The faculty members who signed the recently published “Letter: Amherst Call to Action” offer an incomplete, and thus a distorted, presentation of a complex situation. They ignore important facts that have led to the present Israeli-Hamas war and the consequent, terrible trauma to both Israelis and Palestinians. By doing so, they have presented an extraordinarily unbalanced picture of the war. Here are some important relevant facts the authors have chosen to ignore:
1. The stated goals of Hamas are the complete destruction of Israel (cf. the popular chant by Hamas supporters, “From the river to the sea”), and the killing of as many Zionists as possible. The 1988 Hamas charter had the stated goal of killing as many Jews as possible (genocide), but in the more recent 2017 version of the charter the more ambiguous term “Zionist” was substituted for the term “Jews.” I use “ambiguous” here, because Hamas seems to indiscriminately consider all people in Israel to be Zionists.
2. Hamas, by its strategy of using its own civilians as human shields, has demonstrated its utter contempt for the value of human life and has thereby guaranteed terrible Palestinian casualties. Hamas would have known that its Oct. 7 actions would lead to massive Palestinian civilian loss of life, as it has historically when Israel has retaliated against Hamas’ attacks.
3. Middle Eastern countries have for decades refused entry to Palestinians, preferring to use the Palestinians as pawns in an international chess match. The refusal of Middle Eastern countries to take in Palestinian refugees is less a principled stand against Palestinian occupation/displacement as they pretend it is, but rather a demonstration of callousness for the loss of Palestinian life and a desire to maintain the status quo. Contrast this behavior to the behavior of Poland which accepted countless Ukrainian refugees in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
4. Although Jews and non-Jewish Arabs have lived together in the land that is now Israel for millennia, modern Israel is a country whose citizenry is largely made up of refugees and their families forced to flee persecution and genocide from their home countries in Europe and the Middle East, with no other country where they were welcome. If Israel were to no longer exist as a sovereign state, the vast majority of its citizenry would have nowhere to go.
5. The heinous Oct. 7 mass murders of Israeli civilians by Hamas represents an existential threat to Israel. Under such circumstances, any country, including Israel, has a duty to ensure the long-term security of its population according to the United Nations Office of Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.
On a more parochial level, by ignoring all these facts in its description of the situation in the Middle East, the faculty members who signed the “Letter: Amherst Call to Action” have placed themselves in a compromised position as teachers with respect to their Amherst students who have familial or emotional ties to Israel. It is likely that such students will find it difficult to speak freely both in and out of class. These faculty members have thus created a situation the opposite of the college’s goal of encouraging free speech, and the opposite of their stated goal: “to encourage more open conversations inside and outside of the classroom.” It is also likely and understandable that these students may feel personally threatened by their teachers’ apparent hostile position towards Israel. It is not possible for the faculty and the college to attain their goal of free debate when students feel physically or emotionally threatened.
For all these reasons, the signers of the “Letter: Amherst Call to Action” should reconsider their incompletely thought-out ideas. All the violence in the Middle East is deplorable, but balanced thinking is needed to find the best path to long term peace.