Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

OP-ED: An Honest Conversation with Palestinian-Syrian American Policy Expert,  Samar Ali

Marchers protest in solidarity with Palestine

Image by TIMO from Pexels

On October 7 2023, the world stood still as Hamas, an Islamic militant resistance group, launched a massive surprise attack on Southern Israel, where over 1,200 Israeli citizens were killed. While the loss of life on October 7 cannot be dismissed, refusing to recognize the historical context is dangerous.

Following the Holocaust, the United Nations helped move many members of the (Ashkenazi) Jewish population to Palestine. On May 14, of 1948, Israel announced its establishment. Each year on May 15, Palestinians around the world mark the Nakba, or catastrophe, referring to the mass displacement and dispossession that began taking place in Palestine the year Israel was created. 

Samar Ali is a Vanderbilt Law professor and foreign policy expert with an extensive list of accomplishments and qualifications. She is a former advisor in the White House, a peacemaker, mediator and continues to brief the White House, the State Department, the United States Government, Congress, and the U.N. on foreign policy matters. 

She is also a Palestinian-Syrian-American Muslim woman. From her experience, she says it’s impossible to talk about the events of the past two months without talking about 1948. She continued,“1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1988, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2014, 2021. We know the dates and all the dates mean something in relation to this conflict.”

 As many experts have collectively agreed, for the past 75 years, the reality for many Palestinians has been violence on both a physical and structural level. From bombs and blockades to having limited access to media and limiting access to water, the Israeli government has succeeded in not only making Palestinians feel like second-class citizens in their own home, but also in challenging the preservation and livelihood of Palestinians. 

Put simply, what the Israeli government has done and is doing to Palestinians are war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some are even investigating this as an act of genocide. In the name of Israel, the Israeli government has bombed hospitals, schools, ambulances, media facilities and civilian buildings. They’ve killed medical rescuers, journalists, civilians, with higher numbers of women and children, and members of humanitarian organizations. 

They have also cut water, electricity, internet, fuel supply, medical supply delivery, and international humanitarian aid. If that isn’t scary enough, Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.” In nine words, Palestinians have been dehumanized and history proves that dehumanization is essential to ethnic cleansing and genocide.

 Professor Ali described how it feels to be Palestinian in the world today, “Many of us feel there are attempts to criminalize and erase the Palestinian identity. This is a very painful experience. Identity is very important to the human soul, spirit, and it gets to the heart of the meaning of existence.”

 With the loss of Palestinian lives that came after October 7, many around the world called for a ceasefire. Professor Ali vividly remembers the ceasefire that was called in May of 2021, just two years ago. She recalled, “It was negotiated, but the fighting continued after a while, and Palestinians are still living under occupation- meaning many Palestinians do not have control over the land, air and water that surrounds them. A ceasefire two years ago didn’t lead to sustainable peace, liberation, or safety and security for all people living in the Holy Land. The main question for all of us needs to be how can a ceasefire lead to sustainable peace? How do we break this cycle of ongoing communal trauma that everyone in this conflict continues to experience?”

A ceasefire that does not lead to peace or liberation isn’t an effective ceasefire and Ali warns against those who are calling for a ceasefire as if it’s a bumper sticker or tagline. “If you want a bumper sticker, it’s ‘stop killing babies.’” What is needed is a ceasefire with a sustained structure for peace. Calling for a ceasefire without the release of innocent civilians and an end to violence by everyone, which includes recognizing the rights Palestinians have to citizenship, dignity, and life, is simply an arrangement that will only lead to more cycles of violence. These negative cycles must be broken and stopped, once and for all.

 Given the courage of journalists in Gaza who have been able to document the atrocities in the region, it’s impossible to ignore this genocide. Like never before, many around the world have protested for a ceasefire and/or a free Palestine and have used the chantFrom the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free. As this phrase gained popularity, many argued it was antisemitic. Ali explains that the reason this phrase is seen as antisemitic is because of the horrific phrase “drive the Jews into the sea” that emerged in the mid-1970s. 

Ali articulated there is sometimes a disconnect between what you say and what people hear.  “From what I’ve seen around this, I do not think Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib intended her use of that slogan to be taken as anti-Semitic. Her intent is important and shouldn’t be overlooked. In law we call it ‘mens rea.’ She intended it to be taken as a saying that indicates that Palestinians need to live free and normal lives with dignity across the entire Holy Land: from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Many others are using the slogan like her with likely that same intent.” 

Professor Ali believes this is an opportunity for us to educate, understand context, and to have a conversation about this phrase and its impact. Specifically, conversations are vital regarding whether or not one should keep using the phrase or change the phrase to one that better conveys one’s accurate intention. To be clear, we should all agree that it is not acceptable under any circumstance to call or be OK with genocide. There are no exceptions to this hard-line rule. 

Given the rise of anti-semitism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia on college campuses, Professor Ali thinks open dialogue is important, as well as responsible leadership and rhetoric. “We have to have open dialogue that allows for us to have healthy conversations. That’s a responsibility we have to people living this current nightmare on a daily basis.”





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About the Contributor
Hananeel Morinville
Hananeel Morinville, Contributor
Hananeel Morinville is a junior from Kansas City majoring in Latin American History and African American Diaspora Studies. She is passionate about racial and social justice, immigration, and international affairs in developing nations. In her free time, Hananeel likes to read, play piano, and watch Survivor.