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Can we express solidarity with the Palestinian people without embracing Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that governs the Gaza Strip? I certainly think so. But that distinction is absent from the “Princeton University community statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Instead, to the shame of its signatories, this statement tacitly embraces Hamas and devalues Israeli lives in the process.
Now, the statement doesn’t explicitly endorse Hamas. It does so implicitly. I’ll explain why. My argument concerns the words and context of the statement. If the signatories in fact intended otherwise, then I invite them to retract their signatures from the statement.
Let’s begin with the following bare set of facts. On May 10, Hamas (I’ll be ignoring Islamic Jihad, which played only a minor role in the hostilities) launched a volley of rockets from Gaza at Israeli cities. Israel retaliated with airstrikes on Hamas targets. Hamas fired more rockets, Israel bombed more Hamas targets — and so it would go for eleven days. On the ninth day, the “community statement” was published. It emphatically expressed solidarity with “the Palestinian people.” Reading the statement, it seems obvious that “the Palestinian people” includes Hamas.
First, the statement broadly, “condemn[ed] the ongoing attacks on the Palestinian people in Gaza by the Israeli armed forces.” Israel was attacking Hamas targets. Second, the statement spoke admiringly of “a Palestinian population resisting occupation and oppression,” which apparently absolved them of guilt for “loss of life.” It was Hamas rockets that were causing lost lives on the Israeli side and constituted Palestinian “resistance” to Israel at the time of the statement’s publication. Third, the statement “salute[d] the bravery and will-to-survival” of Palestinians in Gaza. That seems like clear praise of Hamas’s military efforts against Israel. Fourth and last, the statement took a stand in favor of the Palestinians’ “indigenous liberation struggle against forced dispossession by the Israeli settler colonial state.” On May 18, when the statement was published, that “struggle” was very evidently being spearheaded by Hamas.
Without naming Hamas, then, the community statement supported Hamas. Why? Why did the statement steer away from condemning the Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilian centers that prompted a fierce Israeli response? Indeed, why did it convey the distinct impression that it approved of those rocket attacks?
For an explanation, we might want to look at the recent Palestine and Praxis open letter, which the signatories explicitly mentioned and “wholeheartedly endorse[d]” in their statement. In that letter by scholars committing themselves to the Palestinian cause, we read:
“The attempts to transform the conversation on Israeli state violence to a series of stale talking points about Hamas rockets reflect the thorough dehumanization of Palestinians and the abject disregard for Israeli military aggression.”
It would seem that we have an answer. Like the signatories of the Palestine and Praxis open letter, the signatories of the community statement apparently think that if they were to mention Hamas rockets, they would necessarily be dehumanizing Palestinians and giving an unacceptable free pass to the Israeli military. Accordingly, the signatories omit Hamas rockets. Closing their eyes to Hamas rockets then — unsurprisingly — leads them to effectively applaud Hamas. Well, why not applaud Hamas? After all, aren’t Hamas rockets just “stale talking points”?
On May 20, President Joe Biden asserted that “the United States fully supports Israel's right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups that have taken the lives of innocent civilians in Israel.”
Aha! Silly old President Biden has been taken in by “stale talking points,” hasn’t he? He’s just a stooge for the Israel lobby — right? Why else would he be talking about those tiresome Hamas rockets?
Here’s an idea. What if President Biden has actually grappled deeply with the perspectives of both Palestinians and Israelis? What if President Biden knows all about Israel’s decades-long struggle with Palestinian terrorism? What if President Biden sees not only Palestinian suffering but also Israeli suffering? What if President Biden acknowledges that the 3,000+ Hamas rockets fired at Israeli civilians during this latest conflict were real, terrifying, and lethal? And yes, what if President Biden realizes that rule by Hamas has been truly disastrous for the Palestinian people of Gaza?
The community statement omits Hamas rockets because those rockets complicate its easy, black-and-white narrative. We should sympathize — we must sympathize — with the suffering and anguish of Gazans. But should we really sympathize with Hamas, an organization that, as we’ve again seen in the recent conflict, deliberately targets civilians? Should we really sympathize with an organization sponsored by Iran? Should we really sympathize with an organization that systematically redirects international funds for Gazans’ basic needs to building tools of war aimed at the destruction of Israel? Should we really sympathize with an organization whose founding charter claims that the Jews control the world media, have been busy fomenting revolutions since 1789, and orchestrated World War I and World War II? Even the famous Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said saw fit to criticize Hamas. Why shouldn’t we, too?
In the end, I’d like to pose the following questions to the signatories of the community statement. Many hundreds of people whom I know and love live in Israel. Many hundreds of people whom I know and love — alongside millions of other Israelis — were targeted by Hamas rockets during the eleven day conflict. Is the safety of my loved ones just a “stale talking point” to you? Don’t their lives matter?
No doubt, there’s been far too much dehumanization of Palestinians. Let us raise our voices against that. But I ask the signatories of the community statement: why must you substitute dehumanization of Palestinians with dehumanization of Israelis? Why can’t you bring yourself to condemn rocket attacks on Israelis? Why won’t you repudiate Hamas?
Might doesn’t make right, but neither does it make wrong. Please, hold Palestinians in your hearts, but hold Israelis in your hearts, too. God knows we could all use some compassion.
Avi Siegal is a rising senior in the philosophy department from the Bronx, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.