LTE: Context is crucial when considering “From the River to the Sea”

Hamza Mahmood, Op-Ed Contributor

I wholeheartedly support Lily Cohen’s celebration of her Jewish identity in her op-ed published last week and would love to take her up on the offer of a Shabbat dinner. Her experience as a Jewish student and more broadly as a person of Jewish descent and faith at a time of rising tensions in the US is not one that should be dismissed, but rather one that should be heard and built upon.

That said, I urge her to take into perspective not only the broader ramifications of the chant “From the River to the Sea,” but also the empowerment it delivers to the Palestinian people. The origins of this chant are disputed by many, with some linking it to the terrorist organization Hamas, while others see it as a call of freedom for the Palestinian people. But context is crucial: yes, the chant is used by Hamas. Does that mean all there is to this chant is its use by Hamas? No.

Take the phrase “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great,” in Arabic. Is it used by terrorists across the globe before they commit heinous acts? Yes. Is that all there is to this phrase? Absolutely not. As a practicing Muslim, I say the same phrase probably more than 100 times a day. By no means does this imply I am affiliated with, condone or am remotely accepting of acts of terrorism committed under the guise of God. To chant “From the River to the Sea” does not automatically mean one seeks the destruction of the Israeli State; rather, it is a chant of freedom, of autonomy and of justice for those who were displaced post World War II.

The phrase “From the River to the Sea” was adopted by the Palestinian people after the UN General Assembly voted to partition the state into two — a Jewish State was born out of this partition in 1947. I argue the vast majority of people who use this phrase, especially on this campus, do not seek the destruction of Israel but rather a unification of the geographical area.

In an ideal world, both followers of Abraham would be willing to stop fighting each other and rejoice in their similarities rather than nitpick between their differences. I understand everyone has a right to an opinion, and everyone has the right to feel offended; however, just because one is offended does not entail one is offended with due cause.

I disagree with Lily on her stance that “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” is representative of hate speech and that the University should treat it as such. If she does feel truly offended, I offer to talk with her about this issue not as a Muslim and a Jewish person, but rather as two people who both believe in the Abrahamic books and two people who want nothing more than this campus to be a place of safety and constructive debate.

I encourage Lily to celebrate her Jewish identity; she is not responsible for the atrocities committed by the Israeli government, much like I am not responsible for the atrocities committed by those who claim to follow my religion. Like Lily, I invite those who disagree to come speak with me, voice their concerns and join me for constructive conversation. Each student should be willing and able to stand up for what they believe in, voice their opinions and receive thoughtful engagement in return, rather than being “canceled.”

Hamza Mahmood is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.