Students across Harvard’s campus donned keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves, in a show of support to Palestinians in Cambridge and abroad on Thursday.
The Harvard College Palestinian Solidarity Committee — a student group advocating for “the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, justice, and equality” — organizes scarf-wearing each week in an ongoing campaign the committee calls Keffiyeh Thursday.
“Keffiyeh Thursdays first and foremost are an expression of solidarity,” said Christian B. Tabash ’22, a PSC organizer.
Joshua D. “Josh” Willcox ’23, a member of PSC, said the motivation behind Keffiyeh Thursdays is to foster inclusivity among Palestinians — a sentiment he says has been lacking in recent years.
“We want to bring more visibility to Palestinians on campus,” Willcox said. “They don’t have the space, and they don't feel seen or heard.”
PSC chose to use the keffiyeh to demonstrate their solidarity due to the scarf’s history as “a very visible kind of cultural identity marker for a lot of Palestinians,” Willcox explained.
The keffiyeh has long been a part of traditional Palestinian garb, according to Nadine S. Bahour ’22, a PSC organizer.
“Farmers would wear it to protect their heads from the sun,” Bahour said.
Palestinians also used the keffiyeh as a protective measure to avoid arrest during the British rule of Palestine, giving the scarf a new significance as a sign of resistance, Bahour said.
“Going out of British mandate and into Israeli occupation, it also became a national symbol of resilience,” Bahour said.
PSC’s membership has seen a sharp rise over the past year, with more students participating in events and protests held by the group, according to Tabash.
“This year has been really special because you have a group of students who are so enthusiastic about spreading this cause,” Tabash said. “We started off the year with a small group, and now there's a much more sizable contingent and that has not stopped expanding.”
Despite the increased interest in Keffiyeh Thursdays, PSC still struggles to combat the association of its work with anti-Semitic sentiment, Tabash said.
“When I see people slandering our work, or mischaracterizing what pro-Palestinian activism is as anti-Semitic or rooted in hatred, it makes me sad,” he said.
Students from several other universities — including Princeton, the University of British Columbia, Texas A&M, and MIT — have joined in PSC’s movement.
“We’ve seen such a crazy response after our first week,” Willcox said. “We’re hoping that this allows us to increase the connection between all of these groups across campuses in the U.S.”
Tabash noted the movement has expanded to include non-Palestinians in support of the cause.
“There are people of all different identities who gravitated to the Palestinian cause because they see elements of suffering in their own causes or they just take a principled stance,” Tabash said.
For PSC, Keffiyeh Thursdays signal continued and growing support for Palestinians, he said.
“Having a day in the week that is devoted to expressing solidarity, and which is in effect expressing hope, I think it's something that's really powerful,” Tabash said.
—Staff writer Ella L. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ejones8100.