Benedictine University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organized Apartheid Awareness Week dedicated to educating and highlighting the ongoing occupation in Palestine hosting events and displaying various exhibits around campus last week. SJP board members expressed they expected interest or even confusion throughout the week, however, they didn’t expect complaints and misunderstandings to allow for one display, an approximately 70ft. long Palestinian flag hung from the third floor of the parking garage, to be taken down by the University Thursday morning.
President Michael Brophy stated in an email that the flag had been taken down due to misunderstandings and unclear message.
“The flag needed to come down because it was displayed in a very significant way on University property that led to confusion and concern,” said Brophy in the email.
The flag display was approved by Student Life as the SJP board said the flag was intended to make a statement about humanitarian injustices and serve as an introduction to the rest of the exhibits around campus, which included a mock apartheid wall in Kindlon atrium and mini Palestinian flags that spelled out 1948, the year Palestinian occupation began, in the grass in the quad.
“We ask student groups to follow the University’s policies before posting signs, flyers, flags and other materials,” said Vice President of Student Life Marco Masini, “In this instance, the Student Life office gave permission to hang the flag. As concerns mounted, Student Life revisited its posting guidelines and determined that the flag’s posting was incompatible with policy and should be removed.”
“We had it out there because it was apartheid week. We did want to draw people’s attention to it. We wanted to make an impact on campus and create dialogue,” said SJP President Mallak Ahmad, “If you’re uncomfortable, come talk to us and we’ll tell you why you shouldn’t be uncomfortable.”
The missing flag led to confusion among SJP members upon arriving at the university because they said they were given no prior notice. Upon arriving at the campus police, SJP board members described to have found the flag rolled up in the corner of the station.
“We felt disrespected…it’s something we value so much…so it was like ‘how dare you?’” said SJP Social Media Representative Danya Alzein, “If it was an American flag, it would’ve been folded nicely and treated with respect.”
“As I write, there are still hundreds of small Palestinian flags on campus in two prominent locations, but they have exhibit notes with them,” said President Brophy. “The challenge that some expressed with the extremely large flag that was hung on the parking garage was the concern that the University was taking a position on the conflict, which it is not.”
SJP board expressed intent to lead discussion and foster dialogue and explained it was ironic that the incident occurred in the same week as the university teach-in on social justice and inequality.
“We ultimately stand for the humanitarian aspect…Anybody that’s in that land that suffers under the occupation, we stand with…When we put up that flag, it was for the country’s sake, not for religious affiliation or a political stance,” said Ahmad.