Interview with Samar Shabeeb, President and Founder of SciencesPalestine at Sciences Po Paris in Menton. By Ian Christensen.
The first of its kind at Sciences Po, SciencesPalestine is a brand new association on the Menton campus, promoting understanding, education, and dialogue surrounding Palestinian society and its struggles for freedom. Samar Shabeeb, a first-year student at Menton in the French track, uses this interview to present her inspirations and goals behind SciencesPalestine, and the exciting future it has within our Ummah.
Q: First of all: where are you from?
Shabeeb: I was born in France, near Lyon, but I’ve lived almost my whole life in Prague in the Czech Republic. My father is Palestinian and my mother is Tunisian.
Q: Can you explain what is SciencesPalestine?
Shabeeb: SciencesPalestine is an initiative that I built from a dream. My whole life I hoped to create something around the world of Palestine and of what it means to me as somebody who gives a lot of weight to feelings. I want people to understand the Palestinian question and its cause through a new way of communicating: emotion sharing that goes through art and through human communication. That is what SciencesPalestine is all about.
Q: What do you plan on doing as an association?
Shabeeb: We’re mostly going to do an introduction to the Palestinian culture, like workshops around food and the Palestinian identity. We think that showing people what Palestine is as a people is a way of resisting…a way of telling people Yes! There are people living there! There are people who have their culture, their history, their lifestyle! This way of proving their existence is in and of itself a kind of resistance. We will also organise some conferences and even have a few surprises planned.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to create this association?
Shabeeb: I’ve always told myself that one day I needed to start something for Palestine. My whole life I have known that I wanted to do something for it and I saw something on Facebook saying: “In one year you wish you’d have started today”. It was the quote that made me realise that this [year] is the moment to establish [SciencesPalestine] after I saw the student initiatives and thought university would be my time to take my independence and invest myself into this project.
Q: Why should students join SciencesPalestine?
Shabeeb: I often say that to understand [the conflict] and to feel the pain that Palestinians feel everyday, you don’t particularly need to be in some way related to it by your origins or from your everyday life…you just need to be human. What frustrates me is that whenever we talk about a cause we often feel a kind of distance from it. We always say, “Oh, those are people that are far away from me…so why should I care?”, and this is what SciencesPalestine is all about: communicating differently, showing people that they are actually involved as human beings in our global society. They should feel involved in people’s injustices and frustrations–this is not only about Palestine, but any type of cause.
SciencesPalestine is just about reducing the distance that you might think you have with this cause because at the end of the day, it is just people that are certainly physically far from you, but in fact they were born the same; they have the same hormones and physical experiences. The only difference is that they live through things that you don’t have to go through everyday. They’re not inferior, nor are they more “attracted” to war or anything else…they just need to live with a unique struggle that they’ve been thrust upon, and creating that awareness is all it is really about…you could have been born into this place, so now it’s your turn to do something. You’re not Palestinian by blood, you’re Palestinian by soul, by feeling.
Q: Can you give some background as to what is happening in Palestine today?
Shabeeb: What we’re fighting for is for Palestinians to have their own State and to remember that there is still a conflict, and it’s not something that should just be accepted. In Palestine you still have illegal colonies, you still have refugees in their own country… how ridiculous is that? You have people who are struggling to do whatever that would feel casual and normal for people living in Western societies. To go to school is a struggle, to go to a friend’s house is a struggle, to have access to clean water and electricity is a struggle. They need to ask permission for all of this from somebody that they don’t feel is legitimate to ask to (that being the Israeli State).
But I want people to discover Palestine in its entirety. There are certainly people struggling but at the same time it’s a people that is alive that has a culture and art and knows how to express itself differently than with war and with guns. They saw that in front of the international community the use of violence was not legitimate, so they’re trying to figure out how to make people understand the struggle in a different way. All the Palestinian conflict is about is the creation of a State, we had a promise that we would have our State but basically we still don’t and we still have Israel trying to take more and more lands in Palestine, killing the Palestinian people, and worst of all trying to erase that there are people living there.
Q: What is the right way to approach this touchy subject?
Shabeeb: I put this post on Facebook explaining what SciencesPalestine was about and I was so scared for ‘it’ to happen, and it actually did happen in the comment section. We had somebody say, “F*** Israel”, and deep inside of me it hurt me because that’s not what I want to see in this association; that’s not the way I want people to understand our struggle. I don’t think you can defy or end violence by employing your own violence. Even though I’m very frustrated and sometimes my passions get the best of me, as human beings we need to control these passions and to communicate them better for people to understand better.
If you want to do something, do it by Love–always do it because you love it, never as a reaction to something, otherwise you’re submitting to your passions and you’re reacting instead of acting towards something. That’s the reason why we’re not here to say bad things about Israel, we’re just here to say how beautiful Palestine is. Certainly Israelis make Palestinians struggle on a daily basis, but the goal of SciencesPalestine is to show this through an intelligent way. The biggest problem of our world is we struggle with communicating; it’s crazy to say that in another country whether that is Syria or Africa or Yemen you don’t feel anything because it has become something normal, and SciencesPalestine is saying this is not normal and just because it’s happening more and more often doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be surprised or revolted…no, you should be.
Q: Have you been to Palestine yourself? What was your experience?
Shabeeb: I remember my father telling me about our family home in Palestine. He told me about how we had a big house with lots of fruit trees and beautiful nature in the mountains and with people always partying…and the first thing that you feel when you step out of the plane that just devastated me is that I saw all the Israeli flags around me…I have no words to describe how that reality hit me even though I knew of it already, but living it is a whole new experience.
From these beautiful memories that your father gives you to the time you actually step into the territory and see all this propaganda everywhere like Join the most moral army in the world!; Join Israel!; Look at our beautiful country!, it’s devastating. I remember when we stepped out an Israeli father told his two-year-old son, “Welcome home” and I felt like strangers were in the culture and in the country that my father used to tell me about and I knew that this journey would be the most mesmerising thing that I had ever lived.
In Palestinian culture you are always somebody who is related to somebody like Ibn Assad, meaning “son of Assad”. It is such a beautiful atmosphere of people sharing things, people living still! In Palestine life, people still go to work and do their daily routines, but with more difficulties. We would go through thousands of checkpoints where they would tell you if you can enter or you cannot, sometimes they will just close it and you have to find a friend or someone’s house to stay for the night…every single action of your day becomes a struggle and that is what the whole politic of it is about: making you aware that [Israel] is there.
Q: Have you ever encountered conflict as a Palestinian?
Shabeeb: Once we were with my cousin coming back from the market but the checkpoint line was so long that we decided to go a different way when all of a sudden a giant car appeared in our way and all these soldiers jumped out with big guns telling us, “Get out of the car!”. When they saw us leave they thought that we did something bad. They pushed my cousin to the ground with their guns. We were only three children and they were shouting at us in Arabic with an accent.
Q: How did you feel in that moment?
Shabeeb: You just don’t catch the situation…you feel like it’s completely unreal…like when you’re watching a movie. It was just ten minutes maybe but it’s a pause in your whole life; you don’t know what is going to happen or what they’re going to ask from you or what they want, and all you hear is sounds. I remember my father telling us, “Keep cool and don’t do anything too reactive, even if they insult you just stay in your place. You’re not going to save Palestine tonight so just worry about getting back home safely”. It felt like I was sitting inside of a box with all the noises going on outside that I could barely hear and you feel like you’re under drugs because you have so much adrenaline going on…this is what I want to give to the students of SciencesPo is just a taste of that feeling, that atmosphere, that life.
It’s so conflicting because you deal with the anxieties of things like passing through checkpoints but at the same time you will be walking down the street and someone will run up to you and say, “Hey, I’m your cousin!”. People plan things in the evening like a party and then suddenly the electricity will go down and we will have to stay outside like in the ancient world putting out candles. Or suddenly the water will just stop, like my grandma would tell me I could only shower between this hour and this hour as they have to collect the water of the rain or from a well. You always have a condition if you want to do anything and it’s just a funny way to live.
Everyone is encouraged to check out their Facebook page to stay up to date with the association’s latest events and activities, and SciencesPalestine is warmly welcomed within the Sciences Po Menton community!