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Pro-Palestine student groups need to condemn Hamas' atrocities

guest column

Over the last week, pro-Palestine groups on college campuses have missed the mark badly. Groups at a variety of schools released statements on the ongoing violence between Hamas and Israel. 

While these statements vary, most hit on a couple key points. Almost all lay the blame for the fighting solely at the feet of Israel and point to the suffering Palestinians have had to endure as the cause of the violence. 

But these arguments are nothing more than a shameful deflection that misses the point. Since Oct. 7, Hamas has:

  • Massacred over 250 young people attending a music festival. 
  • Murdered 112 residents of Be’eri Kibbutz — over 10% of its population.
  • Filmed its execution of an elderly woman in her apartment and uploaded the footage to social media.

This is far from an exhaustive list. In total, Hamas killed over 1,200 people. In the vast majority of cases, these deaths were the result of planned, deliberate massacres by Hamas in towns far away from Israeli military bases. Hamas fighters often rampage door to door looking for victims to kidnap, rape and kill

Who is to blame for the broader conflict is irrelevant. No matter the answer, groups should condemn these atrocities. Even if Israel shoulders all of the blame, and even if armed Palestinian resistance is justified, neither of those things mean that Hamas needs to engage in a campaign of mass murder against civilians who don’t live near any legitimate military targets. No campaign of liberation, no matter how righteous, needs the blood of sick and elderly civilians as fuel. 

But pro-Palestine campus groups have ignored this broader context. Instead, they often list Israel’s supposed sins, making no mention at all of Hamas’ actions. Some even explicitly praise last weekend’s events as an act of justified “resistance.” Of course, none directly defend the atrocities, but the message is still clear. By speaking only about Israel’s wrongdoing, or using the violence as a chance to endorse the general idea of armed resistance, activist groups treat everything that happened, atrocities included, as a justified part of the Palestinian struggle for liberation. A necessary evil Israel brought on itself. But no matter how much these groups pretend otherwise, Hamas killed civilians because it wanted to. These murders served no military purpose. Hamas killed civilians because it thought they deserved to die.  

So even if pro-Palestine campus groups are right about the conflict, it still wouldn’t excuse what happened. And their refusal to condemn even the most grotesque of atrocities shows that they’re not interested in actually building a political movement that can end the conflict. 

And some statements go beyond just “missing the point.” For example, multiple schools’ Students for Justice in Palestine chapters praised Hamas for seizing Israeli “settlements.” The cities attacked by Hamas, however, are within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, borders that even Hamas accepts as permanent parts of Israel. Some of these statements then went on to claim that every resident of a settlement “is a soldier.” The implication is obvious – Hamas didn’t kill civilians because there’s no such thing as an Israeli civilian. Combined with calls to liberate Palestine “from the river to the sea,” by force if necessary, it’s hard not to see these statements as declaring all six million Israeli Jews military targets. 

This should have been easy for campus activist groups. Hamas makes no secret about its desire to carry out a Middle East re-enactment of the Holocaust. Its leaders have repeatedly called the European Holocaust a “lie invented by Zionists.” And it has also called for a renewed Holocaust against Jews. Its founding document states, “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious ... The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews).” One Hamas lawmaker said that “the Holocaust is still to come upon the Jews.” 

Even if these campus groups are correct, for example, that Gaza is an open-air prison and that Israel’s occupation has fueled Hamas’ rise to power, that doesn’t mean that these groups, made up of college students based in the United States, have to voice support for every action Hamas takes. Yes, politics is messy, and advocacy groups often have to work with people they disagree with. But by refusing to ever condemn Hamas’ actions, pro-Palestine groups don’t show solidarity; they show a lack of ability to see nuance or complexity. 

But why does this matter? After all, statements from student groups aren’t usually groundbreaking political events. It matters because the pro-Palestine movement, more than other movements, relies on young people, especially on campuses, to be the bulwark of its activism. Anti-Israel views are concentrated among Americans under the age of 30. And during the recent violence, the main groups to express support for the Palestinian cause have either been campus-based groups or the Democratic Socialists of America — both of which are made up of mostly (or entirely) young people.

So these statements aren’t just wrong — they reveal a deeper truth about why pro-Palestine activists have struggled to change U.S. policy towards Israel. It shouldn’t be hard to condemn a group of Holocaust deniers that films themselves executing civilians. And condemning Hamas’ massacres doesn’t contradict these groups’ position that Israel is an apartheid state perpetuating the conflict. Nor would it preclude them from condemning future Israeli actions. But almost none even mentioned the dead Israeli civilians. As long as pro-Palestine groups on campuses continue to treat civilian massacres as an inevitable part of the fight for liberation, Israelis and most American Jews will continue to view its cause as a fundamental threat to the lives of all six million Jews living in Israel. And until these groups change how they talk about events like this, Jews in both countries will continue to view it as a movement interested in violence, not peace.   

Kraz Greinetz is a third-year J.D. candidate at Duke Law.


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