Like many others, we were filled with excitement and expectation about our first Christmas abroad. Neither of us could have imagined that this simple dream would turn into our worst nightmare.
On Christmas Eve in a local pub at Durham, Durham, my Palestinian friend and I were harassed, insulted, and physically assaulted for by a group of British men we had never met before.
At around 8pm on Christmas Eve, we went to the local pub called ‘The Happy Wanderer’. As soon as we entered into the pub we became aware of being stared at by some men standing at the counter which made us very uneasy.
Soon after we sat down at a table, a man around 40s stepped out his group and made his way towards us. Without any invitation or introduction whatsoever, he took a seat next to us and blurted out: “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” Not knowing what his intention was, we told him that we’re from Egypt and Palestine, to which he instantly replied: “EGYPT, PALESTINE. SO, YOU ARE ALL MUSLIMS… ARE YOU SUICIDE BOMBERS?”
Within the next half an hour, this strange man hurled at us all sorts of horrible insults without any provocation. For example, he asked us what you are doing here. We mentioned that we are postgraduate students at Durham University He replied you must be so rich then! At one point he stood in the middle of the bar and repeatedly shouted at us to ‘GET OUT OF THE PUB!’. While the man was insulting us for no reason at all nobody in the pub did or said anything to stop him. Not wanting to cause any disturbances, all I did was smiling at home and said: ‘Okay, thank you.’
We were so humiliated and helpless at the same time. It got to the point that we realized that we could not stay in the pub any longer for fear that something bad would happen, and still no one (including the people working at the bar) cared enough to interfere.
When the young girl bartender finally seemed to be approaching us, we felt a sense of hope surging over us, but she stopped at the next table and started collecting the empty glasses without looking at us. No words of comfort, no apology, nothing.
Only one young man from that group came to us and apologized. He told us that the man insulting us was ‘a good man, but jut had couple of drinks’ as if that could justify all the harassment and insults we had endured helplessly.
As we stepped out of the pub we immediately became apprehensive because the same man and his mates were standing outside. All we wanted was to get out of that place and away from these people. It was Christmas after all and we just wanted to have a good time. However as soon as we walked past that man he screamed at us: “Fuck Allah, Fuck Mohammed, and Fuck Islam”.
My friend walking a few steps behind me responded to him by smiling and saying “Merry Christmas to you and I hope you enjoy your night.” The next thing I knew another man from the group hurled his pint glass with all the force he had into my face. With a split second I tilted my head which miraculously saved me from getting struck.
After this violent act which took us by great surprise I told them that “I am calling the police now” and shouted at them to “STAY AWAY” again and again while they were chasing after us. My friend took out his phone and told them he was going to film them.
They followed us to the other side of the road and it was then we both sensed that we were in danger but with no way to escape. I shouted to my friend who was behind me to watch out and it was at that moment I saw the same young man who apologized to us in the pub on behalf of his friend attacking my friend. He sprang forward and punched my friend hard in the face. I saw my friend falling backwards onto the ground with a thump. I saw the men kicking him over and over all over his body.
It was dark but I could see people walking by. I screamed at them to ask for help. I shouted “please somebody call the police!” while running towards my friend who was lying on his back, badly wounded.
When he finally managed to get away from them, my friend was no longer able to walk and fell down and lost consciousness. I stood next to him, appalled and shaking with outrage. The only woman who stopped to help took my phone and called the police. These people who assaulted us still tried to spring at us. I screamed at them to back off. Eventually they went back to the bar and had fled before the police arrived.
It was like I was living my worst nightmare. And the hardest part is witnessing my friend being beaten to death in front of my eyes. We went to the pub to celebrate our first Christmas and left with injuries, pain, tears and rage. Why and how did it happen to us?!
It was a very long and sleepless night. After the outrageously violent attack, my friend and I spent the rest of the Christmas Eve moving back and forth between the police station and the hospital. My friend was left with terrible injuries and bruises all over his body and suffered a concussion (I’ve included here a picture of his leg and a picture of the pub).
This is not what we expected for our first Christmas in the UK. This is not what we expected for being international students in Durham. This is not what we expected at any point in our lives. Who deserves to get almost beaten to death for doing nothing, for just being who we are, or in this case, for wishing you a merry Christmas???
We will not be silenced. We will not give up our rights, and we will proceed with legal action and hold them accountable for what they have done in every possible way. Most importantly, what’s been done to us could have happened to any other international students here in Durham. That’s why we believe that awareness must be raised, our voices must be heard, and justice must be served.
We will not tolerate racist and religious hate crime.
Durham will stay a safe place and one of the most students’ friendly cities in the UK.
Photo Credits: Newcastle Chronicle