Palestinians inspect the damage at Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s office after being destroyed during an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Nov. 17. The damage on both sides has students currently in the U.S. or studying abroad in the area worried.
One second, Daniel Shalem would be talking on the phone with an Israeli friend. The next second, he’d hear the phone drop and then sirens.
Shalem, 21, a senior exchange student at the University of Pennsylvania from Johannesburg, South Africa, who is currently studying at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, said he feels no side is winning and there is no clear solution to the violence.
As of early afternoon on Tuesday, the violence is likely to stop escalating in the foreseeable future, with some reports out of Gaza City saying a truce has been reached, while others speculate that a cease-fire agreement is still developing.
Shalem has been living in Israel for two and a half years and has friends, family and peers in Israel. He describes the current situation there as filled with “terror and bloodshed.”
Despite being thousands of miles away, the violence in Israel is affecting many students in the United States.
“We’ve seen this [violence] before,” University of California – Berkeley professor Keith Feldman said.
Feldman emphasized that the newest spate of violence in Israel parallels Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, in which Israel sent ground troops into Gaza, and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
The similarities to previous violent outbreaks haven’t stopped students from expressing concern.
Omar Kalouti, 20, a University of Pennsylvania junior from Jerusalem, Israel, is worried that if the current violence mirrors the 2008-2009 conflict, the death toll could once again reach into the hundreds of thousands and disproportionately affect Palestinians.
Much of his extended family has been locked in bomb shelters and basements.
“There are 1.7 million people in the Gaza Strip and many people’s lives are being affected,” he said. “The human cost is bound to be very high.”
Last week, in an attempt to address Hamas’ rocket attacks into Israel, the country opened up attack in what they call Operation Pillar of Defense. As the Israeli army sent out aircraft and artillery against what they refer to as “terror targets,” Hamas has launched over 100 rockets into Israel. There have been 102 fatalities in Gaza alone, one third to half of which were civilians, according to the New York Daily News.
If both sides don’t come to a truce, the violence is expected to escalate.
“We shouldn’t blindly sensationalize. We should focus on facts and human rights. People for the most part want peace,” said Tariq Luthun, 21, a University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill senior from Detroit.
Luthun, who is of Palestinian descent, explained that most of his family lives in Gaza. “There are no bomb shelters. Gaza is an ‘open-air prison’ that’s dense and small in size,” he said.
“Just because they live there doesn’t mean they tacitly agree to what’s going on. They don’t have the resources to cope with the way Israel has limited them with blockades [and other war-time tactics],” Luthun added.
Those without immediate ties are also reacting to the war. Andrew Dublin, 19, a University of Rochester sophomore from Whitestone, N.Y., has been “living vicariously” through videos posted online by soldiers on his Birthright Israel trip.
Dublin, who disclosed that he may be biased because he is Jewish, said watching the videos “is surreal.”
“I get the vibe there’ll be a lot more killing. I’m not sure what’ll happen to Israel,” Dublin said.
The attacks are not only inciting fear in American students in the U.S., but students studying abroad in Israel are also affected, running into bomb shelters and then checking the news afterward to find out what happened.
Amidst the violence abroad, students here have been taking action. Akiva Sanders, 20, a University of Pennsylvania junior from West Lafeyette, Ind., and co-president of the Penn chapter of J-Street, a national “pro-Israel and pro-peace” group, has been urging both Penn for Palestine and Hillel to respond respectfully to the violence.
“We’ve encouraged them to advocate with J-Street for a long-term solution and to sympathize with civilians,” Sanders said.
Butheina Hamdah, 22, a first-year master’s student at the University of Toledo from Toledo, Ohio, is outraged at the Palestinian death toll.
Hamdah, who has family in the West Bank, is one of the leaders of her university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which organized a candlelight vigil for Gaza and plans to organize more demonstrations as well as a fundraiser for humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.
“I believe the United States, particularly the Obama administration, has a responsibility to call for an immediate cease-fire rather than to diplomatically and financially support killings and injuries of Palestinian civilians,” Hamdah said in an email.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was headed to the violence-stricken area Tuesday to work with both sides to contain the bloodshed, according to USA TODAY.
“The people we should be listening to aren’t loud enough, while the people on the extreme ends are being heard moreso,” Luthun said. “I wish people with solutions were heard more than people with polar opinions.”
Powered by Facebook Comments