Earlham College graduate Salma Khalaf awarded prestigious Watson Fellowship

Salma Khalaf, who graduated from Earlham College in December with a degree in international relations, has been selected for the prestigious Watson Fellowship.

Watson Fellows receive a $36,000 stipend in support of international travel to carry out independent research of personal relevance. Khalaf’s project will take her to four continents to interview Palestinian refugees and Palestinians with foreign passports about the future they see for their homeland.

“My project seeks answers from Palestinians like myself and others who have a vision or aspirations of what Palestine might look like in the future,” said Khalaf, a Palestinian who grew up in Lebanon.

“My great grandfather was forcibly removed from Palestine in 1948 and ever since then, for three generations, we have been holding this status as refugees in Lebanon,” she said. “The topic is important and personal for me.”

Khalaf, the 43rd Earlhamite to earn the Watson, continues Earlham’s proud tradition of producing curious and confident global scholars. She is one of 42 chosen nationally out of 158 finalists.

Beginning in August, Khalaf plans to begin a six-country tour to interview displaced Palestinians and others affected by the 1948 war that established Israel. The countries include Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, United Kingdom, Chile and Algeria.

“I am a Palestinian advocate and activist, and I will always be that. This is an opportunity to talk about my people on a global stage—not just Palestinians in power,” Khalaf said about the estimated 7 million Palestinian refugees who have been displaced throughout the world.

“I want to eventually write a book. These stories need to be heard by everyone,” she said. “Palestine has consumed my life, but this is not just about me, it’s about all Palestinians in the diaspora. I want to understand why I feel this way and what is behind this love that we, as Palestinians, hold for this land we’ve never seen—or may die without ever seeing. Where does this devotion, this dedication, to fighting over the liberation of this land come from?

Her research will address an aspect of Palestinian identity that no one has answered, Khalaf said.

“A lot of people keep talking about the past, and the issue about how we were forced out of Palestine, but no one is thinking for the future or talking about what a free Palestine would look like,” she said. “I feel like every Palestinian has a different vision for what this will look like.”

In addition to the Watson, Khalaf was also selected for the Indianapolis-based Orr Fellowship, and was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Three other Earlham seniors—Grace Muma, Jus Tavcar and Marianne Finot—were also finalists for the Watson.

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