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U. community reacts to another week of Israel-Hamas war

After another week of war in the Middle East, Rutgers community members reflect on the growing crisis in Israel and Palestine.   – Photo by Evan Leong

After another week of the Israel-Hamas war, several University community members shared their reactions to the ongoing conflict in the region.

Since October 7, more than 4,600 Gazans and 1,400 Israelis have died, and further deaths are still expected, according to an article released Sunday by the Associated Press.

On Tuesday evening last week, the Rutgers Muslim Public Relations Council held a vigil in front of Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus to mourn the lives lost in Gaza.

Various community members, including University President Jonathon Holloway, attended the vigil, which included prayers and messages of solidarity.

"As things continue to escalate in Palestine, we wanted to take a moment to grieve and remember those we have lost due to this fight," the council wrote on Instagram.

Later in the week, Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers—New Brunswick held a gathering on Wednesday and Friday in front of Brower Commons.

Those gathered shared their frustration with Holloway's October 11 University-wide email and expressed their support and solidarity for Palestine.

Michal Raucher, an associate professor in the Department of Jewish Studies, who is teaching a course this Fall 2023 semester titled "Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," said this current outbreak of fighting is unique in the history of the conflict due to its greater size.

"Hamas also fired missiles farther into Israel than it has in the past (and) Israel's military response is also of a larger scale than we've seen in previous wars," she said. "Israel and Hamas have fought several wars, and this one is of a much larger scale."

Raucher said media coverage and social media have been important during this conflict. While media outlets are trying to provide accurate information, there are still inconsistencies, and different media outlets will cover different perspectives of the conflict, she said.

"I advise my students to read about events from multiple news sources that speak to different audiences," she said. "This way, you can get closer to understanding the various perspectives and nuances of an event."

Noura Erakat, an associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies and the program in Criminal Justice, said there is a present bias in media coverage regarding Israelis versus Palestinians.

"We have to work really vigilantly and robustly to avoid the screaming in the media," she said. "All the headlines (are) 'Israel Gaza conflict,' 'Israel, Hamas.' Those are all misleading. This is a war on Palestinians."

Erakat said that after decades of conflict, media outlets should have a better knowledge of how to cover this issue and are not fulfilling their duty to research.

"The media has unfortunately been part and parcel of the problem, very much a war machine where we see a lack of journalistic integrity," she said.

Erakat said the U.S. is also to blame for the issues facing Palestinians as it has supported Israel through this conflict, even though Israel has turned off the electricity and restricted access to food and water in Gaza.

She said the response to Hamas' actions versus those of Israel has been extremely different. There was an initial swift condemnation of killing civilians, but after days of Israeli attacks on Palestine, messages from the U.S. continued to support Israel's efforts. 

"So much shock in those 12 hours, the entire world stood up and said, 'Attacking civilians is terroristic and barbarian.' Fourteen days and counting of (Israel) targeting civilians who are trapped, who are being denied the means and the conditions for survival. Yet the message that we're hearing is, 'Continue,'" Erakat said.

Lisa Harris Glass, the chief executive officer of Rutgers Hillel, said that the war was the greatest loss of life for Jews since the Yom Kippur War and the Holocaust.

"We've seen the videos of the murder and abuse and the abduction of men and women and teenagers and the elderly and children and babies," she said. "Those are not acts of war. Those are vile acts of terrorism."

Raucher said the war's lasting impacts will be devastating in terms of loss of life and trauma for Israelis and Palestinians who have witnessed the deaths of family members.

She said thousands of Palestinians have died, and more losses will occur. Families have been wiped out, and many are not able to receive medical care, she said.

"Gazans are being evacuated from their homes, which is a re-traumatization of the Nakba when Palestinians were exiled from their homes in 1948," Raucher said. "The loss of life and the trauma of war is going to affect Gazans and other Palestinians for generations."

Raucher said the lasting impact on Israelis is real, and many Israelis will also be traumatized for generations. Several people lost families, and several have described the attack as the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.

"Any sense of security that Israelis had (and some Jews in the diaspora by extension) will be shattered," she said.

The Israeli government will want to re-establish itself as a strong military presence in the Middle East through this war, as it significantly lost its credibility due to the October 7 attack, Raucher said.

Chaim Waxman, a professor emeritus in the Department of Jewish Studies and the Department of Sociology, said that following the war, Benjamin Netanyahu's government will face and be unable to overcome intense criticisms from segments of the Israeli electorate.

He said that before the conflict, the Israeli population was seriously divided on several issues, especially on religion and judicial reform, but those have been temporarily put aside, and there has been a united movement to protect Israel.

"Religious and secular Israelis have united in a very wide variety of activities," Waxman said. "The drive for judicial reform has been set aside and, in all probability, will not be revived in its previous form."

He said that the Israel-Palestine conflict is one that has existed for a long time and will continue in the future. The current war will increase the lack of compromise between Israeli and Palestinian forces, he said.

Glass said she feels that people have reacted differently to this war than toward other armed conflicts like the invasion of Ukraine.

"When Russia invaded Ukraine, ... all over Facebook, everybody changed their profile picture and had a flag of Ukraine because the world was outraged by the invasion of a sovereign nation without provocation," she said. "Where is the world when innocent civilians are being slaughtered in Israel?"

Glass said it is meaningful that the Jewish community feels the support of not just their own community but of a much broader one.

Raucher said she noticed that Rutgers students are scared, angry and uncertain when it comes to the future and worried about friends and family in the region and about their own safety at Rutgers.

Regarding the open letter to Holloway, Erakat said the professors who signed the letter prioritized addressing Holloway's lack of care for the Palestinian and Arab students on campus, whom he did not recognize in his original statement.

She said his language was inflammatory and racist, and he did not acknowledge students who were grieving and at risk.

Some students have found resources and community at the University for support, but it is also vital that the University supports all students and addresses their needs, Raucher said.

There is a new interest in the conflict and a willingness to learn more and ask questions, which is a sign of a healthy democracy, she said. Students want to know about the conflict and its impacts on the future.

"They are focused on the human cost of this violence, and they want to help alleviate suffering," Raucher said. "Rutgers students know there are no easy answers, and they want to be among those who are helping to find those answers."

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