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Students hold the Israeli flag during a counter-demonstration to the vigil for Palestine on Oct. 16.

Credit: Chenyao Liu

If you’ve never made eye contact with a hooded, masked figure while listening to him call for you to be rooted out of society and warning you to go back to where you came from, don't. Note that "where you came from" includes countries that committed mass genocide against your grandparents and 6 million other members of your people less than a hundred years ago, and where you do not, in fact, come from but wound up living after being forced out of every other country you had attempted to peacefully reside in. The experience was zero out of 10; would not recommend. 

While The Daily Pennsylvanian has reported on the speeches, poetry, and song shared at the Oct. 16 walkout for Palestine that took place outside of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, I’d like to share a very different perspective on the event. I stood outside of College Hall with an Israeli flag and a peaceful group of fellow Jewish students for most of the day. The five hours I spent there included some of the worst moments of my life thus far – moments I doubt I will ever forget. 

“There is only one solution: Intifada revolution.” These words played on a loop in my mind for the rest of the evening and are still ringing in my ears now. The “one solution” advocated for by the protesters is not a peaceful reconciliation that recognizes the legitimacy and humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians – which my friends and I are adamantly in favor of and which Palestinian leadership has rejected time and time again – but one of “Intifada.” Historically, the Second Intifada in Israel resulted in the murder of over a thousand innocent Israelis. My mom spent a year in Israel during the Second Intifada, a period in which she feared riding on buses because of the regular suicide bombings on Israeli public transportation routes, targeting Israeli civilians and tourists. 

Although, as was repugnantly expressed by a speaker at Monday’s demonstration, perhaps there are no true Israeli civilians, as “anyone who forms a settler colony is putting forward an act of war against a collective population. Therefore, all settlers and all settlements are legitimate military targets and they will be targeted." 

The only thing more disturbing than the legal and historical inaccuracy of this statement is the absolute moral bankruptcy required to blame the families, teenagers, and infants who were burned alive, butchered, and murdered en masse in their homes for the purely evil actions of their murderers. I wish I could say I was surprised when I later saw the aforementioned speaker being carried away by police after assaulting a Jewish student.

Another popular chant was “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," which can be interpreted as a thinly veiled call for the elimination of the Jewish state and denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their historic homeland. As I stood in silence for five hours, speakers repeatedly pointed at my friends and me, calling us the enemies of peace – the harbingers of violence, the “real antisemites.” We stood there not in defense of the Israeli government, nor in denial of the plight of the Palestinian people, but rather in insistence of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our homeland, asking for little more than acknowledgment of historical fact and recognition of our humanity. 

One speaker claimed that while he would never be satisfied so long as the Jewish state exists, we would be welcomed in a secular, socialist Palestinian state. I’m not so sure about that, seeing as the only Jews living in Gaza right now are there as hostages and the closest thing the Middle East has to a secular, socialist society is … Israel.

One well-intended demonstrator engaged me in conversation. After about 10 minutes of respectful dialogue, he acknowledged that my people certainly do need a home, as his people do, but why did we have to “choose” Israel to be that home? I’ll tell you now what I told him. We didn’t “choose” Israel. Just like we cannot and do not choose our parents or ancestors. Can there be a choice where there are no true alternatives? 

When the need for a Jewish state became most salient, our heritage, our tradition, and our history all pointed us to our one indigenous homeland. The Jews have had a physical presence in Israel since Biblical times. It is the conclusion of nearly every promise in our Torah and the direction of most prayers in our liturgy. Our weddings are centered around a remembrance of Jerusalem and our mourners are comforted with references to Zion. Israel is not something we chose, nor a conflict we inserted ourselves into. It is our heritage, our ancestral home, our birthright, our religion, our culture, our dream, our family, and our identity. On Monday at Penn, recognition of that identity was denied. And simply put: It broke my heart for the second time this week.

SYDNEY FREEDMAN is a Wharton junior studying Business Analytics from Boca Raton, Fla. Her email is