add_theme_support( 'post-thumbnails' );“I think it’s really important that we feel each other’s pain”: Boston College community reacts to the violence in Israel and Palestine - BANG.
Ellie Doering / Gavel Media

“I think it’s really important that we feel each other’s pain”: Boston College community reacts to the violence in Israel and Palestine

Note: The interviews for this article were conducted in the fall semester. 

On Oct. 7th, Hamas attacked Israel, killing roughly 1,300 civilians and taking 150 hostages. Since then, the Israeli government has killed over 25,000 Palestinians in Gaza through airstrikes and ground invasions. 

Tragedy in the Middle East has long been orientalized and accepted in the Western world. It is easy for students, especially at a campus like Boston College, to become so caught up in their own lives that what is happening halfway across the world does not even begin to breach their list of concerns.

However, when U.S. tax dollars are being used to fund the human rights violations occurring overseas, citizens and taxpayers are forced to examine this narrative of terror and the way Middle Eastern people continue to be dehumanized. In order to achieve peace, people must first acknowledge the injustices.

After the attack, students and activist groups across American campuses came forward to voice their concerns. 

On UMass Amherst's campus, members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held sit-in protests. At Harvard, 30 student organizations signed an open letter condemning the Israeli regime. At BC, vigils were held for both Israel and Palestine.

University President Father William Leahy issued a statement to members of the Boston College community empathizing with civilians on both sides.

"This violence has left Jewish faculty, students, and staff in our community understandably grief-stricken, angry, and apprehensive about their future. I also empathize with the residents of Gaza, caught for decades in terrible economic, social, and political circumstances," his letter read.

Summer Ahmed, a Palestinian-American from Massachusetts and MCAS '27, attended the vigil for Palestine hosted by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Arab Student Association (ASA) on campus. 

"It was honestly a really good experience. The turnout was really great and it honestly meant a lot to me to see people that weren't Muslim or Palestinian attending and supporting the cause," she said. 

With that being said, it has not been easy navigating the political landscape of B.C. as a freshman.

"Everyone's beliefs are different at a university like this. I feel like there is a lack of coverage and a lack of spreading information from the university itself," Ahmed said. 

She found that a lot of the vigils, education, and conversations happening on campus were coming directly from the student body, as opposed to the administration. Ahmed is also concerned about the language being used to address the struggle. 

"A lot of news stations and other universities have lacked inclusivity when representing both sides of the story," she stated. "It's affecting Jewish members, Israeli members, people that are Muslim that are not Palestinian, [as well as] people that are Palestinian of different religions."

The freshman took note that in Fr. Leahy's statement, he referred to the people being affected as residents of "Gaza," however, she said, "It is an issue that has affected all Palestinians." 

Ahmed herself is not from the Gaza region but another part of Palestine. 

H. Edwards, Policy Coordinator for B.C.'s Queer Leadership Council (QLC) and MCAS '26, has attended two Free Palestine rallies in Copley Square since the attack. 

"They were both very moving protests," they said. "I think the amount of people who showed up for this cause was beautiful, especially coming from B.C. [where] it is a very apolitical campus. Knowing that there are people outside of this campus that really care was really important." 

For Ahmed, she found that posting on social media helped her connect with the community on campus.

"I've gotten supportive messages from other people on campus that are not of Arab or Muslim descent, or [are] not directly affected by this conflict. It's refreshing to see people on B.C.'s campus reaching out, it's something that has made going through this easier for me," she said.

In an effort to avoid controversy or dispute, some students have taken to avoiding the conversation entirely or taking a neutral stance. 

"I haven't been at B.C. long, but I feel like I've never seen the students so divided and kind of scared, like they're tiptoeing around everything." said Edwards. 

Ahmed shared a similar sentiment, "I know a lot of people come from different backgrounds and different areas where issues like this might not be talked about, maybe within their own communities. I just feel like it's important to address these conflicts and speak about them in group settings to allow people to learn more, because a lot of people are hesitant to take a stance or make an opinion because they feel like they don't know enough." 

For Julia Franco, an International Studies student (MCAS' 26) and intern at Massachusetts Peace Action, this was a moment of personal reckoning for her because of her Jewish upbringing.

"I think a lot of us on campus are nervous to speak about things that are controversial, and I understand that, but I also think that we should try to speak about things with a kind, sincere intention. It doesn't need to be an argument, but it also shouldn't be avoided," she said. 

Franco attended both vigils held on campus, as well as the March for Ceasefire in Washington D.C. She continued, "I'm a young American girl at Boston College, realizing my positionality, wondering, what do I have the power to do? How can I do the most good with my time on this earth?... Is activism effective? For me to go to marches, for me to protest? Is that really going to change what's going on in Gaza? Will that really put pressure on my leaders to cease fire? I don't know, maybe it won't, but it also feels wrong to do nothing." 

Fr. Leahy expressed in his statement that "the situation in Israel and Gaza distresses all at Boston College and highlights the need for compassion and dialogue as well as remembering the beliefs, values, and bonds we share as a Jesuit, Catholic university. Classes and residence halls provide opportunities for such engagement and conversation." 

For her Studies in Poetry class, Franco decided to write a poem on the events. 

Part of the poem speaks to her education about Israel and Palestine when she was young. "I think… especially with my major, we study so much [about] colonialism, occupation, space, and power, I've had to really re-educate myself and I think with that comes a tension within childhood Julia and college Julia, with that comes tension with my parents, especially my dad."

One of the biggest reasons why people are hesitant to have these conversations is a lack of contextualization for the Oct. 7th attack. 

In 1917, the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration, sympathizing with "Jewish Zionist aspirations." He expressed the British government's support for a national home for Jewish people to be located in Palestine, which at the time was a British colony.

The League of Nations approved a mandate in 1922 to establish Palestine as a haven for Jewish people. Years later, during the Holocaust, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased greatly, as did the tension between the natives and settlers. 

In 1948, the U.N. adopted a partition resolution, which led to the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian Arab villagers by Zionist paramilitary groups. 

Later that year, Israel declared its independence, and between 750,000 and one million Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, nearly 75% of their population.

"When you look at the history, it makes sense that Jews feel threatened for their safety. You can go back to the Spanish Inquisition and then the Holocaust…," Franco said. "But it is also not okay that the Palestinians were driven out of their land." 

The rising wave of antisemitism against Jewish students has been reported on by Hillel International, with incidents of swastikas and hate speech being recorded on campuses across the U.S. At the same time, Muslim students are reporting a similar wave of hate crimes, reminiscent of post-9/11 Islamophobia. 

"Because I've grown up with this conflict, I've kind of watched it progress and I've kind of watched it simmer down in moments and also heighten," said Ahmed. "I feel like right now, it's at its most impactful."

Fr. Leahy's statement ended with, "I believe our religious and intellectual heritage also invites us to pray for peace and reconciliation, not only in the Middle East but throughout the world." 

As poet and activist Maya Angelou said, "No one of us can be free until everybody is free." Struggle anywhere in the world is an injustice everywhere. As citizens of the world, everyone should be concerned about what is happening right now in Israel and Palestine.

"I appreciate the Jesuit education of praying and reflecting, and feeling injustice viscerally," said Franco. "I think it's really important that we feel each other's pain and that we try our best to feel the pain of the moment."

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