IWS seventh annual conference.                                             

March 29, 2016

The Institute of Women's Studies at Birzeit University held, in collaboration with the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies, SFSU, USA  (Tuesday, March 29, 2016) , the seventh annual conference, entitled: Struggles for Freedom “Prisons, Repressions and Solidarities: Palestinian, Indigenous and 3rd World Resistance Movements in Palestine & USA”.


The concept note of the conference:

The Palestinian resistance movement and the North American Indigenous, Black and Brown liberation struggles pose radical challenges to the normative meaning of ‘freedom’. All of these liberation movements struggled for freedom and dignity not in the legalized and institutionalized sense for in their most parts their ways and strategies have been criminalized. Yet, this very subjugation through criminalization of their actions/presence, necessitated that the freedom they struggled for would be other than that granted by the Law. Criminalized, vilified and labelled as terrorists, Palestinian, Indigenous and other 3rd World liberation movements  already had the freedom of which recognized “independent” nations are now deprived -- the freedom of those who take the risk and are willing to rebel beyond any set limits. As such, imprisonment and death became integral parts of their freedom struggles as well as the creation of an alternative way of life that is real and theirs.

This one-day conference seeks to discuss shared dimensions of the Palestinian, Indigenous and other 3rd World liberation struggles against settler colonial regimes. It aims to examine not only shared experiences and mechanisms of subjugation but also strategies of resistance including organizational structures and the formation of communities of resistance. The conference provides a comparative approach for the Indigenous, Black and Puerto Rican Liberation movements in the United States and the anti-colonial resistance movement in Palestine. It explores the dynamics of subjugation employed by colonial/racist powers as well as the acts of resistance deployed by Natives, Blacks, Latino/as and Palestinians in their freedom struggles.

The president of Birzeit University,  dr. Abdellatif Abuhijleh, opened the conference emphasizing the importance of this conference, as it deals with the experiences of the liberation struggle of the Palestinian people and the peoples of the world, and discusses the common dimensions of the national liberation movements in Palestine and elsewhere in the world.

Abu Hijleh spoke about the patriotic role of Birzeit University  as “it  was part of the struggle against the occupation, and many of its students became political prisoners and martyrs, not forgetting those who carried on their shoulders the burden of the liberatory act along with their textbooks. The university, with its administration and employees, was historically resistant to any process that could transform the university to a separate entity away from the concerns of the Palestinian people who live under colonialism. It was capable, as a knowledge-producing institution,  of resisting the colonial  policies that worked on uprooting  the Palestinian national identity".

The director of the Institute of Women’s Studies, Mrs. Eileen Kuttab, welcomed the delegation of academics and activists participating in the conference in solidarity with the Palestinian people's struggle against the Israeli colonial occupation and said that this conference stresses the mutual historical solidarity between the liberation movements in Palestine and the United States and highlights the commonalities between both movements  in the process of resisting powers that seek to  obliterate the freedom of our peoples. Kuttab stressed on the idea that struggle for dignity, safety and a just peace can only be achieved from outside the Palestinian Authority  structures through everyday struggles of people that is ready to challenge the dominating prevailing narratives and by following the liberating models in the struggle. In this context, schools and universities play an important role in maintaining the momentum of resistance and struggle for liberation, and our university, BirZeit University, the university of martyrs and political prisoners, is one of these models. Kuttab  emphasized the approaches of the Institute of Women's Studies at Birzeit University to produce  decolonizing knowledge and  transferring knowledge from being a tool in the hands of the colonizer into an organic part of the entity of the oppressed in the  struggle for freedom part.

Then professor  Rabab Abdulhadi, an associate professor of Ethnic Studies and Race and Resistance Studies at San Francisco State University, delivered her speech on behalf of the academic Arab and Muslim  Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative. She opened her speech  stressing that the delegation is as such a delegation of the United States and not the American delegation, "because we agree with the view that the United States is, just like Israel, a settler colonial regime that was built on the bones of the indigenous people of America, just as Israel that has been built on the genocide of the indigenous Palestinian people. " Abdulhadi spoke about the conditions of emergence of this delegation when the so-called "battle of empty stomachs" in Palestine  was accompanied, in 2013,  by hunger strike by political prisoners in Pelican Bay prison in California as well as in Guantanamo Bay. In these circumstances, the academic “Arab and Muslim  Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative” has organized a conference entitled" from Pelican and Guantanamo Bay to Palestine: prisons-repression-resistance,  which dealt with several issues related to prisons in the United States, including , Irish political prisoners and the Puerto Rican liberation movement and other movements. Abdul Hadi said that the act of solidarity with Palestine began much earlier than two-three years and there is a lot of activists who have been subjected to various or have lost their jobs as a result of their solidarity action. At the conclusion of her speech, Rabab Abdul Hadi presented the members of the delegation who were active specifically in the field of solidarity with political prisoners and she raised several questions related to solidarity action work, its concept, its contents and the role of academics in this field and in the production of knowledge for justice.

The conference was held in three sessions, as the first panel focused on the structure of power and relations of subjugation; where speakers analyzed the intersections of colonialism, racism, and the regulation of gender and sexualities that resistance movements have had to confront and contend with. This panel was chaired by Rania Jawad, faculty member in the Department of English Language and Literature at Birzeit University. Speakers of this panel were: Manuel La Fontaine, All of Us or None & Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity Committee; Reema Hamami, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University; Rana Barakat, professor of  history at Birzeit University; and Joanna Fernandez, assistant professor of history at Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY).

The 2nd  panel, discussed ways and modes of resistance developed to combat the oppression of life under colonial racist regimes. Drawing on Fanonian and other anti-colonial paradigms, the panel critically examined armed struggle and revolutionary violence as strategies to dismantle and disrupt colonized “business as usual” life, as well as strategies that create an alternative world through communal solidarity, cooperation, and collectivity that sustains and is sustained by the struggle for freedom. This panel was chaired by Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University, Rami Salameh. Speakers of this panel were: Amira Silmi, faculty member at the Institute of Women's Studies at Birzeit University; Laura Whitehorn, Former US Political Prisoner and a lecturer at the New School for Social Research, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and Hunter College; Rita Giacaman, a professor at the Community and Public Health Institute at Birzeit University; Hank Jones, lecturer in Black history and political movements at universities, colleges and secondary schools; and Samia Al-Botmeh a professor in the Economics Department at Birzeit University .

The 3rd and final panel examined state violence and anti-insurgency. A main strategy deployed against both movements by the Israeli and U.S. colonial regimes has been mass incarceration and the creation of racialized carceral societies. The focus was on the parallels, shared experiences, continuities and ruptures of incarceration as anti-insurgency as well as the counter-resistances employed by prisoners` movements and communities to them.  This panel was chaired by Alaa Al Azzeh, assistant professor of anthropology in Bitrzeit University. Speakers of this panel were: Lena Meari, assistant professor of anthropology & faculty member in the Institute of Women’s Studies and in the department of Social and Behavioral Science at Birzeit University; Rachel Herzig, Soros Justice Fellow; Claude Marks, the project director of the Freedom Archives and an educator; Nidal Abu Akar, a Palestinian struggler who was imprisoned 17 times and spent 14 years in Israeli colonial prisons; and Faihaa Shalash, a Journalist who led the campaign to support her husband’s hunger striker-Mohammad Al-Qiq