U.S. Senator Kamala Harris visits Al-Quds University, hears intimately from students about their experience

JERUSALEM /PNN/

President of Al-Quds University Imad Abu Kishek welcomed US Senator Kamala Harris to the University before the top politician had a one hour sit down with a group of students from Al-Quds University who shared with her their experiences living in occupied Palestine.

“I was very excited to come and meet with smart, young women”, referring to the ten female students sitting in the meeting. “This was one of the many highlights of my trip. I want to take back this perspective,” Harris told the students.

After briefing the students on her background and career, Harris listened as the youngsters took turns speaking about their experiences as students at Al-Quds Bard College of Al-Quds University, and at getting an American style education.

In 2009, Al-Quds University partnered with Bard College in New York to found the Al-Quds Bard College for Arts and Sciences — the only liberal arts school in the Middle East. Students at Al-Quds Bard study a jointly-designed curriculum that leads to a bachelor degree awarded by Al-Quds University and by Bard College.

One human rights major told the US Senator that she is fortunate to be a student at Al-Quds University given the unique programs that it offers. “This is a very special place in Palestine,” the student told Harris. Another student said Al-Quds University students are taught “how to think, not what to think.”

Harris listened intently as another young woman told the visiting California senator that being a student at Al-Quds University had been a “positive experience.” The Senator praised the university for the “incredible education” it was offering its students.

Harris said that she had driven by the separation wall on her way to Al-Quds University, and asked the students if the wall presented “a real barrier” to their movement. The classroom unanimously exclaimed “yes”, and expressed their anger about the restrictions imposed on them by the Israeli authorities.

When she asked the students about Jerusalem, one student said she could not go to the Holy City because “it’s illegal to go without a permit from the Israeli authority.” The atmosphere was warm, friendly and intimate as an impressed Harris wanted to hear more.

Anger was not the only feeling emoted. One Arab-Israeli student told Harris that she had a “difficulty in belonging.” Despite having access to Jerusalem and enjoying other rights that Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza are denied, the student said she still had trouble “fitting in.” And because Israel was distorting the Palestinian identity on a daily basis, she felt like she was “neither a citizen here nor there.”

As the meeting was about to come to an end, the senator, who is one of 21 female U.S. senators in the 115th Congress, inquired about the plans of the students after graduation. “Do you intend to leave? Do you want to leave,” she asked.Several students expressed desire to pursue graduate degrees abroad, but the consensus amongst the students was that they would return to their homeland, Palestine, and help build it.

The Senator’s delegation included her Foreign Policy Advisor Ms. Hailie Soifer, her Deputy Chief of Staff Ms. Rohini Kosoglu, Deputy Consul General of the US in Jerusalem Michael Hankey and Mr. Douglas Emhoff, the senator’s husband.

Al-Quds University is no stranger to such visits from notable senators and other high-level statesmen and women. Last year, Senator Cory Booker visited Al-Quds University and had a meeting with a group of its students. Almost ten years ago, another hitherto little-known Democratic senator from the state of Illinois visited Al-Quds University. His name is Barack Obama, who two years later became the 44th President of the United States.

President Abu Kishek expressed his gratitude to the Senator for choosing to visit Al-Quds University despite her tight schedule, adding that University’s academic reputation has made it “a mandatory station for visitors who wish to witness a Palestinian success story in Jerusalem that defies odds.”

Al-Quds University (AQU) is a collegiate research university based in Jerusalem, Palestine. Established in 1984 as the only Arab university in the city of Jerusalem, AQU currently offers 93 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, taught through its fifteen degree-granting faculties.