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Trinity College held an anti-Semitism training early this year, as a response to a dreadful anti-Semitic attack on campus during the fall of 2022. The presentation included a crucial distinction between Zionism and Semitism, with the former defined as a political movement that is now Israel and the latter relating to Judaism. However, Trinity’s ‘Community Vigil’ has elided this distinction in the recent attacks on Palestine and Israel, treating criticisms of Zionism to be anti-Semitism. Trinity claims to “prepare students to be bold, independent thinkers who lead transformative lives.” Yet, it has failed to challenge white hegemony and mainstream media when addressing the recent attacks on Palestine and Israel.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, unequivocally stated that “moving more than 1 million people across a densely populated war zone to a place with no food, water or accommodation is extremely dangerous” and is in violation of international law. Many analysts and reporters argue that these Israeli demands pave the way for the genocide of the Palestinian people. The humanitarian situation in Gaza was dire before Israel’s most recent aggressions in Gaza, adds Guterres. The United Nations stated that Gaza would be unlivable in 2020. Yet, politicians, media outlets and academic institutions in the United States still insistent on portraying the most recent attacks on Gaza as unprovoked. Trinity’s administration and chapel have not question that. Instead, the chaplain’s speech started with “these [Hamas] attacks occur amid a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism across the globe,” thereby contextualizing the attacks as part of a rise in global anti-Semitism rather than a sieged population seeking its independence.
Those subject to violence are most aware of its infectivity and cyclical nature. This is why in 2018 Gaza organized a peaceful march of return in which Israel killed hundreds of Palestinians and injured over 8000 children. Gaza, a small strip of land south of the Mediterranean, has been under complete blockade since 2007 and has lived through seven major bombardment campaigns since 2009. Some argue that Israel uses the siege of Gaza as a “laboratory” to test weapons before they export them internationally. Neve Gordon, an Israeli politics professor at Ben-Gurion University says that “the laboratory of the occupied territories is where things can be fine-tuned, they can be tested, they can be retested.” Reports say that after a major Israeli attack on Gaza in May 2021, Israel sold $11.3 billion worth of arms, in addition to a $200 million deal between Israel Aerospace Industries and a non-disclosed Asian Country. When Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general, who now works at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, was asked about whether Israel advertises its arms using the fact that they have been tested on Palestinians, “Of course,” he replied. “Why not? Marketing [professionals] try to use any advantage and if they can use the advantage that this system was tested operationally and it worked, they will of course use it for marketing.” Israel consistently violates its international obligations as an occupant. The Fourth Geneva Convention provides a humanitarian agenda, to protect the occupied population and work for the welfare of occupied civilians. For example, the occupant is obliged to provide maximum supply of food and medicine to the occupied population. Gazans live in constant deprivation of food, water and medicine, with heavy restrictions on their movement. For such a status the United Nations Resolution 3246 regarding the “importance of the universal realization of the right of peoples to self-determination” reaffirms “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for their independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial domination, apartheid and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.”
Comparing what started on Oct. 7 to the tragic events of the Holocaust or 9/11 is rooted in anti-Arab and Islamophobic rhetoric, mostly developed during the “wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.” Lies spread by major news outlets about Hamas beheading babies and raping women, which were retracted by the media and even the White House on behalf of President Biden, are a classic case of propaganda and colonial dehumanization that aims to justify the genocide of Gazans and has already endangered members of the Trinity community. On Oct. 14, hundreds of Jewish New Yorkers went to the street, refusing the collective punishment Israel is imposing on Gaza to be done with their names. The chants were “not in our name, not in our name.” To portray the attacks as anti-Semitic decontextualizes Gaza from its reality under settler colonialism and harms the Jewish population which refuses to be associated with Zionism.
While Gazan civilians are currently starved, deprived of their basic needs and bombed with the internationally banned white phosphorus, Western superpowers are equipping Israel with even more arms. Many activists are asking for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the blockade of Gaza that will stop the death toll on both sides. During this time, Trinity’s duty is to challenge white hegemony, the spread of dehumanizing lies and protect all of its student populations. This will not be achieved through flawed comparisons.