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Harvard Students Are Failing History

By Maya Shiloni, Contributing Opinion Writer
Maya Shiloni ’26, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Mather House.

After Hamas’ atrocious terror attack on Israeli civilians earlier this month, some decided that supporting Hamas amounts to being “on the right side of history.” Likewise, some Harvard students and recent graduates seem to believe that being on “the side of justice” requires supporting Hamas by framing its horrific actions as a legitimate decolonization attempt.

While the justification of an attack on civilians is extremely worrying, it reflects a deeper problem on campus: utter ignorance about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself.

This ignorance has led to statements that are, at best, misinformed and, at worst, deeply dangerous. For that, I can only advise my fellow classmates that, if they want to be on the right side of history, they should know history — specifically the history of Jewish people in Israel — first.

As an Israeli who has spent her life learning about the conflict and living its ramifications, I am mortified by the historical inaccuracies spreading around campus used to justify violence and the eradication of the state of Israel.

The heart of many of the criticisms I’ve seen recently rely on the idea that Zionism or Israel is inherently colonial. But that view is completely ahistorical.

The Jewish people inhabited the land of Israel between 1,200 B.C.E. and 136 C.E. In this land, we developed a language, a culture, and a governing body. There, we became a unified people. After living under the foreign occupation of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and the Roman Empire, in their several attempts to regain sovereignty, we were exiled time and time again, though a minority Jewish presence remained in the land continuously. When Jews were deported from the land, many were sold into slavery, and others were dispersed across the region and outside of its boundaries. Nevertheless, Jewish culture did not die out.

Over the approximately 1,800 years of exile, we longed to return to our homeland, retained our culture and tradition, and never lost our identity or assimilated into other nations. During the 19th and 20th centuries, we escaped the countries we lived in as we were slaughtered in masses and finally returned to our homeland, which since our departure, had been under the control of various empires but never had its own independent regime.

Zionism is the ideology — borne from that centuries-long desire to return home — supporting Jewish self-determination in the only Jewish homeland that has ever existed. The modern State of Israel is the manifestation of this political movement.

After diving into the history, it becomes clear that framing Israel as an inherently colonial state completely ignores Jewish history and denies the Jewish people’s connection to the land where that history took place. It ignores archeology, genetic studies, and historical records like Josephus’s “Antiquities of the Jews,” all of which unambiguously establish the history of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

The most obvious manifestation of this distorted historical understanding arises in chants like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — a call for Palestinian self-determination in the entirety of the land that currently encompasses both Israel and Palestine.

This rallying call presents Palestinians as the sole people indigenous to the land between the river and the sea, while denying the indigeneity of the Jewish people and, therefore, denying the right of Jewish people to also exist as a free entity in this land. It claims that any Jewish state on any part of the Jewish homeland is illegitimate.

I believe in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination precisely because I believe in the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

One right to self-determination does not exist without the other, because they both stem from the same principle: the belief that peoples have the right to live freely in their indigenous land. Unevenly endorsing the right to self-determination is either a logical absurdity or a deliberate attempt to deny the Jewish people this basic right.

Of course, the Israeli government has its failings. It should be criticized for its faults, a cause I have taken up my entire life, in protest after protest. Nonetheless, criticism against the government should not — by any means — lead to questioning the right of that country to exist.

Israel’s right to exist cannot be undermined by its government’s faulty actions, just as the Palestinian right to self-determination must not be undermined by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s or Hamas’ actions. If I can still stand for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination even after Hamas brutally massacred more than 1,400 of my own people this month, pro-Palestinian activists should stand up for the Jewish right to self-determination, in spite of Israel’s many flaws.

So next time when a classmate calls to free Palestine “from the river to the sea,” know that they are calling to once again exile one of this land’s indigenous peoples. For these people — the Jewish people — rights and safety have been repeatedly elusive throughout history. Being on the right side of history is fighting for the right of both people to exist and enjoy sovereignty in their native land, not just one.

Maya Shiloni ’26, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Mather House.

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