Here’s why I won’t buy Sabra hummus

Nour Alshaer, ’22, shares her experience growing up in the Gaza Strip

Nour Alshaer

“Cover your heads and immediately go underneath your desks!”

These were the words my teacher said to us as eight-year-old students taking our Arabic language final. Why would she ever say that? Ten minutes before she spoke, I was reviewing my test for the third time and considering turning it in soon. I ended up deciding that with only 30 more minutes of class, I should just keep reviewing my answers until 9:30 am. Some of my friends decided to leave before 9:30, while others from the second shift with a later test time block were on their way to the school.

Eight minutes later, I heard a bombing sound that was so shrill I lost my hearing for a moment. The windows of the classroom had shattered, and thousands of shards of shrapnel landed on my desk.

It turned out that my school was bombed, along with the police station beside it. The only reason I am still alive and able to write this article is because I decided to review my test for an extra fourth and fifth time. Walking back home, I tried to watch out for the holes that the bombs made in the ground. While running downstairs, I saw the blood of my friends who left earlier and others who were coming to take their test in the streets.

This scene marked the start of the 22-day-long 2008 war that resulted in the death of 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

My motherland is Gaza. Her 140.9 squared miles of land and the two million people who reside in it have been blockaded and besieged since 2007.

My home is the most densely populated place on earth. But I came into existence homeless, because my house was bombed while my mom was giving birth to me in the hospital.

The 2008 war was one of the three active wars I lived through as a 19-year-old—not to mention the continuous attacks Gaza has been subjected to since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1948.

I left the Gaza Strip for college in the United States. I hoped to find a safe environment with a caring and thoughtful community where I could share my painful experience and receive support and consolation. The year and a half that I have spent here has not been easy, especially when there are attacks happening back home that target everyone.

During spring term 2019, a bomb took the life of my English teacher while he was working at an education center in downtown Rafah city. For a while, I received little to no emotional support because my friends did not know about the new series of attacks on Gaza. Either intentionally or unintentionally, most of the American media such as BBC, CNN and FOX news has failed to expose the war crimes in Palestine and has aimed to make Americans believe that Israel is the only victim in the conflict. Sometimes I receive bad looks from students when I wear my Palestine cap at school, but I also have a group of few friends who try to support me as much as they can.

Overshadowing my alienation on campus, I was shocked to see that my school is selling a brand of hummus that funds one of the most notorious brigades in the Israeli military occupation. I had thought that all the aforementioned negative behavior came from individuals who are out of the loop, and that the people who gave me bad looks did not represent the whole community at Washington and Lee. Either unmindful, complacent or complicit, the university is taking a stand in the conflict which is a slap in the face for my people being murdered.

Café 77 provides Sabra hummus, a brand that is jointly owned by the Strauss Group. According to the New York Times’s citation of Sabra’s website, this group provides financial support to the Golani Brigade.

The Golani Brigade is one of five regular service infantry brigades in the Israeli military. It is known for human rights violations, including arbitrary murders, assaults, incarcerations, evictions and arrests of children. The Golani Brigade has also violated international law by occupying both the West Bank and Gaza, and demolishing Palestinians’ homes for the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, the brigade expelled the owners and cornered others in ghettos surrounded by walls, military watch towers and checkpoints.

I have requested that Washington and Lee University take a neutral stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by taking Sabra off the shelves. I sent an email to Associate Director for Dining Services Ryan Miller, expressing my disappointment toward serving this hummus brand at Café 77. I acknowledged the fact that Sabra is one of the companies funding the Israeli military occupation that has been oppressing me, my family and my friends throughout my entire life. I also explained how this makes me feel excluded from the Washington and Lee community and makes me think that my life does not matter as long as the feelings of the majority of students from other backgrounds are not hurt.

I received a response from Ryan Miller through the executive director of auxiliary services, K.C. Schaefer, telling me, “Our primary mission and priority is to provide nutritious, flavorful, and safe food to the Washington and Lee community.” He suggested that I raise my concerns with the Executive Committee through President Will Bolton, ‘20.

I know for a fact that Sabra is not safe for me as a part of the Washington and Lee community, nor is a hummus that funds a military occupation safe for any member of the community. My friends and I met with Bolton and he raised our concern to the administration. Later, he asked to meet with us again and told us that they came up with the solution of offering another brand of hummus in order to give students the option of which hummus to buy. I believe this spits on the face of the issue. None of our food should finance murder.

Later, my friends and I emailed President Will Dudley to ask for an Israeli military occupation divestment plan. We asked him to use his voice and power to help the university divest fully from all products and corporations on campus that are actively proliferating the Israeli military occupation of Palestine.

Vice President for Finance Steve McAllister responded to us on Dudley’s behalf. “Advancing social and political objectives, even when they may be deeply compelling to some members of our community, is not the purpose of the endowment,” he said in his email.

But, in my opinion, if the school really wants a depoliticized endowment, maybe we should stop funding foreign state violence through Café 77.

I urge everyone at Washington and Lee to do more research about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Sabra company to learn more about what exactly it funds. I urge everyone to boycott this brand.