The History Behind the Israel-Hamas War
Since 1917, with the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the United Kingdom has displaced Palestinians from their homes in the process of establishing a Jewish state. According to Al Jazeera, a news channel funded by the government of Qatar, this mandate was a “thinly veiled form of colonialism and occupation.”
75 years ago, the United Kingdom ceded its colonial rule in the region, “culminating in war” between the Arab and Jewish populations. Israel won the war in 1949, then took 78% of historically Palestinian land and displaced approximately 750,000 Palestinians. After this, the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – were created.
According to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, Israel has now occupied the West Bank illegally for 56 years.
According to a PBS NewsHour article, Hamas is a political party that governs the Gaza Strip and has a presence in the West Bank. The Director of National Intelligence’s Counter Terrorism Guide states that the group is “committed to armed resistance against Israel” and was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 1997.
According to a spokesperson for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1,200 people were killed in Israel along the Gaza border on Oct. 7. Hamas’ “indiscriminate military attacks” have been condemned by the United Nations as of Oct. 17.
Along with this condemnation, Israel has retaliated with military force. On Oct. 7, according to the Associated Press, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel’s intentions to, “Destroy Hamas.”
“All the places that Hamas hides in, operates from, we will turn them into ruins,” Netanyahu said in a televised address in response to the Oct. 7 attack.
“Get out of there now,” Netanyahu said, referring to residents of Gaza.
Long before these events, the Palestinian people had been living in what the Human Rights Watch said is an “open-air prison” for the past 16 years; a situation complicated by recent electricity blockades. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this blockade has not only restricted the movement of the Palestinian people but has them living in conditions below the WHO’s standards. According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly a third of medical referrals in 2022 requiring patients to leave Gaza were “not approved on time.”
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Minister of Defense, said in a press conference on Oct. 9 that there is a:
“Complete siege on Gaza… No electricity, no food, no water, no gas – it’s all closed.”
On Oct. 10, President Joe Biden announced the United State’s continued support for Israel, which dates back to 1948. The U.S. is also supplying military aid to Israel, including sending Iron Dome air-defense missiles, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kits and small-diameter bombs.
As of Thursday – 47 days since the initial attack – the state of Israel has killed over 14,800 people. On Thursday, a four-day temporary cease-fire was called, which on Monday was agreed to be extended by two days. But, according to a PBS NewsHour article, the killing has not stopped.
According to Francesca Albanese, a UN human rights expert, there is a name for this pattern of events.
“Israel has already carried out mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war,” Albanese said in a UN press release on Oct. 14. “Again, in the name of self-defense, Israel is seeking to justify what would amount to ethnic cleansing.”
Advocacy and Protests in Michigan
Nearly 6,000 miles away, University of Michigan (UofM) senior Jeneen Krayem, co-president of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) – a Palestinian solidarity group at UofM – is working towards “bringing awareness to the Palestinian culture, what’s happening in Palestine and what’s been happening for the past 75 years.”
SAFE is one of over 200 student organizations sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine. Many of these organizations focus on community education. Krayem said that since Oct. 7, education and activism have “largely replaced” any cultural celebrations.
“We’ve been stepping away a little bit from the culture,” Krayem said. “Not that we’re not celebrating Palestinian culture right now – it’s just – it’s not the appropriate time to be celebrating or getting up and dancing.”
Other groups besides student organizations have been advocating in support of Palestine.
Danny Celaya is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids group. The group has been educating people about the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories through teach-ins, and held a protest in Grand Rapids on Saturday.
“We had a teach-in about the background and history of Nov. 29,” Celaya said.
Nov. 29, since 1977, has been recognized as the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People. That day “comes short” according to Celaya, but this year also serves as an opportunity, “To give that day a new meaning, a more powerful meaning.”
Both UofM’s SAFE and Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids had members protesting in Washington D.C. on Nov. 4. This protest made several demands, which according to CNN, included “calling for an immediate ceasefire.”
One of the ways people have been getting involved with the advocacy for Palestine has been through boycotts targeting specific companies and brands.
Many businesses are showing their support for or directly funding Israeli forces. Some, such as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, have locations in Albion. Many social media posts have promoted focusing on boycotting “the big three:” McDonald’s, Starbucks and Disney+.
“Go support local businesses who serve coffee that is not supporting genocide,” Krayem said.
According to UofM’s student government, there are companies – such as Lockheed Martin, which manufactures weapons for Israel – partnered with UofM that support what UN experts said is genocide. The UofM student government, alongside SAFE, has urged UofM to divest from brands supporting Israel. Narmeen Rehman is one of UofM’s Central Student Government members advocating for divestment from these brands.
“We have an obligation as representatives on this campus to ask that this money is being used in a morally responsible way,” Rehman said on Nov. 17.
Rehman wasn’t the only one to hold objections to the way UofM used funds. SAFE members are also speaking up and taking action around the issue.
“That’s my tuition money I’m paying and it’s going to be killing my own people,” said Krayem.
What Advocates Say You Can Do
“Speak up and don’t stop speaking up,” Krayem said. “We are living through literally a genocide happening on the other side of the world.”
Albion College President Wayne Webster first reached out to Albion College students about the issue on Oct. 23 in an email. In an interview after the email, he shared what he hoped for the campus moving forward.
“My first priority as president is to make sure people feel like there’s resources,” Webster said.
Laura Todd, the assistant director of spiritual wellness at Albion College, said they are currently working with the Office of Belonging, the Center for International Education and Counseling Services to address this issue.
“(We) found that students were looking for a space to process emotions related to the events that were happening,” Todd said.
Todd said that students who are struggling with a sense of powerlessness can find ways to focus their efforts.
“As individuals, we cannot stop Israel from bombing Palestine, and we can’t force the release of hostages,” Todd said. “We can educate ourselves and others, we can express solidarity and we can explore ways to promote justice and compassion locally.”
According to the American Friends Service Committee, protests and boycotts are two of many ways individuals can show support for Palestine. There are also non-governmental organizations accepting donations that serve the victims of the war, such as Direct Relief, Anera and MECA.
Additionally, Celaya said he recommends following activist groups on social media and engaging with their content. He said that amidst censoring, it’s crucial to continue sharing information. Beyond just liking posts and following accounts, Celaya said how to format posts for the algorithm.
“If you mix informational posts with, maybe say, a cute photo of a cat or something, it actually helps it with the algorithm,” Celaya said.
“Even if it’s reposting something on Instagram,” Krayem said, “Taking the time to learn and make this an active presence in your life is the best thing you can do.”
Bonnie Lord also contributed reporting to this story. Hannah Fathman and Bonnie Lord are a part of the Students Against Genocide group being created on Albion’s campus.