Israel-Palestine violence ups campus tension

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Editor’s Note: All statistics of casualties and injuries are current up to the time the article was written on Oct. 18, 2023.

On Oct. 7, 2023 at 6:30 a.m., Hamas, a militant group and a U.S.-designated terrorist organization fired an estimated 2,200 rockets toward southern and central Israel. They also fired guns into a music festival, kidnapped and held Israeli citizens hostage (including the elderly and children) and went from house to house killing families. The attack happened on Simchat Torah, a Jewish celebration to mark the completion of the annual reading of the Torah. In total, the attack killed more than 1,400 Israelis. 

Later that day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released his first public statement, saying “Israel is at war.” 

Israel retaliated with a bombardment by warplanes. The Israeli government has also halted electricity, food, water and fuel to Gaza until Hamas releases Israeli hostages — a move that has been criticized by the United Nations (U.N.) and European Union (E.U.), as it places the population of Gaza at the “inescapable risk of starvation.” Israel’s military told approximately one million people in northern Gaza to evacuate to the southern part of Gaza in light of an expected ground action. Israeli airstrikes continued on the main road out of Gaza City as many fled. Hamas told Palestinians to ignore the evacuation order, leaving them in a situation with no safe area. 

In a press release, a U.N. human rights expert warned that Palestinians are in “grave danger of mass ethnic cleansing” and sources such as the Human Rights Watch have designated the Gaza Strip as an “open-air prison.” Israeli retaliation for the Oct. 7 attacks has killed more than 3,300 Palestinians according to the Gaza Health Ministry, as of Oct. 18.

While the timeline of the conflict is deeply complex and debated, historians often point to the political conflict being traced back to 1917 with the Balfour Declaration. This declaration included a statement of Imperial British support for the creation of a national home for Jewish people in what was then known as Ottoman-controlled Palestine. This was especially pertinent since the years between 1899 to 1939 represented what is commonly accepted as a high point in antisemitism in Western societies. Examples of this include the proliferation of scapegoating, damaging stereotypes, political and economic exclusion, events such as “The Dreyfus Affair,” acts of violence and the Holocaust.

 Britain’s political purpose for issuing the Balfour Declaration was to court Jewish support for the Allied Powers in the First World War. However, the British had also promised to support Arab efforts for independence in lands ruled by the Ottoman Turks, presumably including Palestine, to win their support. 

After the First World War, the British were granted a mandate for Palestine in 1920. In 1947, the U.N. passed Resolution 181 which aimed to divide the British mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. 

The creation of the State of Israel sparked the Arab-Israeli War in 1948. Israel’s victory in the Arab-Israeli War saw the territory divided into three parts — the State of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — with the West Bank and Gaza being Palestinian territories. This move displaced 750,000 Palestinians and killed 15,000 Palestinians and is known as the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe.”  Following this, there was an increase in the percentage of the Jewish population from 32% to 82% in the Israel-Palestine region between
the years of 1947 and 1948. 

Another key factor in escalating tensions was the Yom Kippur War, also known as the Ramadan War, which saw Egypt and Syria attacking Israel on two fronts. 

The attack occurred on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and during Ramadan, the holiest
month in the Islamic calendar.

The issue of Palestinian self-determination and governance still remained, even after problems between Israel and neighboring countries were resolved. In 1987, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians participated in spontaneous demonstrations, nonviolent protests and attacks. This was the First Intifada, meaning “uprising” in Arabic, and saw more than 1,000 Palestinian and 50 Israeli fatalities.

The peace process began in 1991 and ended in 1993 with the Oslo I Accords, which saw both sides agree to a five-year peace process and phases of a plan to deal with final status issues. 

The Oslo I Accords were further expanded in 1995 with the Oslo II Accords that mandated Israel’s complete withdrawal from six cities and 450 towns in the West Bank.

The Second Intifada occurred between 2000 and 2005. It was sparked by widespread Palestinian sentiment that the expectations of the Oslo Accords were unmet and both sides beginning preparations for confrontation. 

In response to suicide bombings and other attacks from Palestine during the Intifada in 2002, the Israeli government constructed a barrier wall around the West Bank — a move that received opposition from both the International Court of Justice. The conflict ended in late 2005 with a truce between Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. 

However, the complex network of walls, fences and closed military roads that partition the land still remained.

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections against Fatah, the longtime majority party, giving it political control of the Gaza Strip while Fatah maintained the West Bank. 

The United States and the E.U. refused to acknowledge Hamas’ electoral victory as it has been classified as a terrorist organization by Western governments since the late 1990s.

In the summer of 2014, rising tensions between both sides led to a military confrontation between the Israeli military and Hamas. The conflict ended in August 2014 with a ceasefire, but not before claiming 73 Israeli and 2,251 Palestinian lives. 

Another wave of violence in 2015 precipitated Abbas to announce that Palestinians would no longer be bound by the territorial divisions laid out in the Oslo Accords. Further, in March and May of 2018, Palestinians protested weekly at the border of the Gaza Strip which would culminate in violence on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba.  

In 2018, the Trump Administration set the crisis as a foreign policy priority. 

They retracted aid to Palestinian refugees and relocated the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The U.S. officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that broke decades of official U.S. foreign policy stances.

In 2020, an Israeli court ruled that several Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem that both sides consider as their own, would be evicted. 

In 2021, Palestinians took to the streets to demonstrate against the pending evictions, and after the protests expanded, the Israeli police deployed force against demonstrators and worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, during Ramadan. 

Several consecutive days of violence followed throughout Jerusalem. Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups launched hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory. Israel responded with artillery bombardments and airstrikes against Hamas and militant groups, but would expand the aerial strike to include non-military infrastructure. 

On May 21, 2021, after almost 11 days of fighting, Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire after more than 250 Palestinians and at least 13 Israelis were killed. 

Since 2022, violence has been heightened with nearly daily attacks by both sides and approval of new Israeli settlement homes which, according to Amnesty International, violate international law. Mirroring U.S. sentiment in 2018, President Joe Biden has made a strong statement of support of Israel following the Oct. 7 attacks, stating “We stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the Government and people of Israel,” and announced that the U.S. would send shipments of arms to Israel.

Jewish, Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian communities across the world are grieving the lives lost in the recent atrocities.

Student response on campus has been divided in light of recent events. Chabad Jewish Student Group, Hillel at Georgia Tech and Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) hosted a “Solidarity with Israel” event on Oct. 11 at the Campanile. 

President Ángel Cabrera spoke at the event, saying, “We’re all at a loss of words, facing these absolutely unspeakable acts of violence that are not justified for any reason. Nothing justified what we saw last weekend.”

Talia Segal, fourth-year BME and president of Hillel at Georgia Tech, voiced a similar sentiment. 

“This is personal to us. And, for Jewish students to see the most number of Jewish people killed in a singular day since the Holocaust is shocking and painful,” Segal said.

In terms of the response on campus, Segal said, “I can speak on… the side of Jewish students. I’m incredibly proud of our community and the way we’ve been able to come together and support one another … on the other side, it’s been hurtful and scary, really, to see registered student organizations on campus glorifying what Hamas did, glorifying terrorism.” 

However, the most visual event held by other student organizations on campus focused primarily on standing in solidarity with those who have lost their lives. 

The Young Democratic Socialists of America, the Saudi Student Association, the Georgia Tech Muslim Students Association (MSA), the Arab Student Organization and the Asian American Student Association held a “Solidarity with Palestine” event on Oct. 13. 

Renee Alnoubani, third-year CE and president of MSA, spoke to the Technique about the motivation behind the event. 

“Obviously, Jewish people are also mourning the lives of people they’ve lost, but our immediate reaction was that there’s a disproportionate amount of Palestinian lives being lost, and we definitely have to have a vigil for our community as well because of how deeply affected we have been,” said Alnoubani. 

Alnoubani added that MSA also reached out to Cabrera and the Institute administration to invite him to speak at the event. However, in emails exchanged between MSA and administration, Alnoubani was informed that Cabrera would be off-campus at the time of the vigil but did not receive a response in time to work to accommodate him. 

“The President’s negligence to support us or make time for us or go out of his way to reach out to us … is sending a very clear sign to our community,” Alnoubani said.

MSA has reached out to the administration to schedule another vigil in the coming week with Cabrera, but at the time this article was written, there had been no response.

Throughout it all, tensions on campus remain heightened. 

A Muslim student, who has wished to remain anonymous for their safety, has come forward with a report of an assault they faced while attending the “Solidarity with Israel” event.

In an official statement the student provided to the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) about the incident, they explained that they were observing the event among the crowd and felt three to four third-party security guards watching them. 

After President Cabrera’s speech concluded, the student went into the John Lewis Student Center, but after realizing one of their friends was missing, they went to find him.

According to the student’s statement, when the student was separated, a guard approached them and asked them what their name was and what they were doing. 

The student gave a fake name and told the guard they were there to watch. 

When the guard tried to take a photo of the student and the student refused, the guard’s coworker put the student in a headlock and pinned their arm. 

From there, the guard took the student to a quiet corner where he proceeded to threaten the student, illegally search their belongings and hit their phone out of their hand when they tried to take a photo, cracking the camera lens.

In the student’s statement, they explained that the guard took pictures of the student’s ID, their BuzzCard and
their phone wallpaper. 

The student alleges that the guard then proceeded to ask the them questions such as who they are associated with, whether the student is in a gang, where the student is from and other similarly motivated questions.  

The student’s statement expanded that the guard further prompted the student for the names and phone numbers of their friends, claiming they were suspicious and that they had been texting in Arabic (a claim the student denied). A GTPD officer arrived in the last moments of the interrogation, and when the student explained what happened, the officer disregarded their concerns.

The student explained the impact the event had on them.

“I was born and raised in America and you’re always taught [that] we got independence in this country, and you know every man is created equally … and I truly believe [the guard] would at least show me some type of respect and dignity or at least understand or advocate for my rights. And then when I saw [the officer] there, I kind of felt at ease a little bit. And then when he disregarded everything, I just couldn’t describe [the feeling]. It was so surreal … my world views were shaken,”the student said. 

Since the event, the student reports that GTPD has taken steps to remedy the situation including barring the third-party security group from campus. It remains unclear who invited the group onto campus. 

In a formal statement provided to the Technique about the student’s alleged assault, the Institute said, “The safety and security of our campus community is of utmost importance.  We take all reported incidents of assault seriously. The Georgia Tech Police Department is investigating the reported assault of a student that occurred during a mid-week prayer vigil on campus last week. Support is being provided to the student via the Dean of Students Office.” 

However, tensions on campus are not limited to one side of the conflict.

On Oct. 15, Reddit user u/JonJonTheFox posted a photo of the vandalized AEPi house, with “FREE PALESTINE” painted in shaving cream below AEPi’s flag showing support for Israel. In the first ten hours since the post went up, it accrued more than 200 comments from students and alumni on both sides of the issue.

In a statement released by AEPi, the fraternity states that “we are profoundly disheartened to see that a conflict has allowed antisemitism to gain a foothold on campus. With our fellow Jews under attack in Israel, we feel that it is important to visibly display our support for the Israeli people as Jewish leaders at Georgia Tech.” 

When asked how students could be more aware of the situation, Segal highlights the need to get information
from both sources. 

“If you’re going to read Al Jazeera, go read the Times of Israel as well … each headline has its own sort of bias in it,” Segal said.

Alnoubani echoed a similar sentiment on the importance of recognizing bias in the news.

“Because the media is extremely biased and one-sided, I would say [students] should follow some Palestinian accounts on Instagram that are Palestinians themselves on the ground …  some Instagrams are like @eyeonpalestine, @mohammedelkurd and many more,” said Alnoubani.

For support for students who have been affected by the conflict, students can view the Vice President of Student Engagement and Well-Being’s letter with resources for students in the links in the biography section of the Georgia Tech Student Government Association’s Instagram that can be found at @gtsga.