‘Palestinian Resistance In Art’: Students for Justice in Palestine’s Ya Watani Display

Students for Justice in Palestine hosted the Ya Watani art walkthrough which displayed student and community-made works relating to the ongoing crisis in Gaza.


Adorned in sequined thobes and draped in colorful keffiyehs, Students for Justice in Palestine led attendees through an art display into a golden-hued room — not for a celebration, but for a memorial.

On April 12, the Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM Multi-Purpose Room became home to the Ya Watani art walkthrough, which displayed student and community-made works relating to the ongoing crisis in Gaza, including bullet-holed paintings, decorated kites and keys spread throughout the exhibit.

Lena Abushaban, fourth-year and SJP president, estimated over 300 people were in attendance and said the event united students, family and faculty under a powerful mission — to keep Palestinian culture alive. 

“This year, we’re honoring our martyrs, and we’re honoring Palestinian resistance in art through many different forms,” Abushaban said. 

In previous years, SJP has held celebratory events paying homage to Palestinian weddings, according to Abushaban. The organization decided to make the event a memorial to raise awareness of Palestinian culture and to raise money for the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, Abushaban said. 

“We’re just hoping this year to let everybody know that we’re still mourning but we’re also appreciating the beauty that is Palestinian culture,” Abushaban said. “If we don’t do anything to show it to everybody it’s just going to be diminished time and time again.” 

The night’s theme was Ya Watani, or “my homeland” in Arabic, a term calling for Palestinian pride, according to Abushaban. The marketing major said Palestinians are proud of their heritage and want a wider audience to see it first hand. 

SJP co-treasurer Hanadie Tulemat said the array of paintings, poems and photographs highlighted Palestinian culture while acknowledging the realities of violence. 

“This shows you that this is not an issue or a genocide that’s beyond you,” Tulemat said. “You like music? Guess what, there’s Palestinian music. You like olives? You should taste how rich the olives are in Palestine.”

After a majority of the attendees entered the room, they sat at circular, gold-clothed tables with tableware and a center lamp surrounded by olive tree branches. As people found their seats, Abushaban instructed attendees to line up for food, including chicken biryani, hummus, cucumber salad and pita.

A few minutes later, Tulemat introduced the “miracle minute,” during which attendees were asked to scan a QR code and donate within a minute in order to raise donations for Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund. Tulemat acknowledged the privilege of sharing a meal without the fear of violence. For over 30 years, Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund has provided basic supplies and medical care to the children of Palestine, according to their website

“Whether it’s a dollar or a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars, what are you gonna do with the money that you have?” Tulemat said. ”Are you going to continue to live your life without feeling for the people all over the world that are suffering?” 

With the help of the miracle minute and a jewelry auction at the end of the event, SJP raised $4,200 for emergency relief in Gaza for the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, Abushaban wrote in an email to The Phoenix.

After Tulemat spoke, second-year attendee Mohiy Hashmi said he realized the importance of attending events like this. 

“I think a lot of what we lose with an issue this global is the personal voices connected to the issue,” Hashmi said. “We get a lot of outside noise, and what these cultural events do is bring the main voices that need to be spoken to the forefront.” 

Aisha Asad, vice president of SJP, then introduced the performance of a musical group and spoke to the importance of learning traditional Arabic songs. 

“When [our grandparents] go, who is going to be left to sing all of these folk songs at our weddings and our celebrations?” Asad said. 

A variety of songs were performed in Arabic accompanied by a mix of instruments. Community member Karim Nagi played percussion with C Mikhail on bass and Wanees Zarour on the oud, a string instrument native to the region. Vocals from Nada Abu Libdeh filled the room as she guided the audience in song.

“One of the things the occupation can’t take away from you, and they can’t colonize, is your tongue,” Asad said. “They want you to forget your roots and they want you to forget your culture, but when you learn Arabic and the stories behind these songs, that is what keeps us connected.” 

While the music rang through the room, co-public relations chair for SJP, Hussein Beydoun, said it’s the message behind the songs that speaks volumes. 

“I wrote this line, and it said, ‘Palestinian music is not just beautiful melody and lyrics, but a preservation of a history, of culture,’” said Beydoun, a second-year. “Really what it’s about is preserving a culture that is currently under attack.” 

Celebrating music and language, the performance captured the room’s attention. Through various call and responses, the crowd gradually learned the songs, enlivening the space with collective singing. 

As the evening came to a close, SJP board members held a small 3-piece auction of gold jewelry. One of the pieces included a necklace with the theme of the night, Ya Watani, written on it. 

The Palestinian students of Loyola infused the room with the culture of their homeland through artwork, song and community effort.  

“The Palestinian population here at Loyola is very, very small but we are still here,” Abushaban said. 

This story was written by Laila Ali and Xavier Barrios

Photos by Xavier Barrios / The Phoenix

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff