On Oct. 16, UW’s president and vice chancellor Vivek Goel released a statement regarding the Israel-Hamas war that broke out nine days prior. He opened his statement by mentioning the loss of innocent civilian life, of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Goel also condemned the attack by Hamas that included murder and kidnap, though he did not condemn the perpetrator of what he called “rapidly worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza.” He then spoke about standing against hatred in all forms, supporting freedom of expression, and warning against needless division.
As an Arab and Muslim, I can appreciate his specific mention against Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism, and, of course, also against antisemitism because my religion and upbringing have always been and always will be anti-racist. I can also appreciate the president for vocalizing his commitment to freedom of expression, and I intend to take advantage of that right.
Where this statement fails students and humans is where it fails to condemn Israel for intentionally manufacturing the aforementioned horrible humanitarian conditions in Gaza. Many might say that it is not the president’s role to condemn a certain side of the war and I can sympathize with such an argument. But why is it then, that Hamas was specifically condemned? While I echo the condemnation of Hamas, I do not echo the silence on Israel’s war crimes.
United Nations experts have condemned Israel for indiscriminate bombings against Palestinians in Gaza and further tightening the illegal blockade on the territory that starves and punishes the civilian population. UN experts specifically called it “collective punishment,” which is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. The UN also voiced concern around Israel’s well-documented targeting of journalists and media workers. Amnesty International, a human rights non-governmental organization, has documented evidence of white phosphorus being used in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza,which is a violation of international law. An Israeli defence official vowed to raze Gaza and reduce it to a “city of tents.” The International Federation for Human Rights expressed horror at the atrocity of Israel’s forced, illegal displacement of one million people from North Gaza to the South. The federation describes the displacement as amounting to “genocidal intent”. Another human rights expert at the UN, while calling for a ceasefire, warned of mass ethnic cleansing and remarked that conditions have reached a “fever pitch.” At the time of writing this on Oct. 19, Palestinian deaths in Gaza have reached 3,785, of which 1,524 are children and 1,000 women. In the West Bank, 75 Palestinians have been killed by Israel Defense Forces raids and shootings.
So in light of these atrocities perpetrated directly by Israel’s government and military, where is the condemnation? These tactics aim to instill terror into the Palestinian population and punish them for actions that are not their own. So why is it that actions are only condemnable as terrorism when an Arab or Muslim group is responsible for the attacks? Why does Goel’s statement frame the killing of Palestinians as an inevitable consequence of an abstract worsening crisis? The president’s condemnation of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism is meaningless when it pushes rhetoric that dehumanizes Muslims and Arabs. A six-year old Palestinian child was stabbed 26 times to death in Chicago by his landlord, and his mom was hospitalized. The landlord was described as being an avid listener of conservative talk radio and clearly affected by the rhetoric of American media and political discourse on Palestinians. The university’s statement is not just a failure to its Arab and Muslim students, but also to humanity because it fails to condemn Israel for the genocide and punishment of innocent human beings.