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Israel-Hamas war sparks activism on Grounds

Student groups organize vigils and rallies, University leaders condemn violence in Middle East

<p>University President Jim Ryan sent an email Wednesday morning condemning Hamas’ terrorist attacks.</p>

University President Jim Ryan sent an email Wednesday morning condemning Hamas’ terrorist attacks.

In the days following Hamas' devastating attacks on the Gaza Strip, heightened violence has continued to ravage Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. With an estimated death toll of over 2,000 individuals and a long war on the horizon, University groups have rallied around both sides of the conflict.

Hamas — an Islamist militant group — struck Saturday morning, firing thousands of rockets and entering 22 Israel towns and army bases where they took civilians and soldiers as hostages. Israel responded with reinforcements to the northern border along with airstrikes on Gaza, which hit hospitals, schools, homes and multiple mosques.

Israel formally declared war with Hamas Sunday. The ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict has left thousands dead over decades since the United Nations voted in 1947 to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. 

The emotions of the conflict — fear for friends and family in the region, concern over both side’s stability and heightened political strife — extend into the University community. University President Jim Ryan sent an email Wednesday morning condemning Hamas’ terrorist attacks.

“There can be no justification for, and we must condemn, the actions of Hamas and the horrific violence that has taken place against civilians, including children,” Ryan wrote. “Sadly, the terrible war it has provoked will undoubtedly mean that more innocent lives will be lost. Like so many others, I fervently hope for a swift end to the violence.”

Ryan said teams in International Studies and Global Affairs have reached out to those traveling in the Middle East. Departments across the University are organizing events to educate students on the events and history of the conflict, and the Office of Student Affairs and Counseling and Psychological Services are available for support. 

“I have seen our community rise, with strength and grace, to meet challenges we never would have chosen to face,” Ryan wrote. “This is another one of those challenges, and I have great faith in this community to build bridges, listen generously, and act with compassion as we work toward a more just and peaceful world.”

Student groups have already organized multiple events in response to the conflict and published statements to the wider community. Jewish students led a vigil Tuesday night to support their home country in the wake of violence. Hundreds of attendees gathered in the Amphitheatre carrying candles to listen to speakers who shared personal connections to the attacks and expressed concern for people in Israel.

The Brody Jewish Center, one of the event’s organizers, published a statement Sunday addressing “unprecedented violence.”

“We stand in strong solidarity with Israel as it defends itself against these horrific attacks against its people,” BJC wrote.

Chabad, a Jewish student center, also released a statement sending support to the Jewish community. The message encourages students to light Shabbat candles this week and check in on friends.

Thursday at 5:30 p.m., Students for Justice in Palestine will host a teach-in entitled “Decolonization is not a metaphor” on the Rotunda steps. The student group plans to share details about the event and history leading to the Gaza conflict and how to stand in solidarity with Palestine — and requests that attendees wear black, red and green. 

SJP shared a public statement Sunday that sparked controversy — the post’s comments were later deactivated. The open letter unequivocally supports the Palestine liberation movement and colonized peoples as a whole. 

“In an unprecedented feat for the 21st century, resistance fighters in Gaza broke through the illegitimate border fence, took occupation soldiers hostage, and seized control of several Israeli settlements that are illegal under international law,” SJP wrote. “We reject the assumption that oppressed people cannot take their liberation into their own hands or that outside onlookers know better than the subjects of colonial occupation what is necessary to gain their freedom.”

Gaza and the West Bank represent densely populated Palestinian territories separated by the larger nation of Israel. The 2 million people in Gaza live with airspace, borders and sea under Israeli control. The humanitarian crisis has worsened as negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have been frozen since 2014. 

138 of the United Nations’ 193 members recognize Palestine as a state — the United States does not. Palestine is formally classified by the UN as a non-member observer state. 

Members of the Jewish community pushed back against the SJP’s justification of Hamas violence in an editorial for The Cavalier Daily. The authors emphasized the U.S’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization and the extent of suffering following Saturday’s attacks.

“It is incredibly disturbing to see the actions of a terrorist group praised by students and Contracted Independent Organizations” Jewish Students at U.Va. wrote. “In praising Hamas, you are complicit in its goal of inflicting human suffering worldwide.”

While many U.S. diplomats continue to advocate a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Israel-Hamas war shows no signs of slowing. President Biden has sided with Israel and already sent support to the country. 22 U.S. citizens have been reported dead in the struggle.

University students are developing a fundraiser for American Friends of Magen David Adom — a charity for Israel’s disaster relief, ambulance and blood services. In the meantime, Chabad encourages students to donate through MDM’s main page.

The Muslim Student Association added links to its page for donations to Palestine emergency support and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

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