Can George Washington University Ban the Palestinian Flag?

By Sameer Rao Dec 08, 2015

Update, December 8, 2015 at 5:02 p.m. ET:

-The George Washington University released a statement yesterday, December 7, on the hanging of flags. The statement says that "the university’s Residential Community Conduct Guidelines prohibit the hanging of any object outside of a residence hall window."

– The university’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter created a petition calling for university officials to apologize to Abounaja in writing, withdraw its warning letter and clarify flag-hanging protocol  


Activist group Palestine Legal is questioning the legality of The George Washington (GW) University’s removal of a Palestinian flag from a student’s dorm room window. 

In a letter to the president of the Washington, D.C. university, Palestine Legal criticized the school’s treatment of undergraduate student Ramie Abounaja. Abounaja, who is of Palestinian descent, was approached by campus police in his dorm room in late October. They instructed him to remove the Palestinian flag hanging outside his window. A week later, the university issued Abounaja a warning, saying that he should be "respectful of his peers" and mindful of his behavior. It prompted the student to write his own letter to the university. In it, he described his motivation for hanging the flag and his belief that he was being targeted:

I felt like I was being singled-out, because of my heritage and the viewpoint of my speech, for something I’ve seen dozens of students, fraternities and other student groups do in my three years at GW. But to be criminalized in front of my roommate and have others around the hall open their doors to see what was happening was uncalled for and unexpected. I was told I had to remove the flag because it broke university policy—but I have checked the Housing Agreement, the University Code of Conduct, and the Residential Community Conduct Guidelines and I couldn’t find language with respect to hanging flags and banners on bedroom windows. 

Palestine Legal’s letter to GW leadership, sent yesterday (December 7), demanded a withdrawl of the warning against Abounaja. It cited the university’s warning against hanging flags outside of the dorm window, saying that GW never mentioned any specific rules that were broken. The letter also referenced the correspondence Abounaja received from GW after he submitted his own inquiry. It was from Peter Konwerski, the university’s vice provost and dean of student affairs, and it simply informed Abounaja that “a member of our Student Rights & Responsibilities staff likely will be in touch to talk about this matter.” Palestine Legal also criticized the university’s actions, saying that they could constitute a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

GW’s warning letter, censorship, questioning and refusal to respond to Mr. Abounaja’s complaints not only violate the free speech principles to which GW claims to adhere. If left unaddressed, they could also give rise to a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Colorlines previously reported on a Palestine Legal study that highlights the silencing of those who advocate for Palestinian Rights.