University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Students with Palestinian roots experience a »deafening silence« at university

Appeal — Dalia Kababo is on her third semester in political science and is active in the Students Against the Occupation group. She explains here how the war affects her daily life, and she makes a plea to the university, its staff and its students.

»It’s a pretty harsh reality to be a part of,« says Dalia Kababo about being a Danish student with a Palestinian background.

Both her parents are Palestinians, and they met in Denmark in the 1980s. She has spent several vacations in Haifa, where her father’s family lives. Her mother’s family lives in Gaza.

»My mother is in contact with her family. Just let us know how you are, whenever you can, she writes to them. They have no electricity, and recently no internet, phone service for 24 hours. Total blackout. Finally she got a message that just said, we’re still alive

It is frustrating to have to stand alone and be powerless in this situation where the death toll just keeps going up

Dalia Kababo, student

Dalia Kababo may be safely in Denmark, but her life is clearly affected by the violent events.

»It’s not because I think people should feel sorry for me. But right now I find it difficult to keep myself together. It is a feeling of, on the one hand, not being able to stand constantly seeing the terrible images, and knowing that more and more people are dying. And, on the other hand, of not being able to not look at it. I have difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Actually, I’m in mourning.«

This makes it difficult to concentrate on leading a daily life, says Dalia Kababo.

A silent betrayal

In spite of recent events, Dalia Kababo has been met with, in her own words, a »deafening silence« from teachers and fellow students.

»No-one talks about it. About the war. There has only been a few times when one of my fellow students has given me a hug and asked if I’m okay. Which, of course, I appreciate. I think people are reluctant to get involved and are afraid to say something wrong. My fellow students know that I’m very affected by what’s going on. But that doesn’t mean I’m not ready to talk about it. Quite the contrary.«

The debate about Israel and Palestine is explosive, and you can quickly be exposed negatively in the media, she admits. For the same reason, she herself has refused to appear in the media on several occasions.

She believes, however, that it is important to say something, even if this may seem intimidating.

»You step on more people’s toes by not saying anything. In fact, it feels like a huge betrayal. It is frustrating to have to stand alone and be powerless in this situation where the death toll just keeps going up.«

Safeguarding justice and equal rights takes place at many levels. Also in academia
Dalia Kababo, student

She encourages students to familiarise themselves with events by seeking out knowledge, discussing, and by adopting a critical approach to both the media, the politicians and the university discourse.

Students Against the Occupation

When Dalia Kababo started at the university, she expected the students to be much more activist than they are, because many political movements historically have their roots in university.

She has, however, found an activist community in the association Students Against the Occupation.

»Alongside my studies, I do a lot of activism, for example in Students Against the Occupation. I plan and coordinate demonstrations and actions. That’s the only thing I think it makes sense to spend my time on right now – working for the Palestinian freedom struggle in a university context.«

The association started in 2019, and in 2023 it handed over 1,297 signatures to Rector Henrik C. Wegener urging UCPH to withdraw its investments in activities in Israeli settlements.

»It’s a great community to be a part of, because here I can vent my powerlessness and frustration, and use my political and professional ambitions on something specific. Here I can contribute from my own starting point as a student by making demands on the university not to support oppressive regimes.«

Academic decoupling

Dalia Kababo wonders why the occupation of Palestine is not mentioned in the teaching.

»It makes a lot of sense to look at the war from a political science perspective. It’s a lot about politics. It’s a lot about power, and it’s a lot about all the things we’re taught.«

»How can you graduate and have a critical perspective on things when you haven’t been taught it?« she asks rhetorically.

Dalia Kababo points to two shortcomings:

»First of all, the academic content is very Western-centric, and there is not enough critical thinking. We may have teaching on the critique of capitalism, otherness, orientalism and decolonization. But it is as if these subjects are always subordinate to other Western grand theories. I find that problematic.«

How can you graduate and have a critical perspective on things when you haven’t been taught it?

Dalia Kababo, student

»Secondly, political science is completely detached from current conflicts like Israel-Palestine. We learn about capitalism and imperialism, but it is then short-circuited, because we do not hear about the downsides and consequences in the real world today. And that’s a shame, because many political science students end up in powerful positions. You have to dare to use your academic knowledge in practice.«

Dalia Kababo describes the teaching as unrealistic. She wished that the university learned how to deal with the conflict in a constructive way. A way that allowed for disagreement, and discussion, and space for understanding. And she would like the university to become a place where students and staff can take a critical approach without negative consequences on their academic integrity.

»Safeguarding justice and equal rights takes place at many levels. Also in academia.«