By Steph Mostaccio
Three years ago, Osama Sabbah was living in Palestine, thinking about coming to the United States in hopes of experiencing the American dream.
Today, he is living that dream as an international student at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. Coming from a country laden with violence because of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, he was expecting America to be a refuge where he could complete his education.
Everything was going just as he thought it would in the “land of opportunity” until one day this past January when he was the victim of a hate crime.
Sabbah told his story of discrimination in the Fireside Lounge on Wednesday in a discussion called “Campus Hate Crimes,” an event that culminated this year’s Unity Day celebration.
“I went to Guilford and thought that I was going to be studying and everything was going to be fine over there until on Jan. 19, I had a conflict with the football players at the college,” he said.
On that winter day, 25 members of the football team attacked Sabbah and his friend Farris Khadir, another Palestinian student at Guilford, beating them with brass knuckles and other weapons. Sabbah suffered a concussion and Khadir also suffered a concussion, a broken jaw and a broken nose.
Although Sabbah experienced firsthand the violence in Palestine he said that he never saw so much hate on someone’s face, which was a sight that terrified him.
“What scared me the most was the look that I saw in their eyes while they were beating me and calling me a terrorist and [saying] that I should leave the country,” he said. “That was a shock for me because I never thought that hate crimes existed anymore.”
What surprised Sabbah even more was that after he and Khadir were beaten, Guilford did not know whom to blame, so the college ended up suspending the two international students. Sabbah said college officials told him that he had three days to leave the campus and the United States. At that point, he was ready to give up.
“This is the reason I decided that I’m not even going to continue my education,” said Sabbah. “I’m going to go back home to the people that love me, the people that praise me, the people that accept me.”
But he did not need to return home just yet. Since he was a Bonner student, the president of the Bonner Foundation, Wayne Meisel, came to his aid, and with his help Guilford allowed him to return to campus. However, since Khadir was not a Bonner student, his return to campus came with many restrictions. He has since transferred to Stetson University in DeLand, FL.
Instead of giving up, Sabbah looked at this incident as a way to educate others about hate crimes and how they could be reduced. He now visits several universities and Bonner workshops throughout the country, doing just that.
“What happened at Guilford can happen anywhere in the world,” he said. “We just have to live with it and try to bring the best out of it.”
Sabbah said he would also like to educate the Palestinians and Israelis when he returns home. One of his plans is to create an organization in which people will take care of the children and teach them to accept everyone’s differences. According to him, the Palestinian children there are raised to hate the Israelis and the Israeli children are raised to hate the Palestinians.
“They are taught that this is your enemy, this is the person that you fight with,” he said.
Sabbah is also trying to bring Bonner students to Palestine in the summer to tell children they have another choice: to come to the United States and learn that war is not the answer.
“Education is what brings people together,” he said. “I think that education kills fear. When you’re educated about something, you’re not scared of it.”
Senior Uchenna Duru, the student chair of the Unity Day Planning Committee, said Sabbah’s initiative to reduce discrimination is important because many people ignore the hate that is either within them or unfolding right in front of their eyes.
“He’s a phenomenal speaker, and his message is very strong,” she said. “Many people need to hear him and understand his experiences as well as how we need to work better to reduce the amount of hate.”