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By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Perspective: My friends, family and home in Israel are under attack

Butchering Israeli civilians does not advance human rights. It’s a crime against humanity.

Editor’s note: This article contains details of violence that readers may find disturbing.

This weekend’s attack on the state and people of Israel marked one of the darkest days in Jewish history — and likely the single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.

Hamas, the Iran-backed terrorist organization that governs the Gaza Strip, has taken more than 150 people hostage and massacred over 1,200 Israelis in nearby towns, attacking people inside their homes, bomb shelters and even at a music festival. With tears in my eyes and my stomach in knots, I pray that the men and women, young and old, wounded and missing, and the loved ones I have in Israel are safe and still alive.

This was no regular attack on Israel. On Saturday, Hamas began a full-scale surprise offensive on Israel that was several weeks in the making. As rockets rained on southern Israeli communities, Hamas terrorists infiltrated the country by land, sea and air. Hezbollah, a Lebanese-backed terrorist group that is far better armed than Hamas, has joined the effort from Israel’s northern border, engaging in artillery exchanges and firing rockets into Israel.

These rocket attacks have ravaged cities across the country where I have family and friends, my father’s birthplace, Bat Yam, and even the holy city of Jerusalem. Between the Israeli military’s instructions to stock up on food and some cities’ orders for residents to lock themselves in their homes, Israel is in a dire state of emergency.

My aunt Berta, who lives in Hadera, sent me a voice message on Sunday evening, describing the scenes of brutality: “You don’t understand,” she said on the verge of tears. “We have God’s horror here.”

While I’ve received support and solidarity at on- and off-campus events and from GW’s Jewish community, groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, supported by Jewish Voice for Peace, are spreading inflammatory anti-Israel misinformation and cheering for the obliteration of the Jewish homeland.

The national SJP’s “Day of Resistance Toolkit” frames Israel — not Hamas — as being entirely responsible for the massacre of hundreds of people. This misinformation isn’t by accident: An SJP presentation about the organization’s tabling strategy instructs members to put “framework” over “facts,” relying on narratives about Israel instead of objective reality.

GW’s own SJP chapter doesn’t distinguish between “civilian” and “militant” or “settler” and “soldier,” according to a statement. The group also “maintains unwavering support for our people’s resistance, in all its forms.” Does that support include killing and — as some reports claim — beheading babies, trampling and dancing on top of dead bodies, capturing the elderly and a Holocaust survivor from their homes and holding hostages in Gaza? Surely, this is what chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “intifada, intifada” entail.

That some of my peers are celebrating this brutal attack on the Jewish homeland and its people — on me and my family — is abhorrent and sickening. Hamas’ tactics and ideologies are no different than those of extremist groups like ISIS or al-Qaida. This was Israel’s 9/11. In what other context would celebrating such evil be acceptable?

Not unlike the Nazis’ “final solution,” Hamas’ charter and its leaders speak of exterminating Jews — an anti-Israel demonstrator in New York City held up a screenshot of a swastika on his phone, and a crowd in Sydney, Australia, yelled “Gas the Jews.” It has never been as clear that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid tweeted, “You can support Palestinian rights without supporting a terrorist group.” There is no better way to support Palestinian freedom than to oppose Hamas, which harms Palestinians as much as it does Israelis. Hamas has corrupted the Gaza Strip for self-enrichment, embezzling international aid. It deprives its own people of basic needs, uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, and grooms children into martyrs and child soldiers. There is no moral equivalence between Hamas, which targets innocent civilians, and the Israel Defense Forces, which targets terrorists.

I fully support the Palestinian people’s right to a better life and self-determination — and their right to be free from Hamas and coexist peacefully alongside their Israeli neighbors. However, I refuse to be silent when a place I call home is under attack like never before.

Student organizations that deny Israel’s right to exist while purporting to champion Palestinian rights represent a fringe viewpoint that only backs genocide and Hamas’ reign of terror. They don’t deserve your support, nor do they represent the University’s values.

Members of GW’s Jewish community are appalled, devastated, petrified and outraged — and the GW community must listen. If you’d watch the videos Hamas is uploading to social media and those I have received from Israelis over the past few days, you could begin to grasp the torment and sheer horror of the situation. Following in the footsteps of University President Ellen Granberg’s statement on Wednesday, other officials, faculty and student organizations must unequivocally condemn Hamas’ actions as terrorism. And as President Joe Biden said Tuesday, we must champion the fact that, “Like every nation in the world, Israel has the right to respond — indeed has a duty to respond — to these vicious attacks.”

As this tragedy continues to unfold, the University must ensure Jewish students feel safe and secure on campus, especially after a former Hamas chief called for protests against Israel across the world on Friday. We must also focus on how we treat one another, whether that means professors checking in on their Jewish students or non-Jewish students supporting their Jewish peers and faculty. Officials have published a list of counseling and psychological services, academic assistance and other support for students who need it.

Remember that those walking past you in Kogan Plaza or sitting in your classes may be receiving calls with the news that their friends or family members have been called up as IDF reservists — or that they may never see them again.

This is my situation. Agree with me or not, I am above all a human being. I ask you to feel my pain and listen to my outrage. Jewish students who feel connected to their ancestral homeland or have ties to Israel are asking the same. Butchering Israeli civilians — be they Jews, Arabs, Christians, Druze or Bedouins — does not advance human rights. It’s a crime against humanity.

Fellow Jews, Israelis and Zionists: remember the words of the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin: We are “not Jew[s] with trembling knees.”

Keep your heads high. If there was ever a time to be proud, it is now.

Sabrina Soffer, a junior majoring in philosophy with a public affairs focus and Judaic studies, is an opinions writer.

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