The Palestinian national anthem echoed through Jack Adams Hall last Thursday, as SF State hosted its sixth annual celebration of the campus’s mural honoring the late Edward Said, one of the most influential voices for the Palestinian struggle, and a strong advocator for peace in the Middle East.
The Palestinian cultural mural, featuring Said, is the first of its kind at a U.S. university. It incorporates Said along with a mixture of images related to his influence in the Palestinian struggle.
“Edward Said has created a space for us to talk about the rampant Islamaphobia and anti-Palestinian sentiment that happens in the academy and media and we thought he was a perfect person to honor,” said Jackie Husary, an SF State international relations graduate.
The celebration took place under the mural which is painted above the bookstore outside the Cesar Chavez Student Center, where students and activists commemorated Said, sang and read Arabic poetry.
Festivities continued into the night in Jack Adams Hall, where community leaders, General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) members and students held a banquet to commemorate Said and Palestinian resistance while honoring the mural and the struggles that came with its creation.
Said was a Palestinian Christian born in Jerusalem who became a professor at Columbia college where he taught English and comparative literature.
Said is known for his published work “Orientalism,” in which he argues that the lens that West views the East through is tied directly to colonial ideas, and therefore, is inherently biased against Arabic cultures.
The mural faced resistance since its inception in 2006.
“A lot of people were arguing that the very existence of a Palestinian mural on this campus would automatically be something that is against Jews, but obviously that is furthest from the truth,” said Charlie El-Qare, SF State alumni and former GUPS president.
Former SF State President Robert Corrigan vetoed the initial decision for the mural early 2006 because he believed it some of the images proposed focused more on international conflict than cultural pride, which he believed was not an ideal SF State represented.
“It was decided that overall, it was more important to have a mural honoring Palestinian culture than to continue fighting to have these images,” said Susan Greene, one of the muralists and a former SF State professor.
After a year of debate, GUPS and faculty were able to reach a resolution after dropping the proposed “Handala,” a character from a political cartoon depicting a young refugee with his back turned. Handala has come to represent Palestinian defiance for some — and resilience for others.
“His back is not to the world, but to injustice, his face is to his land,” said Hamdi Bazian, a kinesiology major at SF State who read a poem at the celebration.
Handala was originally proposed to be holding a key and a pen-like sword, representing the Palestinian right to return, according to Susan Green, one of the mural’s creators.
Today, the mural depicts Said surrounded by images of Jerusalem, Said’s birthplace, New York, where Said taught at Columbia University, and the Golden Gate Bridge, honoring San Francisco. Above Said is the word “salaam,” which means peace, and the characters of the word make an image of two doves intertwined, a symbol for peace.
“SF State has a long legacy of activism and that is something we should be proud of,” said Husary, who was an active GUPS member and part of the team responsible for creating the mural.
SF State’s Malcolm X mural faced similar challenges in its creation in 1994. Originally it incorporated images of dollar symbols and stars of David, which was considered to be anti-Semitic.
The current Malcolm X mural is not the original; it was painted over the original, numerous times before it was eventually sandblasted. Students tried to protect the original by camping out in front of it during finals week in 1994. Eventually, two painters escorted by police permanently removed it.
The Malcolm X mural was not replaced until students and faculty were able to come to an agreement on content, the same obstacle faced in the early stages of the Palestinian cultural mural.
In his keynote address, Ziad Abbas, program manager for cross-cultural programs at the Middle East Children’s Alliance in Berkeley, emphasized the power and responsibility of students in the war against social injustice.
“It is very important that we find ourselves now with a new generation that is addressing these kinds of issues,” Abbas said.