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Op Eds

There Is No Justification

By Alexander L.S. Bernat, Charles M. Covit, and Joshua A. Kaplan, Contributing Opinion Writers
Alexander L.S. Bernat ’25, a Crimson Editorial comper, is a joint concentrator in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering in Lowell House. Charles M. Covit ’27, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Holworthy Hall. Joshua A. Kaplan ’26, a Crimson Editorial comper, is a Computer Science concentrator in Currier House.

As we write this op-ed, more than 150 Israelis — including men, women, and children — are reportedly being held hostage in tunnels deep beneath the Gaza Strip, and at least another 1,200 are reported dead.

On Saturday morning, during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, we woke up to a nightmare in Israel. In addition to firing thousands of missiles reaching as far as Tel Aviv, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad had launched a grisly surprise attack on Israeli civilian communities near Gaza. For many Jews like us who observe the Sabbath and could not use electronics, the sparse bits of news that reached us shook us to our core.

We finally opened our phones after the holiday to scenes of a murderous rampage. At least 260 revelers had been shot dead at a music festival. A bomb was dropped from a Hamas drone onto an Israeli ambulance. First responders and Israel Defense Forces soldiers found children and babies who were burned beyond recognition. Parents witnessed their children being grabbed from their homes and carted into Gaza. One child was filmed being beaten with sticks and called a “filthy Jew” as he cried for his mother.

Hamas fighters brutally murdered an Israeli grandmother and then used her private Facebook account to post the gruesome footage on her feed. A Holocaust survivor in a wheelchair was kidnapped. Young Israeli women were raped and paraded naked through Gaza City. All of this happened in the country founded as the safe haven for the Jewish people.

Harvard’s Jewish community and the entire Jewish world are in shock. For us, this issue isn’t just political — it’s personal.

During services at Harvard Chabad on Saturday morning, an Israeli student left the room, only to reappear later holding a suitcase. He had been called back to Israel for emergency reserve service. Other members of our Jewish communities have family and friends who were killed or are missing.

For many Jews, things are scary back home, too. At an anti-Israel rally on Sunday in New York, a swastika was spotted as demonstrators chanted “700,” a gruesome reference to the reported Israeli death toll (which has since risen). Protesters outside the Sydney Opera House reportedly shouted “gas the Jews.” Security is being stepped up at synagogues and Jewish institutions around the world, including on our own campus.

So, when dozens of Harvard student organizations signed a statement released by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee saying they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” we found ourselves at a loss for words.

This invasion is the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust, but our peers seem to be justifying these heinous murders by arguing that the Israeli government is “the only one to blame.”

Now, more than ever, is the time to stand by the Jewish community. We recognize the incredible suffering that this war will inflict upon all Middle Easterners, including both Israelis and Palestinians. The indescribable pain of losing a family member does not discriminate based on nationality. But mourning the loss of Palestinian life must not preclude naming Israel as the target of this attack and calling Hamas what it is: a terror organization whose leadership has explicitly called for Palestinians to “cut off the heads of the Jews with knives.”

These attacks have also come at a great cost to Palestinians and Arabs across Gaza and Israel. For example, one of our Arabic teachers has a cousin whose home in Israel was hit by a rocket. European countries are reviewing or suspending aid to the Palestinians. Dozens of Bedouins have been wounded, killed, or kidnapped.

Finally, let us be clear: Hamas and the State of Israel must not be judged as morally equivalent. Israel is a country with respect for democracy and the rule of law. It regularly warns Palestinian civilians to evacuate before launching airstrikes. It prosecutes its citizens and soldiers when they commit crimes against Palestinians.

Hamas, on the other hand, is designated by most of the West as a terrorist organization. It murders Israelis and Jews not as a response to any specific Israeli policies, but because it believes Israel has no right to exist — that there are no Israeli “civilians.”

We thank University President Claudine Gay for her condemnation of Hamas’ attack. We call on the entire Harvard community to condemn the PSC’s statement for what it is: a justification of horrific terror attacks on the Jewish people and Israel. Please join us as we pray for an end to terrorism, the safe return of hostages to their families, and peace in Israel and the entire Middle East.

In the meantime, check on your Jewish and Israeli friends. It’s not political to ask someone if their family is safe.

Clarification: Oct. 12, 2023

This op-ed has been updated to include the most current information available on the killings of Israeli civilians during Hamas' invasion.

Alexander L.S. Bernat ’25, a Crimson Editorial comper, is a joint concentrator in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering in Lowell House. Charles M. Covit ’27, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Holworthy Hall. Joshua A. Kaplan ’26, a Crimson Editorial comper, is a Computer Science concentrator in Currier House.

Editor’s Note: Readers should note that premoderation has been turned on for online commenting on this article out of concerns for student safety.

—Cara J. Chang, President

—Eleanor V. Wikstrom and Christina M. Xiao, Editorial Chairs

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