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‘We are human beings before anything else’: Campus sentiment surrounding war in Gaza

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Editor’s note: To maintain safety, some sources asked to be identified only by their first name or initials.

Death tolls were updated in the second and third versions of this story. 

Amidst ongoing war in their home countries, Israeli and Palestinian students, community members and allies are experiencing deep wells of anger and grievance, built up over generations.

Hamas militants stormed from the blockade Gaza Strip into nearby Israel towns Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 civilians. Israel immediately launched airstrikes on Gaza, killing over 10,000 Palestinian civilians in the following days. The ongoing war has become the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides.

Graduate student S.C., who participated in previous Students for Justice in Palestine events, attended a campus gathering in solidarity with Gaza on Oct. 19.

“For me, it’s a no-brainer to join people who are organizing to come together and chant that Palestinians deserve to live in a free land,” C. said.

It is important, the student said, for people to educate themselves on what’s happening abroad and understand the full context of the conflict.

“We are human beings before anything else. I absolutely believe in humanity. We believe that every single human being on this earth deserves to live a humane life,” C. said. “The evidence is very clear. There is a whole population that is being wiped of their human rights to live a humane life, and we cannot sit in silence and witness it. We just can’t.”

The Hamas attack Oct. 7 fell on Simchat Torah, a Jewish holiday. M., an associate professor at Iowa State said his family is fairly practicing, meaning they do not normally use electronic devices on the holidays.

“We did hear word of things and ended up going online, and it was very scary for us because we have a lot of friends and family in Israel,” M. said.

M. said his first immediate thought upon hearing the news was concern for loved ones in the impacted areas.

“My wife has family. I have a number of friends, including one who happened to be there visiting over the period of the attack, so we were very concerned,” M. said.

M. also said while the Jewish community worldwide is small, it is even smaller in Iowa.

“I do know people who lost family members, and it’s a very personal sort of familial feeling,” M. said.

When calling a cousin in Israel, M. said he could hear rockets firing overhead.

“When the initial shock of the event sort of sunk in, the next big question is ‘What happens next?’ And that’s arguably scarier because the situation is not over,” M. said.

Mahmoud, a graduate student who attended the gathering in solidarity with Gaza, recalled a recent hate crime in a Chicago suburb.

“My wife doesn’t feel safe. I have an eight-month-old, and she can’t go out. I used to go on walks,” Mahmoud said. “So just think about all your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues, your classmates. Is that what you think of Muslims? Is that what you see?”

Mohammed, a senior at Iowa State who came to Iowa from Jordan, said those in Gaza are his brothers and sisters.

“Before the borders were drawn, these [were] people who are basically us. We were one country, Jordan and Palestine,” Mohammed said. “Seeing innocent civilians die, that gets me involved as a human because I can’t, as a human, just see innocent people die.”

Rabbi Leibel Jacobson, the director of Chabad Of Ames and Chabad at Iowa State, the center for Jewish student life, organized a gathering for Jewish people and those in support to come together on campus.

“For Jewish students, the atmosphere has been, from what we know, students are genuinely afraid about what’s going on. They’re scared,” Jacobson said.

In terms of conflict, Jacobson said everyone has their own opinion and he could not answer for others.

“[Attacks] in any world, in any country, shouldn’t exist. The Jewish people will stand together,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said his statements are solely of that of the Torah, the guidelines of Jewish law.

“I will also say this is not coming from me, aside from students being inspired to connect to their Jewish self, Jewish identity,” Jacobson said. “This is a Torah perspective. It’s not my personal perspective.”

Eitan Tuchin, a sophomore in computer science, said his sister, grandparents, aunts and uncles live in the Tel Aviv area. While his family is safe, Tuchin said all Jewish people are connected.

“If some Jews die in Israel, we also feel it here. We also feel their pain, the pain of the relatives of those people,” Tuchin said.

Tuchin said that, while he feels safe on campus, he doesn’t know if it’s the same for other Jewish students, and he was disappointed the university had not released a statement surrounding student safety from violence on campus.

“It’s not about Israel versus Palestine or anything like that. It’s just basic, basic human decency,” Tuchin said.

Mohamed, an Iowa State student from Sudan, said people have to speak about this as humans, “because I haven’t seen a lot about this. Iowa State didn’t even talk about this. I know a lot of people don’t want to, but this is important. This is a world matter.”

After interviews for this story were conducted, the Board of Regents issued a statement of support for Israel on Nov. 1, as previously reported by the Daily.

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  • D

    Diamin Silber | Nov 21, 2023 at 1:30 am

    Why do you call “militants” monstrous terrorists, who murder, behead rape, torture and mutilate men and women, young and old, children and babies, who sleep in their beds on a Jewish holiday or attend a music festival?! How is it possible for the Arabs in the “blockade Gaza Strip” to have a fully equipped and trained terrorist army and many thousands of rockets? Israel “immediately launched airstrikes” to suppress the deluge of rockets being fired at Israeli civilians. How many civilians in Gaza were killed in these strikes is difficult to tell, since the numbers exclusively come from the Hamas health ministry, which is hardly trustworthy and does not even differentiate between civilians and combatants. Even then, the toll cited in the article was reached, according to Hamas, after about of month of fighting and not “in the following days”.

  • .

    .. | Nov 13, 2023 at 3:55 pm

    Two thirds of Israelis killed on October 7 were military personnel. The killers of the remaining one third are definitively revealed to have been in part the Israeli armed forces themselves.
    Israel has also revised the October 7th death count to be 1200 Israelis

    So please fix this point:
    “Hamas militants stormed from the blockade Gaza Strip into nearby Israel towns Oct. 7, killing about 1,400 civilians”

    • D

      Diamin Silber | Nov 21, 2023 at 1:54 am

      Leaving aside the factual inaccuracy of your comment — more than two-thirds of the people murdered on October 7th by Hamas terrorists were, in fact, civilians — your argument make it seem that you condone murder of soldiers and civilians who have served in the military in past, which would be heinous, utterly immoral and deeply shameful.

  • A

    Audrey | Nov 13, 2023 at 10:17 am

    The Palestinian death toll is way over hundreds. It’s over 11,000 days ago while Israel is around 1,200. It’s ridiculous to say they both have the same death rate in the current situation when a simple google search can give you the information. Weird to be spreading misinformation in a university article.

    • S

      Sue | Nov 13, 2023 at 10:39 am

      Please do not forget about the hostages that Hamas is holding. We fear for their lives as well, being held by terrorists. These terrorists have put the innocent people in Gaza at the most cherished of risk, their lives so that they can take the lives of Israelis. We can’t live in peace while Hamas is forcing death to innocent people.

      • .

        . | Nov 13, 2023 at 1:25 pm

        Tell Israel to quit dropping bunker busting bombs the will put Israeli hostages at risk. Netanyahu has denied hostage deals. Responsibility does not just fall on Hamas but you’re right that we need to be concerned for the hostages

        • D

          Diamin Silber | Nov 21, 2023 at 1:42 am

          The responsibility falls exclusively on Hamas terrorists, who have snatched people of all ages — from babies and children to the elderly — from their homes and have murdered hostages in captivity!