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What the Apartheid Wall Doesn’t Show

The Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee's annual "Wall of Resistance," pictured here in 2023, is erected by the group every spring for Israeli Apartheid Week.
The Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee's annual "Wall of Resistance," pictured here in 2023, is erected by the group every spring for Israeli Apartheid Week. By Addison Y. Liu
By Charles M. Covit, Crimson Opinion Writer
Charlie A. Covit ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Holworthy Hall.

On Oct. 7, Hamid Abu Ar’ar was driving to work with his wife, Fatma, when a group of terrorists on motorcycles opened fire. A devout Muslim, Fatma was wearing a hijab, but that did not stop Hamas’ fighters, one after the other, from peppering her vehicle with bullets.

I met Abu Ar’ar — who lives in the Israeli village of Arara — at a recent gathering at Chabad, where he and a handful of other Israelis with family members who were murdered or kidnapped by Hamas spoke with Harvard faculty and students.

Abu Ar’ar told us how his wife, a mother of nine, recited the final prayers Muslims often say in their last moments four times before she died. His infant son was also wounded.

Abu Ar’ar hid in a metal container for hours, lying on top of his baby, before he saw Israeli soldiers approaching. As an Arabic speaker, he could hear Hamas terrorists nearby formulating a plan to shoot them, and in a snap decision, with his baby in hand, Abu Ar’ar ran to alert the soldiers to the impending ambush.

He described the emotional moment in which, after a shootout, an Israeli soldier recognized him and ordered his subordinates to halt their fire.

He believes it is a miracle that he, his baby, and the soldiers survived: “If [the soldiers] had advanced five more meters, they would all have been shot dead.” Abu Ar’ar risked his life to save theirs. “Our Islam is the opposite of what the terrorists have done,” he wrote.

This week, the “Wall of Resistance” is once again up at Harvard, now with the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war and everything that’s happened on campus since Oct. 7. While this year’s wall “only” accuses Israel of apartheid and genocide, past iterations have referred to it as premised on settler colonialism and white supremacy, and the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, which sponsors the wall, continues to use such reductive and inflammatory rhetoric.

Pro-Palestinian activists use these buzzwords because they are familiar to the American left, but the truth is that regardless of one’s view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is simply inaccurate to characterize Israel as an apartheid state or occupier. At the very least, these terms don’t tell a complete story.

For one thing, most Israeli Jews are not white — a plurality descend from those who fled from the Middle East and North Africa, many amid violent persecution that long predated 1948. Yemen, for example, was once home to 55,000 Jews, but the United Nations has reported that just one single Jew remains. The Houthis now rule most of Yemen, and their slogan declares “Curse the Jews.”

Furthermore, the refugees who founded Israel were not “colonists” — many were repatriates to a land that Jews, as a diaspora people, are native to and had no other country to call their own. My own great-great-grandmother, arrested while fleeing to the land of Israel, was held in a British internment camp in Cyprus. She is certainly not what you imagine when you think of a mighty colonist, beholden to a European power.

Palestinian citizens of Israel — some of whom call themselves Arab-Israelis — serve in the Knesset, sit on its Supreme Court, and even reach the highest ranks of Israel's military, including the officer leading the agency responsible for coordination with the Palestinians.

Arabs have reached the pinnacles of Israeli society in other sectors too. A leading Israeli virologist during the Covid pandemic was professor Jihad Bishara, which is perhaps unsurprising, considering 43 percent of new physicians’ licenses awarded in 2021 went to Arabs, who compose 21 percent of Israel’s population.

One of those medical professionals was Awad Darawshe, a paramedic who was working at the Nova music festival on Oct 7. When his colleagues heard gunshots, they begged him to flee, but Darawshe would not budge. “I speak Arabic, I think I can manage.” He was shot and killed by Hamas while bandaging a wounded partier.

Given Abu Ar’ar and Darawshe’s experiences, it is perhaps unsurprising that many Palestinian citizens of Israel feel a newfound sense of belonging to the state. A poll one month into the ongoing war found that 66 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel support Israel defending itself against Hamas, and that their sense of solidarity and belonging to Israel is the highest it has been in 20 years.

It is an odd position, for campus activists to deny Israel’s very legitimacy while most Palestinian citizens of Israel have never embraced it so decisively.

When you are confronted with the plain-and-simple narrative of Israel favored by campus activists, I ask that you think of Abu Ar’ar. “Everyone who lives in this country must be one. Arabs, Jews. We must be one unit. We cannot let anyone infect us with hate,” he says.

Peace in the Middle East will come thanks to people like him, not the Harvard students chanting, “From water to water, Palestine is Arab.” The tragic story of Israel and Palestine is not simple, and it serves nobody to pretend that it is.

Only so many words can fit on a wall.

Charlie A. Covit ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Holworthy Hall.

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