Statement from Duke Students Supporting Israel: Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism

guest column

No one could have imagined the horrors of the Hamas terrorist attack that began on Saturday, Oct. 7. Israelis near the Gaza border woke up to sirens at 6:30 a.m. — unfortunately an all too familiar sound. But the attack took an unprecedented turn in the horror and trauma that Hamas inflicted on Israelis — Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. Our hearts hurt for the thousands of Israelis and Palestinians whose lives have been taken in this war. After the barbaric murdering, beheading, raping and setting ablaze of innocent people in Israel, Jews could not fathom how life could become more terrifying. 

Yet in the past few weeks, Jewish people have felt the world turn against them. In Russia, an antisemitic mob stormed the tarmac where a flight from Tel Aviv, Israel had just arrived. A Detroit synagogue president was found stabbed to death outside of her home. A swastika was proudly held up at anti-Israel rallies in New York, a state with approximately 1.9 million Jewish people — the second-largest Jewish community after Israel. Perhaps most chilling to students our age are the threats of violence towards Jews on college campuses so severe and real that some resulted in canceled classes. 

As the war unfolds, and with it a slew of global antisemitism, it is natural to seek a deeper historical understanding of this region plagued with unprecedented violence. Summarizing Israel's history in one article is an impossible task, but the following information can serve as a start for providing clarity on the current situation. 

Jewish people and the Land of Israel 

More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people were a civilization in Israel, where their unique culture, language, traditions and religion came to life. Over the centuries, this land was overtaken by several empires and renamed Palaestina by the Romans, who expelled the Jews. However, the Jewish people never left entirely, physically or spiritually. 

Painting Israel as a colonizer or occupier is a demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their homeland. The saying, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a call to claim all land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as Palestine, therefore dismantling the world’s only Jewish state and removing all the Jews from the land. Demanding for a Palestinian state should not mean, as this phrase proposes, denying the right of the State of Israel to exist. Such an extreme demand — one that is hardly extended to any other country in the world deemed a colonized country — is clearly antisemitic and is a threat to the existence of Jewish people. 

The reason Israel is not an apartheid state 

Jewish people make up the majority of Israel’s population, but the country is incredibly diverse, with Muslims, Christians, and Druze all living in the same land. Many of today’s activists and organizations, such as Amnesty International, still claim that Israel employs a system of apartheid against these minorities. This is a falsity perpetuated to fit a social justice-based narrative painting Israel as the oppressor. 

Apartheid is defined as a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. In Israel, there is no physical segregation in public spaces and no requirement of race on ID cards. Two million Arabs live peacefully and successfully in Israel, serving in the Israel Defense Forces, voting in elections and holding positions in the Knesset. Thousands of Palestinians utilize the Erez crossing to work in Israel every day. 

Moreover, Israel notably removed all Israeli soldiers and civilians from Gaza in 2005 — even removing many Jews from their homes in the process — granting full sovereignty to the Palestinian Authority. Unfortunately, the civilians have been governed by Hamas since 2006, when this terrorist group won its seat via a free election. So how can Israel be an apartheid state over a land they do not even politically control?

As such, the accusation of Israel as an apartheid and colonial state is an attempt to delegitimize the existence of the State of Israel. Those who utilize these terms often do so in an attempt to rationalize the actions of Hamas and its goal to wipe Israel and the Jewish people off the map. Israel’s democracy is not perfect — like any other democracy in the world, it faces social and political challenges. In fact, most Israelis themselves are dissatisfied with the government, and many engaged in peaceful demonstrations in defense of democracy for almost 40 weeks straight. But despite this, citizens being dissatisfied with certain democratic policies does not mean that Israel is not a democracy. 

Hamas, the true oppressor 

Hamas — recognized as a terrorist group by the United States, countries of the European Union, Canada, Japan, Israel and others — is founded on genocide ideology and antisemitic beliefs comparable to that of Nazi Germany. The Hamas Charter emphasizes its goal to annihilate Israel. One does not even need to read far into the charter to understand its intentions, as it states in the preamble that, “[Israel] will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.” 

Hamas violently ejected the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza in 2007 and has been the cause of a horrendous humanitarian crisis for Gazans ever since. Despite receiving millions of dollars in humanitarian aid every year, Hamas diverts this aid money and uses it towards terror operations and rockets; it siphons millions of dollars from Gaza aid workers; it stockpiles fuel, medicine, food and more while Gazans suffer; it restricts the rights of women and Christians; it segregates schools based on gender; it incarcerates Palestinians for speaking out against policies of Israel’s destruction and as well as for being gay. The EU itself has had trouble determining if their aid is helping the Gazans or Hamas. This is not new for Hamas, as the New York Times covered the crisis of Hamas stealing aid back in 2009. 

The billionaires of Hamas spend their funds and fuel on rockets and destroying Israel, while innocent Palestinians suffer under Hamas’ control, lacking typically easily accessible resources. It is possible to be sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle while also condemning Hamas for its terrorist behavior.

The Oct. 7 terror attacks 

Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre and the ensuing terror imposed on both Israeli and international civilians is NOT resistance. It is terrorism. Babies have been slaughtered. Over 230 civilian hostages were taken forcefully to Gaza, from infants to the elderly, and many have yet to be returned. Women were raped so violently that blood rushed down their legs, entire families were burned alive with their hands tied behind their backs and Hamas used shovels to behead and dismember extremities. Innocent people, many close in age to us, were murdered while enjoying their time at a music festival that celebrated peace. Innocent lives have been lost both in Israel and Palestine. 

It is Hamas that fires rockets indiscriminately at Israel from just steps away from Gaza's schools, hospitals, mosques and civilian living quarters — using civilians as human shields. The IDF takes many measures to warn civilians before attacks, dropping paper leaflets and “roof-knocking” for civilians to leave. The IDF has even established an escape route from Gaza, yet it is Hamas who has reportedly guarded the route with troops to shoot at people trying to leave. Such measures to protect civilians in enemy territory during a time of war are rare. It is Hamas who broke the ceasefire with their attack on Oct. 7, and who has, numerous times already, violated the ceasefire and hostage deal that went into effect last week.

Since 2001, Palestinian terrorists have conducted at least 2,000 terrorist attacks on Israelis. Thus, Israel uses its military not to subject Palestinians to “indiscriminate warfare” but to protect Israelis from the constant threat of terrorism and extermination that existed long before the Jews achieved self-determination. 

Anti-Zionism IS antisemitism 

Many people make the argument that anti-Zionism exists separately from antisemitism. However, the numbers speak for themselves. In just the first three days after the Oct. 7th massacre, before Israeli retaliation, antisemitic attacks and calls for violence against Jews increased by more than 1,200% worldwide. At rallies, pro-Palestinian activists have called for the destruction of Israel, chanted to “gas the Jews” and proudly displayed Nazi swastikas. Around the world, Jewish people’s homes were marked with the Star of Davids, Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized, Jewish communities’ synagogues were reduced to rubble and a Jewish student’s doorway was set ablaze in their dorm building. These acts of Jew-hatred resemble those seen in Germany in the late 1930s. Just a few weeks ago, Jewish students at Cooper Union in NYC were forced to lock themselves in the library as Palestine activists harassed them, banging on windows and shouting, “Free Palestine.” 

Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism 

Terrorism can never be justified or “contextualized,” and it is dangerous for “resistance” and “terrorism” to be used interchangeably. 

Support for Palestinians does not need to occur at the expense of support for Israel’s ability to exist peacefully and without threat to its civilians. On that note, disagreeing with Israel’s government — and any government for that matter — is not an excuse to support the eradication of an entire people. 

To the thousands of anti-Israel protesters around the United States: Utilizing antisemitic rhetoric, ripping down posters of kidnapped children and assaulting and harassing Jewish students does not help your cause. While Israel supporters condemn Hamas’ terrorism and position as Gaza’s current leadership, we do not wish for the eradication of Palestinians. Rather, we believe strongly in Palestinian self-determination and freedom. However, we will simultaneously work to debunk misinformation that incites — or is itself an expression of — antisemitism. 

Israel, like any other nation, has a right to defend itself against terrorism and rescue their civilian hostages. Hamas clearly states their goal of wiping out Jews and Israelis from the face of the Earth and will do anything to achieve this goal, regardless of the collateral damage to and death of their own. Thus, calls for a ceasefire while Israeli civilians remain in direct danger are calls to allow for the continued massacre of Jewish people because Hamas will not stop killing Jews

Condemning Hamas’ brutal terrorism and hoping for the safe return of hostages — and the destruction of Hamas — deserves its own breath. In a separate — and equally important — breath, we acknowledge and mourn civilian casualties in Gaza. Such atrocities on both ends further emphasize our wish and the emphatic need for everyone — Israelis and Palestinians alike  —  to be free from Hamas.


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