TEL AVIV, Israel — On Thursday, CNN decided to terminate its relationship with Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill. The decision followed a speech Hill gave at the United Nations, in which he reiterated his commitment to the fight for freedom of the people of Palestine. Hill called for a boycott of Israel and said the goal is to "free Palestine from the river to the sea."
When Hill referred to the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, what pro-Israel groups heard is a call for the destruction of the State of Israel, which is in that territory.
CNN's decision to end its relationship with Hill was an extreme move.
As an Israeli Jew, I understand what is at stake. Tel Aviv is my hometown. As I write this, I am sitting in my parents' living room. I am literally between the river and the sea, introducing my family to my baby daughter and meeting my newest niece. The destruction of this city is not something I would cheer for. And that's why I stand with Hill's call for freedom and dignity for all people in this troubled land.
The area between the river and the sea that Hill is talking about is the home of almost 14 million people — almost half of them Jews and half Palestinians. Of those Palestinians, 4.5 million live in the West Bank and Gaza, without citizenship and under military occupation for decades. In Israel, there are about two million residents who are Palestinian — 21 percent of the population — living as second-class citizens. That is not hyperbole or an attempt at a poetic description. This year, Israel enacted a law that enshrines the country as the state of the Jewish people — not of Israelis.
Oppression and humiliation of Palestinians takes many forms, some more violent than others.
Take Gaza, for example — the 32-mile-long stretch of land that is home to almost two million people — which has been disconnected from the world for over a decade by an Israeli blockade decimating its economy, according to the World Bank. In 2014, Israel bombed Gaza from the air and invaded it with ground forces, resulting in the death of 2,251, the majority of whom were civilians, including 551 children. More than 18,000 buildings were destroyed, leaving 100,000 people displaced.
This year alone, more than 150 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army while protesting the blockade of Gaza — including children, journalists, and people with disabilities. Israel reserves the death penalty only for people who assisted the Nazis in the Holocaust, but the Israeli army brings snipers to protests in Gaza, warning that damaging the border fence equals death.
Meanwhile, last week, in the Israeli city of Afula, Jewish residents rallied to prevent their Palestinian neighbors — citizens of the State of Israel — from using public parks. City officials vowed to preserve the "Jewish character" of the city.
A call for Gaza to be able to join the world economy, for freedom of assembly for Palestinians, and for every child regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion to be able to play in a park should not be radical and is in no way bigoted — that's a call for freedom for every Palestinian between the river and the sea.
To be fair, when I moved to the United States, I was very defensive when I heard chants like "from the river to the sea." I didn't understand where that chant left me, an Israeli with no other citizenship. I was surprised by my reaction — in Israel I was politically active to end the occupation of Palestine and after high school refused to join the military because I didn't want to participate in the occupation. Perhaps, the reaction to "from the river to the sea" says more about how we have been indoctrinated to think that harmonic living of Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is impossible — an indoctrination from which I was not immune. We have been indoctrinated to believe that the freedom of Palestinians and the freedom of Israeli Jews are mutually exclusive.
That isn't true, but by firing Hill CNN further perpetuated that untruth.
There is no doubt that there are bad actors in Palestine — such as those who shoot rockets at the civilian population in Israel — and among its supporters — such as Minister Louis Farrakhan, who recently called Jews "termites." But the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about the power imbalance between an occupying state that has the support of a global superpower and a liberation movement — imperfect as it may be.
Maybe "from the river to the sea" is not the most savvy language to change hearts and minds — people have used that to call for the destruction of the State of Israel. The discussion about the rhetoric and the topic is worthy, but we won't hear this discussion on CNN, because they fired Hill.
You don't need to agree with Hill. In fact, I bet you hadn't heard of his speech until CNN fired him — I hadn't. But don't buy the false choice that CNN is posing in its action — you either support Israel or call for its destruction. A call for freedom and dignity for all is another option.