Sammi Bray ’25 & Olivia Silvey ’25
We write to you today, together, but conflicted. On Oct. 7, the decades-long tension between Israel and Palestine escalated when HAMAS groups entered southern Israel, near Gaza. Thousands of lives have been lost in battle on both sides of the conflict. This is an incredibly difficult situation, spanning beyond our lifetimes. People have very complex feelings and that creates a tense, often divided political and social environment. Though we typically tend to agree, we do not see eye to eye on this. Rather than ignoring this awkwardness and refusing to address a topic that deserves to be addressed, our editorial this week expresses both of our opinions. Though we disagree on some things, we remain united.
My first-year seminar – and the seminar I later mentored – was focused on Israeli culture. Through this experience, I came to know the importance of being able to be critical of the Israeli government while still being sympathetic and compassionate towards the real people on both sides of the conflict. I will not pretend that I understand it perfectly, that I know all the answers. But ultimately, what happened last week is terrifying to me and any act of violence is disturbing. Women and children should not be the victims of violence, regardless of their identity. I have been sickened and heartbroken by the acts of violence I have seen and read and learned about by both Israelis and Palestinians. I cannot condone any of this behavior. But, I see how this situation is far more complex than that. My ideal solution is a two-state solution, but I know this is easier said than done. I understand that it is bigger than me, than us, than a conflict over land. At the end of the day, I want peace, safety and security for all people. The anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that spreads around these events is also unacceptable. We are no closer to a solution, equality or peace when we become even further divided.
On Oct. 7, I woke up to the news of a horrific terrorist attack in Israel. After frantically reading more about what happened, I was surprised to see that right away people were conflating Palestinian identity with this attack from Hamas. Suddenly, the years of oppression by the Israeli government fell by the wayside, and the conflict became starkly black and white: if you support the movement to Free Palestine, you support terrorism, and if you express grief for the civilians of Israel, you support Zionism.
A few days after the Hamas siege on Israel, and the subsequent retaliation by Israel which now includes the inhumane use of white phosphorus on Gaza, I posted something that encouraged people to be wary of how this conflict is painted by the Western media, especially in the United States. Much of the world has seemed to forget the decades of oppressive dominance that Israel has exerted over Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, but the world has also forgotten how the U.S. benefits from this struggle.
Israel and the U.S. have been longtime allies for many military and economic reasons. The U.S. has provided over $150 billion in aid to Israel since World War II and helped build up Israel’s military. The countries exchange and develop weapons and war strategies. An Israel-U.S. alliance also helps ensure that the U.S. continues to have access to oil.
So, it makes sense that facts have been distorted, narratives carefully cultivated and certain words used over others. On Oct. 9, BBC reported that “500 people have died in Gaza after Israel launched massive retaliatory air strikes… more than 700 people have been killed in Israel.” The use of “died” implies less responsibility on the ones doing the killing – the Israeli government’s air strikes – versus the use of “killed” evokes more intense emotions and implies a clear instigator. In journalism, every word is purposeful.
Beyond word choice, misinformation runs rampant in the media we are all consuming about the conflict. For days, reports that Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, was beheading babies and raping women in the streets circulated everywhere. These reports were, and still are, weaponized against people speaking out in support of the Palestinian people and their fight for freedom – if someone said Free Palestine, that now meant they supported beheading and rape. While, first and foremost, conflating the fight for the decolonization of Palestinian land and the aggression by Hamas is incredibly irresponsible, the White House and the Israeli government have now admitted that these allegations are completely unverified. That’s not how the media works, though; once a story is out, regardless of whether it is true or not, it’s very difficult to retract it. The damage has been done, and this just makes it easier for people to condone the attempted ethnic cleansing that has been happening in Gaza for a long time.
This attempt is also connected to the danger of the media’s conflation of Judaism and Zionism. Being Jewish does not mean that someone is Zionist, which is typically heralded as a nationalist ideology that advocates for the establishment of a Jewish state in historic Palestine. This idea of a Jewish state became much more popular during the mass genocide of Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s, and while most Jewish people support the fact that Israel exists as a Jewish state, many others (Jewish and not) ultimately believe Zionism is founded on a settler-colonialist mentality; the mentality that groups of people (Zionists) can push another group of people (Palestinians) out of their land because they deserve to.
It is not difficult to make this distinction, yet this historical context has gotten lost amongst much more attention-grabbing headlines. It is impossible and irresponsible to separate the recent horrors from the context of their history. All of this is to say: be critical of your news. Be critical of your initial reaction to stories and facts. Do your research and look outside Western media (New York Times, Fox News, BBC). These sources can be Arabic publications (a simple Google search can help) and primary source accounts online from people who are directly involved in the crisis. Understand what colonization means, and what decolonization requires. For those not already doing so, step up to have conversations about freedom struggles that might make your heart beat faster, your stomach cramp and your hands sweat; go beyond the Instagram infographics. It is time to step up for our brothers, sisters and siblings – Palestinian, Israeli and others – under siege across the world.