. 

During the event, there was a disagreement between students over the application of the term genocide. One student with a U.S. military background took a stance that outlined Israel’s attacks as the military equivalent of negligent manslaughter, separating human rights abuses occurring in Palestine from the definition of genocide recognized by international law. 

A student spoke up in response to the claims, citing Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, stating that parts A, B, and C have been violated by the Israeli government through the ongoing bombing of the city of Rafah. 

As of Thursday, Feb. 29. the Palestinian death toll has risen to at least 30,035 people, with more than 70,000 people injured. More than 70% of the dead are women and children, according to health officials of the Gaza Health Ministry. 

The first and fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 are two humanitarian laws that aim to protect wounded or sick soldiers on land and afford protection for civilians in occupied territories, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross

In Rafah, West Bank and Gaza, survivors don’t have a safe place to take shelter, with little to no access to fresh water, food or other basic human necessities. 

“Largely it is dehumanization, that the population of Gaza is around 50% children, and then the West Bank is also around 45% children population-wise, and having mass indiscriminate bombing campaigns in a state and in a community that’s largely made up of children in itself denies the right to life for children,” Mayorga-Hall said. 

Throughout the discussion, concerns were raised about human rights violations against Palestinian peoples and the lack of a ceasefire in Gaza since Oct. 7. Students also brought attention to the inaction by the United Nations and U.S. government in attempting to stop the conflict, as well as a lack of accountability in U.S. media for the spread of false information or biased narratives. 

“I think social media has offered us an alternative to see like, this is what the media is saying, this is like, real life footage and storytelling and people that are coming together in the face of these atrocities,” Flores said during the seminar. 

Elmoussa said that as the event organizer, considering his Middle Eastern family history and his Palestinian friends, he believes that hosting a seminar does right by the Palestinian community. 

For updates on student community events and opportunities to engage in conversation with students, follow the UWT CEI Instagram page

Students make posters and talk amongst themselves at the seminar table. Photo by Elissa Blankenship.

Featured photo: UWT Students and staff gather around the table to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Palestine. Photo by Elissa Blankenship.