We need to respond to the Israel-Palestine conflict

We need to respond to the Israel-Palestine conflict

Isabel Bassin is a Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Bugle. The opinions expressed here are solely her own and are not meant to reflect views of The Bugle staff or The Bolles School.

Another day, another war. How is this possible? Has the world not learned from the world wars that killed millions? Or the Russo-Ukrainian war that’s been going on for over 18 months? The United States brags about being a world superpower and bringing about international “peace through power,” but where is our peace? Power-hungry authoritarians seek to destroy others instead of allowing people to peacefully coexist. They decide to play God, and the U.S. doesn’t stop them. 


Last month, Hamas entered Israel and killed over one thousand civilians. Israel has since fired back in an attempt to destroy the terrorist organization, resulting in the deaths of thousands more. 


Historically, the American government has assumed a responsibility to protect democracy across the globe. And historically, America has been Israel’s staunchest ally. In this current conflict, President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken have repeatedly recognized and supported Israel’s right and responsibility to defend itself. Biden and Blinken have also urged Israel to do everything it can to protect innocent civilians in Gaza. But it seems both of these things cannot happen at the same time. So, what do we do?


Some say we should stand behind the actions of Hamas and justify them as a response to decades of oppression. Some say we should let the IDF tear apart Palestine and destroy its government. Neither the push nor the shove are acceptable.


It makes sense to condemn Hamas. They murdered over a thousand Israelis out of cold blood. Their charter calls for the complete destruction of the state of Israel. But it’s not okay to be Islamophobic. It’s not okay to blame the citizens of Gaza or supporters of the “Free Palestine” movement. They’re not responsible for the extremists on their side of the debate.


It also makes sense to condemn the Israeli government. They forced Palestinians into Gaza and the West Bank and are partially responsible for the terrible living conditions of many Gazan citizens. But it’s not okay to be antisemitic. It’s not okay to blame the citizens of Israel or “Pro Israel” individuals. Netanyahu does not represent the will of the Jewish people; he’s not even very popular among the Israeli citizens he governs, as his approval rating recently plummeted to only 27%. 


Countries and political leaders enable war. Governments see war tactically, not humanely. But war isn’t strategy and planning and deceit – war is death. War is hatred. War is exterminating a group of people based on their identity. War is evil and war is cruel and war is not to be admired.


Hamas did not invade Israel on behalf of the Gazan people. Hamas does not care about the quality of Palestinian life or human rights. If they did, they wouldn’t ignite a war they know they cannot win. They wouldn’t provoke a country that they know will retaliate and destroy Gaza and its citizens. Hamas wants to destroy Israel in the court of public opinion. If Hamas militants die, they are martyrs. If Gazan civilians die, the world sees Israel as the villains. Either way, Hamas wins the war that it started on October 7, even if they cannot win a military-versus-military war. If Hamas were to put down its guns, there would be no more war. If Israel put down its guns, there would be no more Israel.


I am Jewish. I rarely practice Judaism, but I have deep pride in my culture and ethnicity. My heart breaks thinking about all the plights my people have gone through since the dawn of civilization just to have freedom. My ancestors trekked across the desert to free themselves from Egyptian enslavement. They persisted to keep their culture and traditions alive throughout their stay in Judea, despite being occupied by the Roman and Ottoman Empires. They watched as the Gestapo forced them to wear stars, register their Jewishness, abandon their businesses, and crowd into ghettos. My people were taken to concentration camps and brutally murdered as an entire continent was wiped of Jews. Even today, Holocaust deniers somehow find microphones – only three years ago I sat and watched our nation’s capital get attacked by people in 6MWE shirts. While it feels long ago for many people, antisemitism persists in our society.  During the two weeks following October 7, the ADL recorded 312 incidents of antisemitism in the United States alone, which is a 388% increase from the previous year’s 64 incidents in that same time period.


The tapestry of my family’s history is woven in conflict. I was born to parents who lived in New York City during 9/11. My ancestors fled Europe between World War I and World War II because they feared what would ultimately become the Holocaust. My father’s father dropped out of med school to become an army medic during the Vietnam War. Even today, I have multiple friends joining the Israeli Defense Force and entering active combat.


The state of Israel was created after World War II to provide a safe place for the people who Hitler didn’t manage to murder – a place where they could live peacefully and practice Judaism without fears of religious persecution or ethnic cleansing. Yet in doing so, Palestinians were displaced and forced into the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The Gazans were given a choice between land or war, and they chose war. Israel won and has generally retained military hegemony. While it is not right for Israel to control Gaza’s border, electricity, food, and water, the situation didn’t come out of nowhere. After all of the strife of the Jewish people, they have a right to protect their land. Unfortunately, that protection overreaches and negatively affects the Gazan quality of life.


Unfortunately, the war zone has spread beyond the Middle East. On October 8, a group of Harvard students called the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Group signed a statement fully blaming Israel for the October 7 previous day’s attacks and neglected to condemn or even mention Hamas. After spreading around social media, many Harvard alumni and donors spoke out against the statement and the inaction of the school, as well as issuing counter statements. On October 11, a truck drove through campus displaying the faces of alleged signers of the statement. Now, numerous business organizations are severing their ties with Harvard and its students, and some signers have lost their internships or jobs. On October 14, in Illinois, a six-year-old Palestinian boy was stabbed to death by his landlord. On November 6, in Los Angeles, a 69-year-old Jewish man was killed during an altercation at dueling Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine demonstrations. On November 25, in Vermont, three Palestinian college students were shot while having a conversation in Arabic and English. Two of them were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves.


In less than a year, I will be a college student. So will the rest of my graduating class. And we will have to learn how to conduct ourselves. We will support our beliefs but learn to live and study amongst those with different ones. 


We don’t have the power to change what’s happening in the Middle East. But being uneducated is not an option. We need to stay geo-politically informed. Moreover, we have a responsibility to call out injustice.


The concepts of “Pro Palestine” and “Pro Israel” do nothing but worsen the partisanship. We, as self-proclaimed defenders of democracy and supporters of human rights, have a responsibility to have one mantra: Pro peace. Can any society truly justify their citizens’ lives as collateral damage for geopolitical gain?


The answer is no. Not yes or maybe or potentially. Just no. In this day and age, none of this should be happening. Countries like Russia shouldn’t be able to maintain a totalitarian government and censor their media to the point where their people think their invasion of another country is justified. Countries like Israel shouldn’t decimate poor Gazan villages. Groups like Hamas shouldn’t launch a terrorist attack on Israel and sustain control of their people.


But who am I to say what should or shouldn’t happen? I understand how this all seems a little out of reach to for an American teenager who has never lived even close to a warzone. But we’re the next generation. One day, it’s going to be our peers running the country, having international negotiations, and deciding whether to declare or prevent another war. And that’s why this is important. When the world is in our hands, we have the memories of when this has happened in the past. We felt the tragedy and death and destruction. We weighed the costs and benefits. And we should realize that war is stupid and arbitrary. There is no justification for the loss of countless lives. 


But nothing will change until we change the status quo. I’m not talking about a routine social upheaval – I’m talking about a reevaluation of our entire foreign affairs policy. And when I say “our,” I’m not referring to the U.S.; I’m referring to the whole world. War should never be an option to achieve our goals. “Pioneering” for our countries through violence should not be noble, or patriotic. It should be treasonous.


Power has always been measured by land ownership and military prowess. I have a different definition of power. To me, power is not only protecting the citizens of your country, but the citizens of the world. We need to demand an end to mass violence, reduce military spending, and empower international peace organizations. 


The Israel-Palestine conflict is racially, religiously, and socially charged. Hatred has manifested so deeply between these two communities that they can erupt into terrorism and war in a matter of a few days. I mourn both the Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives lost. I also mourn the death of diplomacy. We need to reset the standard of peaceful negotiation and condemn the instigators and enablers of war. We need to unite against violation and hold our peers accountable if we want to call ourselves the “Generation of Change.”


World leaders do not represent us or our ideals. They are 60+ and they are acting on ideas of the past that ignore the human rights standards of the present. But we aren’t doing what we need to be doing either, because we aren’t even talking about what’s happening or learning about the history. We must not avoid difficult conversations. Have we reached out to our Palestinian or Jewish friends? Have we questioned the motivations and consequences of the recent violence? If we don’t care, I don’t know who will. If we are to inherit the global problems of today and gain the responsibility to protect the citizens of the world, then silence is not an option. To be silent is to be a bystander and to be a bystander is apathetic, ignorant, and problematic.


We can’t end a 60+ year conflict. But we can improve its effects on our local community. It’s okay to not know whose side to support, or what solution to suggest. But to say nothing is cowardly and pathetic. To say nothing is to repeat the gross inaction of the past. The ancient Egyptians allowed the Pharaoh to enslave the Israelites. The Europeans watched Hitler ethnically cleanse Europe and take the Jews one by one, cattle car by cattle car.  Take the famous Martin Niemöller quote for example:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Silence and passivity only let the violent oppressors retain and grow their power.  When our peers are silent, when our school is silent, and when our community is silent in times of crisis and in the absence of faith in world peace, we must be the ones to stand up and speak out.

About the Contributor
Isabel Bassin, Co-Editor-In-Chief
Senior Isabel Bassin is a four-year staffer and a Co-Editor-In-Chief, as well as a captain of the varsity girl's lacrosse team. When not writing or playing lacrosse, she spends her free time with her geriatric dog, Charlie. She doesn't know what the future holds for her, but she is excited at the idea of the many places life and journalism may take her.