Editor’s Note: This article contains references to mass violence.
The following piece is an opinion and does not reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff. All opinions are edited for grammar, style and argument structure and fact-checked, but the opinions are the writer’s own.
In the past 10 weeks, Israeli occupation forces have killed over 18,000 Palestinians and displaced 1.9 million in Gaza. However, Palestinian deaths did not start there, nor are they exclusive to Gaza. Over 200 Palestinians were murdered outside of Gaza from January to September 2023, and the death toll continues to rise. What is happening now is not an isolated conflict or war, but rather an extension of Israel’s 75-year occupation.
Protests calling for an immediate ceasefire and complete Palestinian liberation have erupted around the world. Public attention has been brought to the struggle of the Palestinian people, as they and their allies have been fighting for liberation for decades. On one hand, this attention has prompted many people to learn for themselves about the plight of the Palestinians, joining our cause. On the other hand, those who speak up for Palestinian rights often face smears and doxxing by those who seek to stifle criticism of Israel. This demonization includes bad-faith interpretations of Palestinian statements and slogans. One such controversy involves the common phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
The phrase simply means that all Palestinians — from those in the West Bank bordering the Jordan River to those in Gaza by the Mediterranean Sea and the Palestinians within the state of Israel — should all have equal rights and be able to return to historic Palestine. Zionists have falsely claimed that the phrase is antisemitic, and this harmful rhetoric has spread nationwide, completely misconstruing the phrase. The fact that Zionists have twisted the narrative to associate a people’s freedom with genocide is telling of the sort of rationalization that has been used to displace Palestinians for decades.
All of the debate and discussion about one phrase is being used as a distraction from the actual slaughter that is happening right in front of our eyes in Gaza.
What we are seeing is undeniably a settler-colonial-driven genocide. We can look at the intentions of the founders of Zionism themselves to see that their ultimate goal was always the erasure of indigenous Palestinians to allow for Jewish settlers. Plan Dalet was a blueprint by the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, and other military officials for how the “transfer” of Palestinians would be carried out. It included the raiding and searching, depopulation and then destruction of villages. Ben-Gurion said that the “...new settlement will not be possible without transferring the Arab fellahin [villagers].”
When debating whether what is happening in Palestine is a genocide, people are referring to the United Nations’ definition, which mentions an “intent to destroy.” While few other recognized genocides have been formally declared by their perpetrators, Israeli officials have been clear in their intent.
The deliberate blockage of food and water, which are essential for survival to an entire population, half of which are children, is grounds for an intent to destroy. The Israeli minister of defense made it clear when he announced this blockade, declaring that they “are fighting human animals and [they] are acting accordingly.” Or perhaps it could be seen as genocidal intent for Israeli officials to call for “Gaza’s Nakba,” referencing the catastrophe in 1948 when over 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and thousands more murdered.
We know that Israel’s genocidal campaign reaches beyond Gaza as well. During extreme settler violence in early 2023 in the town of Huwara, located in the West Bank, the Israeli minister of finance said, “I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it.” This is not an isolated extremist statement, but rather the basis for how Israel operates and was founded. Its ultimate goal is the theft of all Palestinian land and removal of the Indigenous people, despite desperate claims that its war crimes are purely self-defense.
According to a letter from Palestine’s permanent observer to the United Nations, “Israel, the occupying Power, cannot invoke its so-called right to self-defense to justify the use of excessive military force against the besieged Palestinian civilian population in the occupied Gaza Strip.” Self-defense does not include the mass bombing of schools and hospitals, the targeting of journalists or the attacks on supporters of Palestine.
At American University, we refuse to be silent about Palestine because every single day that we sit in class, bombs are dropping that kill hundreds of Palestinians. In our fight for liberation on campus and in the greater D.C. area, we’ve seen a rapid increase in engagement and support from a diverse group of students. Dozens of student organizations have been supporting our actions and initiatives, along with a Jewish Voice for Peace chapter being founded at AU this semester. Students, staff and faculty of all backgrounds are standing up for justice, and there is a motivation that is unprecedented.
We should not look to our government for solutions, but rather to the people. We as individuals hold collective power and should not fear standing up against genocide. We should look to those who have led the liberation struggle in every other situation of oppression in the world. As freedom fighter Nelson Mandela once said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
Students for Justice in Palestine at American University is an organization of diverse students striving for the total liberation of the Palestinian people. Our work is grounded in decolonial work and values of freedom, solidarity and justice. We seek to motivate students on campus to speak up against the occupation of Palestine and provide them with the tools to do so.
Correction: A previous version of this article included an unintentional repetition of the phrase "half of whom are children." The mistake has been deleted.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Zoe Bell, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Luna Jinks.