By Arlenis Marmolejos
Students and faculty gathered at the candlelight vigil for Israel on Oct. 10 outside the library.
(Photo by Arlenis Marmolejos)
As the Israel-Hamas War unfolds, Purchase grapples with its pressing impact and sparks dialogues at Hillel-organized events.
Seventy-five years worth of violence, religious, and political feuds have once again led to conflict between Israel and Palestine. On Oct. 7, a terrorist group known as Hamas, which governs the Palestinian Gaza Strip, launched a surprise attack on Israel. In retaliation, the Israeli government declared war against Hamas. The Israeli-Palestine conflicts have developed from gaining limited success in peacefully negotiating complex disputes over territory, borders, and political sovereignty rooted in various religious and historical factors.
“If you’re making excuses for these monsters, then you're part of the problem!” said Esti Heller, a senior creative writing major and the president of Hillel at Purchase, a Jewish nonprofit organization, that organized a candlelight vigil for Israel on the evening of Oct. 10.
Heller voiced how Hamas are a group of “terrorists, the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth, who have targeted hundreds of civilians, innocents, and babies,” to a crowd of about 40 students and a few faculty and administrators. “We will not be okay until everyone has been rescued in Gaza and we will continue to not be okay, until we know you are standing with us against anti-Semitism.”
On Oct. 9, the Chief of New York State University Police (UPD), Dayton Tucker, updated the campus community in an email about its security measures in battling anti-Semitism and reinforcing the UPD’s support for mourning lives that have been lost in after the war was declared.
The Purchase College President, Dr. Milagros Peña, denounced Hamas’ “heinous attacks” towards the civilians of Israel in a mass email sent last Tuesday. Moreover, Peña recognized the horror and harm many Palestinians may be enduring especially, “the residents of Gaza, who have already been living with generational trauma and diminished quality of life.”
(Photo via @nytimes on Instagram)
While this gathering aimed to express solidarity and support for Israel, it also sparked significant debate when sophomore acting major, Edison Diaz, questioned the lack of mention of the “far more” innocent Palestinian lives that Israel’s government have taken over many years.
Before shortly leaving the vigil, Diaz shouted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Rachel Klein, the executive director of Hillels of Westchester, acknowledged Diaz’s pain and presence at the vigil but invited him to have a conversation on a separate occasion.
Diaz realized how he may have been perceived as “crazy” for speaking out at the vigil, “when in reality, the people who were speaking are in support of a disgusting fucking genocide where 1.1 million Palestinians are being murdered with white phosphorus munitions while forced to evacuate an open-air prison,” he said.
The war is the most recent interaction between Israel and Palestine that has led Palestinians supporters to say they are being ethnically cleansed.
“[Atrocious] acts such as forced displacement and ethnic cleansing, for example, may be parts of policies intended to physically expel an ethnic or national group from a perpetrator’s territory, but not to destroy the group ‘as such,’” states "The Hill."
"The Hill” continues that the attacks in both Israel and Palestine have been described as a genocide as well.
“The Israeli government’s increasingly brutal military response to the attacks have generated similar accusations, often from unsurprising sources. On Oct. 10, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations described Israel’s bombardment of Gaza 'nothing less than genocidal.'"
After the vigil, Heller invited all students to discuss recent anti-Semitism on campus in collaboration with the Political Science Club at the Multicultural Center.
Max Mili, a junior pursuing sound production, attended the talk and shared how he has witnessed “anti-Jewish slander being posted, promoted, and at the very least accepted” on Yik Yak, a social media app that allows college students to post anonymous messages and discussions.
When asked about Yik Yak, Diaz noted that he has observed pro-Palestine posts on the app since people are hesitant to express their views openly. He added that advocating for liberation of oppressed people can now be mischaracterized as being an “anti-Semite.”
“Zionists like to hold up anti-Semitism as a shield against the truth,” Diaz said. “Nobody can deny Jewish oppression or their right to self-determination. The issue is for the colonial state to exist, it requires the ethnic cleanse and disposition of Palestinian people’s land and lives, while trying to get away with it by using religious and political propaganda bullshit.”
Some students have expressed concern for their safety in light of these recent conversations.
In an Instagram post that The Phoenix was tagged in, the author described feeling "unsecured" on campus.
"As a Muslim student at SUNY Purchase College, I feel unsecured of being on campus," they wrote. "Hate against Muslims has nothing to do with political conflicts."
This author did not return The Phoenix's request for further comment.
Rachel Klein speaking at the rally for Israel on Oct. 11 outside the library in front of the clocktower.
(Photo by Arlenis Marmolejos)
On Oct. 11, Hillel organized a rally in support of the victims and hostages of the Hamas attacks. Aliya Bashir, the Purchase Student Government Association (PSGA) chair of senate and student co-founder of the American Muslim Club, described the situation as a humanitarian crisis to the crowd of roughly 25 community members.
Bashir explained how crucial it is to acknowledge that grieving for groups we feel a personal connection with, as Hillel did at the vigil, “does not innately make someone anti-Semitic or Islamophobic or pro-Israel vs. pro-Palestine.”
“It is perfectly reasonable and logical to feel anger and opposition towards the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians while simultaneously feeling the same way about Hamas and their attacks on Israelis,” said Bashir.
Klein said she believes “both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in safety and with dignity, free from terrorism.”
After Hamas' attack, which killed "over 1,400" Israeli (most of whom were civilians according to AP News), Israel launched an attack as well that has killed more than 8,000 Palestinians, according to The World Health Organization.
"About 40 percent of the 5,087 people killed are children, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said on Monday, the day when Israel’s army said it carried out more than 300 new air attacks within 24 hours," according to Al Jazeera. "Thousands of buildings have been destroyed, and more than one million people displaced in the territory, which has been under siege and largely deprived of water, food and other basic supplies."
Diaz said he is willing to engage in conversations with Hillel and has arranged a private meeting with Klein this week to delve into their contrasting viewpoints.
Mili emphasized his admiration for how “politically active” the Purchase community is stating, “there’s gonna be voices to be heard on both sides.” He said he believes choices are within one’s control, and encouraging support, safety, and unity among students is most important.
In times of great tragedy, “we can choose compassion, education, love, and pride as Purchase Panthers,” Mili said.*
*Edits have been made to this article to provide a more balanced point of view of students' feelings at this time, and the devastation in Palestine.
Since its original publication date, a "peace vigil" is being organized by the Purchase Student Government Association on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. in front of the Clocktower.
A separate pro-Palestine rally has also been announced for Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. at the Clocktower.