Reporter’s Notebook: Decrying genocide while calling for genocide at UAB anti-Israel event

Calling for genocide while accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza, chanting threatening slogans aimed at Jews, and justifying the massacre of 1400 Israelis in their homes and villages — that was a Stand for Palestine rally on Oct. 19 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, coordinated by the Muslim Students Association.

The rally began around noon and attracted about 200, many waving Palestinian flags. T-shirts that read “Free Palestine” were handed out.

In the back of the crowd was one large Israeli flag. A group of about eight attended, including two Israeli soccer players at UAB and several of their teammates. One held a poster with about a dozen flyers of Israelis who were abducted and taken into Gaza by Hamas on Oct. 7.

At one point, the group with the Israeli flag moved toward the middle of the crowd, and a group carrying Palestinian flags surrounded them and tried to block the view of them. When they moved behind the area where the speakers were, the group followed as well.

One of the speakers issued a reminder to not engage the pro-Israel group and to remain peaceful.

Peace, though, was not the point of the rally. There were no calls for diplomacy, a peaceful end to the conflict, or finding a way to live side by side. Just getting rid of what is seen as an occupying power on “stolen land.” Speakers were second- and third-generation Palestinians who said their ancestors had been kicked out by Israel.

The focus also was not on the territories Israel won in a defensive war in 1967, what many activists think of as the occupation. One of them, Gaza, was abandoned by Israel in 2005 and has been Jew-free ever since, though when Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, ousted the Palestinian Authority and took over in 2007, Israel was compelled to start a blockade against materials that could be used for warfare, a move echoed by Egypt.

The other, either the West Bank or Judea and Samaria depending on which side one is on, has been in limbo under the Oslo Accords, with the PA running the daily lives of about 95 percent of the Arab population of the area, and Israel goes into those areas only to weed out terror activity that the PA can’t handle.

But the crowd and speakers at this rally spoke of “75 years worth of documented oppression, documented apartheid,” going back to the establishment of Israel. They claimed Israel is committing genocide against Gaza, targeting civilians.

The incident that precipitated this war, Hamas’ invasion on the morning of Oct. 7, where they massacred 1400 Israeli civilians at their homes and at a music festival, was not mentioned, let alone any concern expressed for Israeli civilians.

Hospital Blood Libel

The blast at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, which was widely assumed to be an Israeli strike but was soon shown to be the result of an errant Islamic Jihad rocket, was a major topic at the rally. Though by that point, many independent experts and even the BBC, known for its anti-Israel slant, were reporting that it was not done by Israel, the speakers railed against Israel bombing hospitals and belittled efforts to debunk claims that Israel was behind the bombing.

Daylight showed that not only was the hospital still standing, but the hit had occurred in the hospital’s parking lot, with no signs of a crater that would have resulted from an Israeli strike.

Though it was initially — and oddly immediately — reported by the notoriously unreliable Gaza health authorities that 500 were killed in the blast, AFP is now reporting the true figure to be more like a couple dozen.

Palestinian activists work to block the view of an Israeli flag at the Oct. 19 rally.

One speaker mentioned a video of a girl in Gaza being asked what she wanted to be when she grows up. Her response, he said in an astonished tone, was “In Gaza we don’t grow up,” showing how Israel has robbed them of hope.

Given the indoctrination of summer camps and United Nations-run schools, where holy war against Israel is taught, there are far more videos that show children expressing the desire to be a shahid, a martyr, as that is praised as their highest calling. Many of those videos are broadcast on Palestinian television.

Furthering the “we don’t grow up” theme, the speaker said that the median age in Gaza is 18. In Israel it is 30, in much of the Western world it is 40. He asked why the Gazan median age would be so young, and said it was because of Israeli actions against the people of Gaza. After all, many of those in attendance had posters claiming Israel is doing a genocide in Gaza.

But in 2003, the median age in Gaza was 15. That’s before the current standoff with Hamas and the blockade of dual-use materials that Hamas could use to foment war.

Why, then, is the median age so low?

Demographers point out that Gaza has a fertility rate among the highest in the world. In 1991, there were 8.3 children per woman in Gaza, it is now just under 4 — far higher than in Israel. In many European countries, it is below the population replacement rate of 2.2.

Culturally, employers in Gaza pay men more as the family has more children, and Hamas has encouraged high birthrates to produce soldiers against Israel.

Another key indicator that bursts the median age argument regarding genocide is life expectancy. In Gaza, in 2022 it was 75.4 years for women, 73.2 years for men. That’s higher than in Iran, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Mexico or Russia, among others. According to CIA statistics, it’s 122nd out of 227 countries and territories.

Three levels of incitement

Most of the chants at the rally were similar to those used 20 years ago at protests over the Second Intifada. Some of the most extreme ones heard around the world in recent days were not present at UAB. At the Sydney Opera House in Australia, rally-goers chanted “gas the Jews.”

On many college campuses, especially in the northeast, there have been calls to “globalize the Intifada,” the waves of violence against civilian targets. During the Second Intifada, over 1100 Israelis, almost 80 percent of them civilians, were killed in places like bus stops, pizzerias and at a Passover Seder in a hotel ballroom. “Globalize the Intifada” is a call for terrorism worldwide.

“Resistance is justified when people are occupied”

This common phrase is used to justify what Hamas did on Oct. 7, as “any means possible” is acceptable in fighting occupation. Some activists insist that there is no such thing as an Israeli civilian, because no occupier can be claimed as a civilian.

Claiming that Jews are a foreign implant in the land of Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people, is a denial and erasure of 3500 years of Jewish history and presence in the land, and therefore antisemitic.

A couple posters at the rally defiantly said that anyone expecting them to condemn Hamas needs to condemn Israel 100 times first.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”

This is widely seen as a call to Jewish genocide. While many activists say it merely talks about a one state solution where Jews would still be allowed to live, it erases the entire concept of a Jewish homeland.

Besides, as Oct. 7 showed, that sort of cooperation is not based in reality. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly insisted that a future Palestinian state would be devoid of any Jews. The Hamas charter calls for the complete elimination of Israel and references eliminating the Jewish presence. For Israelis, Oct. 7 was a demonstration of how Hamas would like to accomplish that.

“Khaybar Khaybar, ya yahud, Jaish Muhammad, sa yahud”

This chant, which was heard at UAB, can be translated as “Jews, remember the battle of Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning.”

No reference to Israel there.

Instead, what is often an Islamic battle cry against Jews references the battle of Khaybar in 628 C.E., where Mohammed attacked the Jews of Khaybar in Arabia for “acts of treachery.” Much of the Jewish community was killed, the rest were expelled or subjugated.

In Britain, there have been arrests for stirring racial hatred when that slogan has been used at rallies.