Students process conflict in Gaza, Israel
Meghan Lange | Friday, November 3, 2023
The conflict brewing between Israel and Palestine is more than 6,000 miles away, and yet it still hits close to home for many Notre Dame students.
Atara Greenbaum, a senior who is a co-president of the Notre Dame Jewish Club, said her two younger brothers are currently studying in Israel and are planning on staying there despite the risk.
“I think it’s important that they’re staying there … It’s important that they don’t let the conflict scare them away,” she said.
The Oct. 7 Attack
Greenbaum described what it was like trying to reach her brothers after the attack on Oct. 7.
“I was honestly really scared,” Greenbaum said. “It’s a scary feeling texting your brothers, ‘Are you alive? Are you ok?’ … You just don’t know what’s happening.”
She said that Saturday was a Jewish holiday and was supposed to be the happiest day of the year.
“These attacks happened, and it really just destroyed the holiday … everybody was frantically calling their family there just to make sure that they’re alive,” Greenbaum said.
According to the Economist, more jews were killed on Oct. 7 than on any day since the Holocaust. Greenbaum said hearing that statistic got to her.
“I have family that survived the Holocaust,” Greenbaum said. “I have family that were killed in the Holocaust and just hearing their stories and going through Jewish school my who life, very intense Holocaust education, thinking that this can never happen again. And hearing that that many Jews were killed in a single day is just really despicable, honestly.”
Notre Dame graduate student Seham Kafafi, who is a board member for the Student Voices for Palestine club at Notre Dame, had a similar reaction to hearing about the attack on Oct. 7.
“I was devastated and mortified. The loss of life is always a tragedy and it’s always heartbreaking,” Kafafi said.
Kafafi is worried about what will happen next, she added.
“As a Middle Eastern person, I know what something like this can lead to. It’s not going to be an isolated incident,” Kafafi said. “There’s going to be some kind of follow up.”
She is heartbroken and scared because of the initial attack, Kafafi explained.
“Not only was I heartbroken for what happened on Oct. 7 and the loss of, I think, 1400 Israeli civilians and the kidnapping of over 200 hostages, I was also terrified for what’s going to happen next, specifically for the Palestinian people,” she said. “Not necessarily for Hamas, but I was scared of what the consequences were going to be for Palestinians specifically.”
The Difference between Hamas and Palestinians
Both Greenbaum and Kafafi made a point to decipher the differences between Hamas and Palestinians.
“I do see a difference between Hamas and the Palestinians,” Greenbaum said. “Hamas is a terrorist organization, and they are governing Gaza right now. There are innocent Palestinians that live there, but Hamas is the one that’s terrorizing them as well.”
Greenbaum said it’s sad to see Hamas use Palestinians as human shields.
“Israel told a lot of Palestinians to evacuate and to go south,” she said. “And Hamas told them that they have to stay in their homes. I mean, that’s clearly not caring about your people … They’re using them as human shields, and it’s really sad to see.”
Kafafi also sees a distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people and said she felt that Palestinians are the true victims of “this entire occupation.”
“I think in the American psyche … this was an ‘unprecedented attack’ as they like to say in the media, but really, we do need to look at the context, not as a justification, but to learn our lesson as to what led up to this event,” Kafafi said. “And so, from this lesson, we can ensure that this doesn’t happen to another group ever again. The mass killings of innocent people is a crime against humanity.”
Kafafi went on to explain that she believes there is a bias in the American media.
“Mass atrocities have been conducted by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people before. In 2014 over 2,000 innocent Palestinian civilians died and were killed by airstrikes. But there was no coverage of that, there was no panel, there was no mourning, there was no vigil on campus, nothing like that,” Kafafi said. “And I do believe that, because we are seeing the atrocity now happen on the Israeli side, that now people are starting to wake up and realize, and ask themselves, ‘How could something so horrific happen?’ But something like this already has happened to a different group of people, but we just weren’t paying attention.”
Greenbaum added that is concerned for the future of the Jewish people given the lack of belief many people seem to have in the atrocities actually happening to innocent Israelis.
“When the Holocaust was happening, we did not have nearly this technology, this media and still there are many people that deny it,” Greenbaum said. “I think it’s just purely antisemitic, that all of these things are videoed, recorded. I mean, these terrorists, not only did they do such horrible things to these people, they got it on video … The fact that there’s such pure evidence and people are still denying it, I think is really scary and dangerous for the future of the Jewish people. I think it really comes from an antisemitic place, unfortunately.”
Greenbaum said the conflict has led to so much antisemitism both around the world and in the United States as well, including many attacks. The worst in her opinion have been on college campuses.
“I honestly feel so grateful to be at Notre Dame where the campus community is so respectful of every religion. I mean on college campuses around the country, there are many Jews who are scared to show any identifier that they’re Jewish, whether they’re taking off their Star of David necklaces or their yarmulkes because they’re so scared to even identify as Jewish. I’m honestly so grateful that I don’t feel that way at Notre Dame,” Greenbaum said. “I’ve felt really safe here.”
Kafafi has had a different experience when dealing with the conflict on Notre Dame’s campus. Kafafi said that after attending the Oct. 12 panel on the conflict, she was exiting the Hesburgh Center wearing her Palestinian Keffiyeh, a scarf usually worn in support of the Palestinian people, when someone walked by her and spit on her feet and continued walking.
According to Kafafi, Notre Dame needs to be mindful that the feeling of fear is very real for students like herself.
“If you have grievances or you disagree about political beliefs, there are alternatives for resolving those disagreements that do not involve harassing other students,” she said. “I think the University administration right now has a responsibility to speak against any kind of discrimination and to take extra care for both the mental health and well-being of both Arabs and Jewish people on campus right now, to ensure their safety and to take this seriously.”
Media Coverage and Misinformation
When discussing the media coverage of the conflict, Kafafi said she disagreed with a common term used for Gaza, “the world’s largest open-air prison,” because the term “prison” implies that the people within are guilty.
“They are not guilty of anything … the international community wants to say that they are guilty of residing in their own land, or that they are guilty of existing, they are guilty of being,” Kafafi said. “I think it would not be incorrect to say that this is actually like an open-air concentration camp, especially now.”
Kafafi made it clear she did not support the attack on Oct. 7 in any ways.
“I don’t want to in any way support what has happened on Oct 7,” she said. “But I can’t imagine living under those conditions myself. And what I would do if I wanted to break out of those conditions … where the Israeli government has control over their food, water and electricity.”
According to Kafafi, it seems as if the international community wants Palestine to prove themselves as innocent people and worthy of human rights.
“But that’s not how this works,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to ask for human rights. You shouldn’t have to beg for human rights.”
Kafafi also described a preconceived notion amongst Americans about Arabs being inherently violent.
“The U.S. is so accustomed to violence persisting across the Middle East,“ Kafafi said. “We’ve become so used to it and comfortable with it that we [Americans] don’t know differently in the region. It leads to the dehumanization of Arabs. My hope for now and moving forward is that we humanize Arabs once again, we start expecting peace in the region, we start expecting human rights.”
Greenbaum said it’s really hard to see misinformation being spread because nobody wants civilians to die on either side.
“There was a story about a missile hitting a hospital in Gaza and within 10 minutes, countless media sources were saying that an Israeli rocket targeted a hospital and killed hundreds of people,” Greenbaum said. “But in reality the missile had come from the Islamic Jihad and it hit the hospital parking lot and killed 15 … then it took … news outlets a week to apologize if they even did … many still have not rectified their mistake.”
Greenbaum later discussed the coverage of the various attacks against the Israeli people by Hamas militants.
“Israel completely withdrew in 2006 from Gaza. There’s not a single Jew. There’s no Israeli military presence in Gaza. It’s completely self-governed [by Hamas] … and seeing how horribly Hamas, this terror organization, has treated these Israelis, it’s not about land, it’s purely about killing Jews and killing as many Jews as they can,” Greenbaum said. “It’s not like they attacked a military base. They went into a music festival for peace, and they killed as many people as they could. Most of these people were our age. It wasn’t even this crazy rally. They wanted peace.”
The brutality of the conflict has been very difficult to process, Greenbaum added.
“It’s just horrible to see not only did they kill all these people, but they’ve been torturing, raping, really just mutilating these bodies and it’s really hard … to see these acts of terror,” she said.