Students React to Violence in Israel and Palestine

As the second week of war in Israel and Palestine begins, students express grief about the violence and fear for both their own safety and the consequences of speech on campus. Students were able to find ways to come together in community despite dread about the future of the conflict.

Students React to Violence in Israel and Palestine
Students are quietly fearing for the lives of loved ones on both sides of the rocket fire and described feeling unsafe to publicly express their views on the issue. Photo courtesy of paffairs_sanfrancisco/Flickr.

As Israel tries to make sense of the most gruesome terrorist attacks in its 75-year history and unleashes a deadly response against civilians and militants alike in the Gaza Strip, students are mourning innocent lives and dreading what will come next.

Amid a flurry of online infographics and debate on social media channels, students are fearing for the lives of loved ones on both sides of the rocket fire. And though many colleges and universities have seen raucous protests and even incidents of physical violence, discussion of the conflict at Amherst has remained largely contained to Instagram stories, private conversations, and closed events, as students seek solace in their affinity groups.

Many community members who spoke with The Student said they felt afraid to publicly express their views and feelings on the issue, pointing to fears of career-based consequences for pro-Palestine speech and social stigmas against statements in support of Israel. Some students with close connections to the conflict chose not to have their words included in the article.

For many Jewish students, the past week has been defined by grief and fear of rising antisemitism. Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Southern Israel killed more than 1,400 Israelis, the vast majority of them civilians. That Saturday was, as President Joe Biden and multiple students put it, “the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.”

At the same time, many Jewish and non-Jewish students alike spoke about the horror they’ve felt as Israel has responded to the attacks with daily airstrikes and a siege of Gaza, a territory controlled by Hamas and, according to the UN, long occupied by Israel. The airstrikes have already killed more than 2,800 Gazans. That number is likely only to grow, as the Israeli government has cut off flows of food, water, and electricity to the enclave and massed troops on its border in anticipation of a ground invasion.

For those with loved ones on either side of the violence, the last 10 days have been harrowing, as images and videos of violence have flooded news feeds and social media pages.

Many of Amherst’s Jewish students have deep connections to Israel, from grandparents taking cover in bomb shelters to siblings and friends called up for active duty in the Israeli Defense Forces.

“I haven’t talked to a single Jew here who doesn’t have someone who they’re thinking about, or doesn’t have someone who they know is thinking about someone,” said Amelia Cogan ’26, who has loved ones in both Israel and Gaza.

Other students also have close connections in Palestine.

Daniya Ali ’25 said that she has spent the past week worrying for a close friend in the West Bank, another occupied Palestinian territory that has seen increased violence.

She also emphasized that, beyond personal connections, her concern for Palestinians is based on much more than the events of the past week. “It’s been a continuous issue that has cultivated a lot of violence, a lot of pain and suffering on both ends,” she said.

Ali further suggested that her concerns stem from the fact that the plight of Palestinians often does not receive the attention it deserves. “A lot of that pain and suffering gets framed a certain way in the media, or gets talked about only when certain events happen,” she said.

Ali also expressed disappointment in President Michael Elliott’s Oct. 11 statement on the conflict, arguing that it mostly focused on the suffering of Israelis.

“I have been appalled by the images and accounts of the violence and acts of terror against Jewish people and other Israelis,” he wrote in the statement. “I am also anxious about the potential for further loss of life of Israelis and Palestinians in the coming days and weeks.”

“I’m glad that he sent out that, but at the same time, there’s been so many bombings, and so many bad things happening in Gaza right now, where half the population are children,” said Ali. “I don't necessarily feel supported.”

A number of those who spoke with The Student, including Jewish students, expressed similar dissatisfaction with the statement, feeling that it did not speak strongly enough to the scale and history of violence against Palestinians.

In general, students described finding reassurance in their religious communities as news of violence poured in.

Zakaria Shenwari ’25, the vice president of the Muslim Student’s Association, said that the group, which includes students from Palestine and of Palestinian descent, had been finding comfort in community and prayer.

“Most of us were very heartbroken having seen the videos and the images that were coming out of [Gaza],” he said. “The first thing that came to my mind was to be able to gather the students and do communal prayer.”

Though Jewish students lamented that the campus is currently without a rabbi, they, too, made it clear that the community has found ways to come together in grief across the past week, including a student-organized discussion group, Friday Shabbat services live streamed from New York, and a space to process the events hosted by a rabbi from a local synagogue.

For most of those who spoke with The Student, terror and grief about the realities in Palestine and Israel coexisted with more immediate fears about personal safety and the consequences of speech and on campus.

Jewish students reported concern over increased reports of antisemitic statements on Fizz, the campus-wide anonymous social media platform. A number of posts, most of them now deleted, have played on antisemitic conspiracy theories and even called out Jewish students by name after they posted messages supportive of Israel on Instagram.

In light of these posts and amid a national atmosphere of increased antisemitic threats and incidents, some Jewish students have stopped wearing Star of David jewelry, taken their names off their doors, and started locking their doors each night.

“I think the concern comes from the fact that it’s anonymous,” said Lilliana Delise ’24, president of Hillel. “Our peers are saying these things, but we don’t know who is saying them.”

There have been no reported incidents of in-person antisemitic speech or behavior, however, and other Jewish students said they continued to feel physically safe on campus.

For students seeking to express solidarity with Palestinians, incidents like one that happened last week at Harvard have been disquieting. Harvard students who signed a letter pointing to the Israeli government as the root cause of all of the region’s violence were “doxxed” by a conservative political group and potentially blacklisted by a group of prominent CEOs.

In light of those events, Mohammed Alausa ’24 said that many students were hesitant to speak out.

“A lot of people are scared for their careers,” he said.

This is especially true for Muslim students, Alausa said, because they are more likely to be international students, people of color, and low income.

“Some kids don’t have a safety net,” he said. “Whether or not you have that, you should still be able to speak up for something that you feel is right.”

At the same time, students also described feeling unable to express support for Israel or even publicly mourn the Israeli dead without qualifying those feelings with political condemnations of the government.

On the whole, students said that concerns about the consequences of their speech have created a campus atmosphere surprisingly absent of public protest and debate on an issue that has sparked large gatherings at other colleges and universities.

“Conversations are not happening nearly as much as they should be," Cogan said. “I think for a lot of people, that’s not because they don't have opinions, but because there’s a sense of fear, and not knowing how to express them.”

This week has brought a few signs that the atmosphere on campus is changing, allowing for more open discourse and activism, including an Amherst Political Union discussion about the conflict on Monday night and an ongoing phonebank in support of Gaza.

Overall, as the war enters its 12th day, students fear for the future of a crisis that seems only to be worsening.

“There’s such a feeling of, like, true dread,” said Noa Costom ’26, who is Jewish and has Palestinian American friends and friends in the region. “I don’t see this getting better anytime soon.”