Last Sunday, I woke up afraid. Not fearing for my own life, but rather for the lives of my friends and family living in southern Israel. I feared for my brother, who will be drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces in March. I feared for my grandmother, a refugee from Morocco who came to Israel seeking peace and love, not a barrage of missiles aimed at her with the intent to destroy her and all that she loves. Most of all, I feared for the well-being of the place that so many innocent civilians call home.
The week prior, over 400 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel, and Israel retaliated by striking nearly 100 military targets in the Gaza Strip. Now, one might ask, “Didn’t Hamas attempt to strike at Israeli military targets?” The answer is a resounding “no.” Hamas, the governing dictatorship in the Gaza Strip, indiscriminately aims at civilians, and sees all of Israel as an objective.
What is most striking to me is the support that Hamas and its counterparts have garnered across the globe, and particularly on college campuses. A prime example is the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) campaign, which calls for the boycotting of Israeli goods and institutions, divestment from Israeli companies and international companies involved in “violating Palestinian rights” (although this statement is used in a broad range) and sanctions that pressure governments to end military exchanges, free-trade agreements and promote “expelling Israel from international forums such as the UN and FIFA.”
On campuses, the main facilitator of the BDS movement is Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that is pro-Palestine, anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist. Various chapters of this group use intimidation tactics and skew the facts in a fashion that not only rejects Jewish connection to the land of Israel, but also infantilizes the Palestinians. The Palestinian people have the right to agency, and have rejected multiple offers that would have provided both sides of the conflict with peace and land.
However, SJP and other proponents of BDS do not see a viable Palestinian future with Israel in the picture. When I witnessed protesters at the Binghamton chapter of SJP, I heard the shouts of demonstrators clearer than ever: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Those calls for Palestinian liberation reverberated throughout the Spine, and reminded me what their probable true goal is: the ultimate destruction of Israel, the only place where Jews are truly safe.
Although I was not born in Israel, the majority of my family lives there, and had lived there prior to the formation of the state. I spent a majority of my childhood there, and know that if anything goes awry in the diaspora (and with anti-Semitism up by 60 percent in 2017, it clearly has), I will have a place to find safety and refuge. When people say that Israel has no right to exist, they are saying that I have no right to exist. Try telling that to someone in Iran, a country with war crimes incomparable to the accusations poised at Israel, the very country that delivers food and supplies to its neighbors in Gaza despite being attacked. How would you feel if someone questioned America’s right to exist? No one knows how to answer that question, because Israel is the only country worldwide with her existence questioned and delegitimized every day since her inception.
So please don’t tell me, or anyone living in Israel, that indiscriminate acts against civilians are not terrorism. Children should not be sleeping in bomb shelters dreading that tomorrow may not come. They do not deserve to have their schools bombarded by missiles and the trauma that comes with it. Citizens of a sovereign country should not worry that members of a bordering territory will burn down their fields and nature reserve and not know when to expect the next rocket to be fired toward them.
Groups such as SJP stress that anti-Semitism is not equivalent to anti-Zionism, but a closer look makes it clear that the equivalence persists. Denying Jews the right to self-determination in their historic homeland is blatant discrimination. Most importantly, those who say that the plight of the Palestinians is the fault of the Israeli government have placed the blame on the wrong party. Examine the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the same fashion that pro-Palestinian activists scrutinize Israel. The Palestinians are a people, not puppets with no control over their own fate. I dream of a future where both sides live in peace, and no one calls for the death of either people. A place where children are taught about peace, and jihad is only a fable of times past. Most of all, I hope that one day, those who champion the ideals of social justice will be determined to do the same for the only bastion of democracy and pluralism in the Middle East.
Shiraz Otani is a junior majoring in political science.