Politics of Poverty

A Moment to Reaffirm Our Commitment to the People of Gaza

Posted by
Oxfam InuruID 367988 Rafah Destruction 1
A boy standing on his bombed house after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah where around 100 Palestinians were killed in one night. Mid-February 2024. Alef Multimedia/ Oxfam

Reflections on student-led protests, rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and working for peace and dignity for Palestinians in Gaza

As the spotlight shines on the proliferation of student-led protests, this is a moment to reaffirm the humanitarian community’s commitment to the people of Gaza, to assert the rights of students to peacefully protest without threat of abuse or brutality, and to speak out against the rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that has become so prevalent. As Palestinians in Gaza continue to endure an unparalleled humanitarian catastrophe, we must keep the focus on those living under Israel’s siege and bombardment, and the 1.1 million at imminent risk of famine.

While the protests are diverse in their aims and demands, they all have undoubtedly gained momentum as a result of widespread revulsion with Israel’s relentless bombardment and siege of Gaza and the role our government plays in the conflict. Peaceful protests are a fundamental component of American democracy. Oxfam firmly believes in the power of people to make systemic change and supports the right of students across the country to peacefully protest without threat of abuse -- an important way to voice discontent and anger and demand change.

Amidst peaceful protests, reports of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on college campuses are also on the rise. Allegations of anti-Semitism must never be used to shield Israel from criticism, and neither can the right to peacefully protest serve as a cover to spread hate against Jews. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian hate – which have motivated multiple violent attacks over the past seven months – have no place anywhere.

I am encouraged by students across the country who are coming together across faiths and backgrounds to protest atrocities, with many of the movements led by Jews in solidarity with Palestinians. I am also encouraged by those administrators and local authorities working to defuse tensions, address grievances, and engage in dialogue. But I am alarmed by what is happening on some campuses where we are witnessing a disproportionate police response, violence and repression. We know from our nation’s history – including our painful recent history – that police may escalate otherwise manageable challenges, and that Black and brown people often bear a disproportionate share of the consequences. We see similar dynamics in our work around the world. The dangerous and overheated political rhetoric, coupled with the presence of police in riot gear is a concern for the safety of students.

The last seven months since Hamas’s brutal attacks on October 7 and the unspeakable violence Israel has unleashed in Gaza and the West Bank have tested me as a humanitarian leader, but also as a mother, a wife, a Jewish woman with a Quaker education, and an activist. Mostly, it has tested me as someone who believes deeply in fundamental human rights and our common humanity, in a world of hope and justice where people live in dignity and safety. As a parent of high school and college aged children, I want the young people of this country to feel safe to speak up for causes they believe in, be activists, think critically, seek to understand alternative viewpoints, and engage in peaceful protest without fear of repression. And as a mother, wife, sister and humanitarian, I grieve for the Palestinians killed, orphaned, and traumatized in and outside of Gaza, and for the families who will never be reunited. I grieve, too, for Israelis killed in the October 7th rampage and the remaining hostages still being kept from their families.

I wake up and go to sleep thinking about what more I can do myself and on behalf of my Oxfam colleagues, who have spent the past 7 months working tirelessly to bring peace and dignity to Palestinians in Gaza. I know so many others are doing the same.

But our leaders, starting with President Biden, must do more to make students and peaceful protestors feel seen and safe, to de-escalate tensions, and to reckon with the actual cause of these protests in our failed foreign policy - and push for peace.

For our part, we will continue to keep our focus on Palestinians in Gaza and on our advocacy efforts. We will only intensify our private and public work, as Oxfam and in coalition, to advocate for a permanent and lasting ceasefire, the return of all hostages by Hamas, the release of unlawfully detained prisoners by Israel, and full access for humanitarian aid and essential services across Gaza. Further, we are pushing governments to stop transfers of lethal arms to Israeli and Palestinian armed groups and usher in an end to the occupation for a future of peace and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis.

Are our students and faculty safe and free to express themselves in our communities? Are Israelis and Palestinians safe in theirs? These are the questions by which we’ll measure our success.

Oxfam.org Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+