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Columnist Akiva Berkowitz encourages Penn students to make a difference, no matter how small, in light of recent conflicts between Israel and Palestine.

“In accordance with tenets of international law and using the verbiage of 1982 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 37/43, Palestine Writes stands in solidarity with Palestinian resistance to Israeli settler-colonial domination…”

As I booted up my computer following the last days of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, these shocking words of support lay splashed on the Twitter page of the Palestinian Writes Literature Festival. The festival came to our university, sat in our auditoriums, and claimed to stand against repression (ostensibly in all of its forms). Now, as Israel is forced to gear up for its first officially declared war with Hamas, it’s disappointing to see the festival organizers’ continued conflation of terrorism with culture.

The news is appropriately on all the front pages at this point: Over the weekend, Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group which governs the Gaza Strip, invaded Israel on the day after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, making Oct. 7 the bloodiest day for Jews since the Holocaust. 

Videos of the incursion have filled the web with scenes that are so graphic they sear the soul and challenge the very essence of our shared humanity. They blatantly document the indiscriminate killing of over 1200 Israelis, raping, and shameless abducting of 150 more of around the Gaza Strip. Israel has responded to these attacks forcefully, tragically killing over 900 Gazans, while accusing Hamas of using and occupying bases and weapon stores in civilian buildings where the rockets are launched from. 

If this depiction seems one-sided, I truly urge you to do your own research and decide for yourself. The history of the Israeli-Arab conflict speaks for itself on who is truly driving these never-ending wars. Ask yourself whether it's an Israeli “apartheid” rule or Hamas’ systemic abuse of the people under their control causing the restricted living conditions for Gazans, as the Palestinian Authority earmarks millions to the families of martyrs through a pay for slay” system. Note that while the money is coming from the PA — currently not in control of the Gaza Strip — they still pay for any terrorist activity, which may include those carried out by Hamas members bolstered by Iran. Ask yourself whether it's the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip that is the primary source of hatred towards Israel in Gaza, or Hamas’ failure to build a worthwhile school system and instead obsess over demonizing Zionists in their curriculum.

Murdering Jews, or anyone for that matter, is not standing for civil rights. Supporting an organization founded on the destruction of other people is not activism. The anger implicit in this piece does not come from a simmering hate for Gaza, but a fear for the safety of all the kids our age who are gearing up with helmets, bulletproof vests, and machine guns to drop into tanks in a hope of protecting Israeli citizens. 

Without a doubt, there’s room for constructive criticism of the Israeli government's policies towards Palestinians, and in fact, the Israelis themselves are far from quiet on the matter, but right now is a time to recognize the history-altering attack that we’re living through and put in the time and effort to educate ourselves on which side of history we want to end up on.

No other country would stand for the dangerous reality of a terrorist dedicated to its destruction at their doorstep which Israel lives through every day. America would never tolerate an Iranian government presence in Florida, and Jordan itself expelled Hamas from its borders when it began to realize their extremeness. 

Yet, somehow, around the world in major cities many of us call home — New York, London, Chicago and our backyard in Philadelphia, demonstrators have taken to the streets in shocking support of these attacks. People in Philadelphia “cheered for Hamas” and rallied under their mission. While these articles may only use the language of justice for Palestine, the clear implication of gathering in the wake of the deadly attacks and draping oneself in the Palestinian flag is to support the incursion purported by Hamas to “decolonize” Israel. Do these people condoning the attack of Hamas completely understand the cause they are currently supporting? How do they hate anyone they’ve never met so much that they immediately move to support their murder and mutilation? Taking to Twitter or the streets to justify the kidnapping of Israeli children and elderly is to defend, as President Joe Biden said, "pure unadulterated evil."

But as I sit here on Penn's campus, thousands of miles from any real danger or conflict, even deeper questions of what our role in the conflict should be arise.

What does it mean to helpfully support a cause from the sidelines? Does it not ring hollow to simply write an opinion column or paste words of support to my Instagram as hundreds of thousands of Israelis, many of them my age, friends, family, and classmates are putting their lives on the line? What small difference, if any, can we make in repairing the devastating attacks pointed at Israel?

The answer to these questions is not nothing, it never is. The response for me instead is threefold: prayer, financial support, and most relevant, a recommitment to educating myself, and whoever will listen, on what is happening.

As an Orthodox Jew, prayer and calling out to God has always been encouraged as an immediate response to tragedy. Within my religion and the belief that God is the ultimate ruler of the world is the idea that He can answer our calls for help when we live lives in line with His Torah and build societies based on צדק ומשפט (loosely translated as “righteousness and justice”). By turning to Psalms, the Talmud, or just general prayer, we hope optimistically to have an impact on the days ahead.

But what about the majority of students, who don't share my religious outlook but still want to rally meaningfully around the State of Israel and against baseless hatred? Financial support has always been a tangible and effective way to make a difference. It’s easy to forget how small Israel is. About the size of the state of New Jersey, and with an annual GDP less than 2% the size of America's, Israel has done spectacularly despite its size and odds. Some may point to the billions Israel receives, but these critical funds are sensibly focused on American strategic interests — namely defense — and come with restrictions. Yet there remains a tremendous need in Israel for other forms of humanitarian support as it fights against sworn enemies on all sides.

Finally, what is most important for us as students with limited budgets and packed schedules is staying updated and engaged. This includes reaching out to friends who have expressed support for Hamas and constructively challenging them to think more critically about the situation.

Hamas undoubtedly knows and expects the devastating blow Israel is going to exact in retaliation for their bloody attacks. However, they don’t care. They don't care how many innocent Palestinians die if it means another Israeli is taken and the region can be plunged back into instability. “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad,” their founding charter goes, “Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” 

In fact, it makes sense that, Golda Meir, Israel’s Prime Minister during the Yom Kippur War, has often been attributed (albeit questionably) as the source of a sentiment which sums up the solution to these conflicts in a few pointed sentences:

“When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons. Peace will come when the Arab [leaders] will love their children more than they hate us.” 

The day Hamas wants true peace, and to let the inhabitants of Gaza live normal lives, Israel will be there to negotiate peace. Just as they were for Egypt, and just as they have been for the UAE, Sudan, Bahrain, and Morocco. But the hope for a day like that is quickly fading, and Israel is rightfully going to reevaluate its approach to Hamas and its relationship to the Gaza Strip in the coming months.

In the days ahead I encourage us all to respond to this crisis in any or all of the above ways, looking to give as generously as we can, speaking to whoever needs to hear, and reflecting intentionally on the times we are living through. To remain silent is to condone, and we can undoubtedly find ways to make a real difference if we look hard enough.

AKIVA BERKOWITZ is an Engineering junior studying computer science from Silver Spring, Maryland. His email is