Letter to the Chancellor of UCLA, Gene D. Block

This letter was mailed to Professor Gene Block, Chancellor of UCLA on 19 May 2015. My email to him on 18 April is reproduced in full below and is in reference to his email which is available here. I will post any updates on the matter in a separate entry.

UCLA Chancellor’s Office
Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405

19 May 2015

Dear Chancellor Block,

I trust that this missive finds you well.

It has been nearly a month since I sent you the following email to which you and your office have not replied:

“Dear Chancellor Block,

My name is Yacoub Kureh and I am a PhD student in the Mathematics department. I wanted to express my gratitude for your email regarding the posters attacking Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) members. I have been a Palestinian rights activist since my undergraduate career at Harvard and during my Masters at Cambridge, and never have I seen such inflammatory accusations made about a student group. It was important for the University administration to react swiftly and they did.

However, although I appreciate and respect your response, I find that it was insufficient as evidenced by the second wave of posters attacking SJP placed around campus and the defacement of the SJP board that is left on Bruin Walk along with many other boards that were not affected. This clear targeting of a campus organization is dangerous and needs to be addressed more seriously than can be done with a simple email.

I hope more work is being done behind the scenes and that campus security will redouble their efforts to prevent such incidents. Nonetheless, I think it is important for you to address this matter again publicly listing more concrete steps that the University will take to ensure that all of its students feel safe.

Yacoub Kureh”
(18 April 2015)

I know your office is very busy and it is difficult to reply to all messages, but for so much time to have passed without any action is very distressing. Let me direct your attention to a quote from your website regarding the priorities you set for yourself early on in your tenure as Chancellor of this University:

“We are committed to fostering a welcoming campus, as well as understanding and tolerance within the UCLA community.” (http://chancellor.ucla.edu/priorities)

To this end, I would imagine an attack as flagrant, incendiary, and directed as the one mentioned above which targeted a group of students at UCLA, merits a significant response as would an attack on any other campus community. Thus, I am asking that you reaffirm your commitment by taking action. This can be in the form of launching an investigation, creating a task force for handling such incidents, or meeting with several student organizations, including the Students for Justice in Palestine, in order to establish a concrete and substantive strategy to deal with this disturbing episode and prevent similar ones from recurring. In this situation, merely sending an email will not suffice for effecting the tangible change that is needed to rectify such an egregious problem, but I do implore you to inform the UCLA community of what has happened and what your planned response is.

We all know that “fostering a welcoming campus” is no simple task. A place of higher learning will undoubtedly be home to many controversial debates which certainly rouse audiences. This is especially true for those whose passion for the topics at hand are rooted in something as serious as their identities, their physical well-being, their families, and their rights. We should never shy away from having these important conversations if we are to grow as educated citizens in a dynamic world. However, in order to do this, certain community guidelines ought to be in order so that we may learn from each other in an environment that is inviting and safe. We must strive for it by working together with those with whom we disagree. We must fight for it by protecting not just ourselves but our entire Bruin family, even those–or rather, especially those–who have different backgrounds and opinions from us. If this kind of diversity really is your vision, then it is an admirable one.

Over the course of my first year at UCLA, I have had the pleasure of working with many students who are involved in several organizations. I am truly impressed by how they always do their best to make every space on campus inclusive on a personal level. I sincerely hope that in the coming years everyone at UCLA can reap the benefits of their efforts on the ground and the efforts of your administration.

Lastly, I want to clarify that I am writing to you as a concerned individual student: not as a representative of Students for Justice Palestine, not on any other person’s behalf, nor in another capacity.

Yours respectfully,

Yacoub Kureh
PhD Student in Mathematics, UCLA


SJP invites UCLA community to learn about Nakba, its consequences

The article originally appeared in the The Daily Bruin. It was co-authored by Safwan Ibrahim.


It happens like clockwork. Though they may live anywhere from the United States to Chile, Lebanon to France, or Canada to Syria, when Palestinians in exile first meet, it is common for one to ask where the other is from in Palestine. It is an act of reclaiming family history, an assertion of “I am from there.” Though there is no single “Palestinian” identity, there is a fundamental Palestinian experience rooted in the shared trauma of the Nakba or “catastrophe” in English when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland during the creation of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948.

Although it occurred decades ago, understanding this event and critically engaging with its consequences is crucial to understanding the Palestinian issue today, as the Nakba continues to shape the Palestinian experience.

To this day, Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homelands, only because they have the wrong ethnic and religious identity. However, to think that these experiences of expulsion and oppression begin and end with the Nakba would be to ignore the systematic denial of rights Palestinians continue to endure under occupation. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are denied basic rights such as equal access to water, electricity and freedom of movement. In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians suffer the most extreme forms of imprisonment the coastal enclave is now blocked on all sides and is slowly being strangled of electricity, raw materials and the basic necessities we in the West often take for granted. Many who fled Palestine, either during the Nakba or during occupation, instead live in similarly dire conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon or war-torn Syria. With no alternatives, the ostensibly temporary status of refugee becomes a permanent reality for Palestinians in exile.

Palestinians who fled to the West may have escaped occupation and life in refugee camps, but have lost their ability to return to their homeland. While a Western life and education offers some Palestinians many privileges denied to most other Palestinians, those here often must attempt to put together the pieces of their family histories and grapple with the complicated, politically fraught identity of being Palestinian.

Like all Palestinians, Palestinian students at UCLA have had their lives and identities shaped by the events of the Nakba. Many of them are here only because their families were driven out from their homes and villages by proto-Israeli militiamen, and forced into lifelong refugeehood. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine has left lasting scars on generations of Palestinians. The constant denial that this event ever happened and the total relegating of any aspect of Palestinian history to the off-limits, the taboo, the unsayable means Palestinians are denied their selfhood and humanity.

In order to fully understand the Nakba and its consequences, we must recognize it not simply as a moment in history, but rather as a continued lived experience of the Palestinian community, perpetuated by occupation and denial of narratives. To help provide the UCLA community with background and personal narratives, Palestinian students have come together to create a space to explore the Nakba and its ongoing effects, and to share this with other UCLA students.

We invite the campus community to attend two events next week, hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine, for the first annual Nakba Week at UCLA. The first event, titled “Refugees and the Right of Return: A Teach-In”, will be held Tuesday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m., in Franz Hall 2258A, and will focus on the ongoing and dire refugee crisis faced by Palestinians. The second event, titled “Hear Us Speak: Stories on the Nakba and Exile”, will be held Thursday, May 21 at 6:30 p.m. in Boelter 2444, and will feature Palestinian students discussing their personal experiences related to the Nakba. In presenting these narratives of Palestinian exile, and the effects the Nakba continues to have on Palestinian identities, it is our hope that fellow students will begin to understand Palestine and Palestinians in a new light, and with this critical lens, challenge themselves to understand the lasting impact of forced expulsion and exile.

Ibrahim is a fourth-year comparative literature student and the incoming president of Students for Justice in Palestine. Kureh is a graduate student in applied mathematics and the incoming outreach co-director of Students for Justice in Palestine.

The Nakba

Over 67 years ago, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began. It is known today as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe. For Palestinians, the Nakba is more than an event in history–something that can be spoken about in the past tense. For us, the Nakba is part of who we are as a people. The Nakba explains why we are where we are. The Nakba explains why more Palestinians are in diaspora than in the lands of their parents and grandparents. The Nakba explains why there is a UN agency dedicated solely to the Palestinian refugee problem. The Nakba explains how the many aspects of Palestinian culture including poetry, painting, dramas, food, film, festivals, music and more became vital to preserving our identities.

The Nakba continues today as Israeli forces shoot live rounds at protesters, as bombs are dropped on essential infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, as more land is confiscated and homes are demolished, as Palestinians in refugee camps are attacked, as more laws are enacted that discriminate against those who are not Jewish, as a system of rule deemed worse than Apartheid is the reality of for many of our brothers and sisters.

What the Nakba cannot explain though is how a people who have been dispossessed, marginalized, oppressed, murdered, brutalized, imprisoned, and terrorized can to this day keep fighting for justice. Despite hundreds of villages being destroyed, the hope and optimism of the Palestinians was not. SIXTY-SEVEN YEARS OF RESISTANCE! This is not a fight for space nor a war over religion. The Nakba is a struggle for over 12 million people around the world to be seen as human.

Today we do not remember the Nakba. Rather, we remember the beginnings of the Nakba and we continue to commit ourselves to bringing upon its end.