Israel’s attack on Gaza is genocide. This California student had every right to say it | Opinion

In February, Habiba Darwish — then a student at Vista Del Lago High School in Folsom — was asked by a classmate to write a short entry for the school yearbook’s world events pages, regarding the Israel-Hamas war and the climbing death toll in Gaza.

Darwish referred to Israel’s attacks and bombings on the Palestinian people as a genocide, and quoted from the United Nations, UNICEF and other reputable sources to portray the conflict from her point of view as a Palestinian-American.


“Civilians confronted with the genocide have taken it upon themselves to record the atrocities they face as an outcry for help from the world,” she wrote. “Protests and boycotts have spread among numerous countries as people around the world have attempted to call attention to the genocide.”

Her piece was edited and approved by yearbook staff and a faculty advisor through normal channels. Then the yearbook was distributed to students and staff on May 20.

That’s when things started to get scary for Darwish, who was 17 at the time, and the outgoing president of the school’s Muslim Student Association.

On May 24, the day of graduation, a social media account on X with more than 300,000 followers called “StopAntiSemitism” posted a picture of the article with Darwish’s name in multiple places.

The group accused her of “ignoring” Hamas’ attack on Israelis on Oct. 7, and decried “propaganda poisoning.” It also included the direct email of the high school’s principal, Kimberley Moore.

“This is backlash as any Palestinian speaking up may face,” Darwish said. “What I’ve written is the truth and is backed by UNICEF and the other cited sources in the article, as well as the International Court of Justice.”

The “StopAntiSemitism” account is well-known for harassing and doxxing people who have publicly supported Palestine in the Israel-Hamas war. But instead of protecting or supporting Darwish, her school and district bowed to public pressure.

On May 29, Vista Del Lago administrators sent an email to students and families apologizing for “any damage and hurt (the yearbook) has caused our students, families and the community,” and included a promise to “learn and grow” from the incident. They offered blank stickers to cover Darwish’s article, or supply a refund to families who wished to turn it in.

Neither the school nor the district has offered any direct support to Darwish, she confirmed, and Principal Moore directed a request for comment to the school district, which did not reply to requests for comment.

“While I understand that the school felt a need to make a statement due to pressure from the other side, I feel as though their response completely abandoned me as a student,” Darwish said.

Genocide in Gaza

It is not just Darwish who believes Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute a genocide, so do an international consortium of countries, human rights lawyers and experts.

In March, a human rights expert at the U.N. reported “reasonable grounds” for a genocide being committed in Gaza. In June, Spain joined South Africa’s case in the U.N. accusing Israel of genocide.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported on its news site that the Israeli army killed 42,510 Palestinians in the first 200 days of the war, 38,621 of whom were civilians — including 10,091 women and 15,780 children.

“These statistics include the killing of 137 journalists, 356 medical personnel and 42 civil defense personnel,” it wrote in an April press release.

A May report researched and written by the University Network for Human Rights, including members from Boston University’s Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell Law School and the Lowenstein Human Rights Project at Yale Law School, declared Israel’s actions in Palestine to be a genocide.

“I just wish we lived in a world where I would not be harassed for telling facts,” Darwish said.

Another First Amendment violation

Somehow, the fundamental rights of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment have become a disposable commodity for local school administrators, especially as students protest American funding of the war in Gaza or speak out on political topics.

In Sacramento, Samantha Archuleta, the journalism teacher at C.K. McClatchy High School, is still on administrative leave and under investigation because of an article in the student newspaper quoting a student who praised Adolf Hitler.

Archuleta and her students didn’t endorse the comment but say they published it because it reflected problematic student discourse on campus. As with Darwish, the students at C.K. McClatchy used their writing to shed light on sensitive realities that inform their lives.

In both cases, adults failed their students.

C.K. McClatchy administrators and the Sacramento City Unified School District punished the students and their advisor, in violation of California Education Code 48907, which not only protects Archuleta and her students, but also extends to the student staff of school yearbooks and their advisors.

Archuleta’s job remains in the balance, despite strong support from the First Amendment Coalition, the Student Press Law Center and the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative.

Jews and Muslims both see a rise in hate crimes

In the three months since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, American Jews saw a 361% increase in antisemitic incidents — more than 3,200 — according to data from the Anti-Defamation League. American Muslims, too, have seen an increase in hate crimes; the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ annual Civil Rights Report states that the group received more than 8,000 complaints in 2023, the highest amount in nearly three decades of tracking by the group.

While a school must keep students safe at school, it is not necessarily their duty to keep them comfortable at all times, especially when that discomfort stems from the avoidance of facts.

Darwish’s yearbook entry was factually accurate and fully sourced. She believes those facts amount to genocide, and she has every right to say so. I believe it is a genocide, too.

Israel denies the allegations, as does the U.S. government, but to deny it in American media — or even in America’s high school yearbooks — is to deny history as it happens.

Perhaps the Vista Del Lago yearbook staff should have given a Jewish student equal opportunity to write about current events from their point of view. Even that, though, would not have made the facts in Darwish’s yearbook entry — nor the deaths of more than 9,500 women and 14,500 children in Gaza — untrue.