Alleged hate speech on Facebook lands U of C student in international press

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By Riley Hill

*story has been updated

Headlines across the world condemned a University of Calgary student as a “potential terrorist” this week after writings she posted on Facebook appeared in the National Post.

Ala’a Hamdan, a fourth-year biology student and former president of the Calgary chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), posted writing on her personal Facebook page this month that members of Calgary United With Israel (CUWI) accused of being hate speech that condones violence against Israelis.

“So be aware of my existence; my body and soul are ready to fight and die,” reads one of Hamdan’s posts. “And if you see my blood coming out of my body please smile and cry of happiness because just then I will lay at peace in my mother’s arms.”

“I will soak a koffiah with your blood and save it to show your siblings,” read another post, addressed to an imagined son.

CUWI founder Ryan Bellerose said these comments should be a cause for concern.

“These people are starting to feel more empowered to say things like this,” Bellerose said. “I don’t think comments like these are considered acceptable by mainstream people.”

CUWI posted Hamdan’s writings on their website on Jan. 5 under a section that monitors the SPHR and the charity Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

On Jan.10, the The National Post published a story about Hamdan’s Facebook posts that were shared on the CUWI website.

The story quickly went international. It was picked up by a number of news organizations, including The Blaze — a conservative news site owned by political pundit Glenn Beck — and Israeli station Arutz Sheva, which ran the headline “Potential Terrorist Posts Facebook Threats.”

The National Post reported that CUWI contacted the Calgary Police Service with a hate speech complaint, though the police said they had no record of this.
Hamdan, who recently turned 21, said these posts were examples of creative writing, not her personal outlook or hate speech.

“Every piece that I do has a picture that goes with it,” Hamdan said. “In my writing, I try to give voice to the people in these pictures. All these people are Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.”

The post that included the phrase, “This land will be proud that Palestinian babies are born men and women ready to spill their blood” — republished in the The National Post — was meant to represent the perspective of the Palestinian child in the photo.

“In the The National Post article, everything I had written was taken out of context,” Hamdan said. “Most of the phrases that they claim I said on my Facebook were part of pieces that were poetic writing, creative writing — whatever you want to call it.”

Hamdan stressed that these writings are not meant to be associated with the SPHR.

Current SPHR president Wesam Cooley said his club has had ongoing issues with CUWI.

“We constantly get harassed by them on our social media. They heckle at our events,” Cooley said. “At one point it got so bad that we had to ban a couple of members from one of our events.”

Bellerose denied this and accused members of the club of making anti-Semitic comments.

Vice-president student life Ben Cannon said the Students’ Union has not received any complaints from students or faculty about either Hamdan’s comments or SPHR.

A Palestinian solidarity group at the University of Manitoba was disbanded after similar pressure was brought against them in April. Cannon said it would take nothing short of a criminal investigation for the SU to consider taking this step.

“I want to ensure student groups on campus that, with the exemption of criminal activities on the part of a club, the SU has not and will not succumb to external pressure to disband a club just because they have unpopular opinions,” Cannon said. “University is about sharing ideas, not cutting them off because we don’t like them.”

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