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Letter to the Editor: Free speech at Rice should support open dialogue, not dangerous rhetoric

By Aviva Presser Aiden     11/10/23 6:07pm

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. Letters to the editor are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for grammar and spelling by Thresher editors. 

In the article “‘All out for Palestine’ protest sees 2,000 at Houston City Hall” from Oct. 17, Associate Vice Provost Catherine Clack discusses the Rice Students for Justice in Palestine sign-making event at the Multicultural Center in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. She states “... how is this something that we should oppose when it's an exercise of free speech?” 

I respect the complexity of issues related to the Middle East and recognize the importance of representing a spectrum of views. But while free speech is a cornerstone of academic discourse, it is imperative that we distinguish between fostering open dialogue and supporting dangerous rhetoric.

The slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free,” prominently displayed in the group's signage, was popularized in the 1960s by the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It helped the PLO — recognized at the time as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department — amplify its calls for the dismantling of the state of Israel. As the Palestinian National Charter of 1968 said, “Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate [i.e., from the river to the sea], is an indivisible territorial unit … Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history.”

The official policy of Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization which conducted the Oct. 7 attacks, includes the slogan almost verbatim. Hamas’ 2017 Document of General Principles and Policies states, “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”

Other signs read “Resistance is not Terrorism,” and “Resistance is Justified.” They seem to cast the Oct. 7 Hamas attack as legitimate resistance. Osama Bin Laden’s Letter to America used that rationale to justify 9/11. Attacks targeting civilians, even labeled as “resistance,” are unequivocally acts of terrorism. Such actions should never find endorsement or support within our community, even under the banner of free speech.

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