Palestinians need action, not prayers: USF administration’s response to the Israel-Hamas war falls short

Graphic by Madi Reyes /GRAPHICS CENTER

Since Oct. 31, heavy bombardment and shells in Gaza have killed 2,000 students and 100 school teachers, along with the destruction of more than 200 schools. According to the Palestinian News & Information Agency, more than 600,000 students will, as a consequence, not be able to “pursue their fundamental right to education.”

In response to these barbaric and tragic events, thousands of students across the country — including hundreds of USF students holding their own protests on campus — have organized demonstrations to call attention to the blatant human rights violations against Palestinians, and the increasing death toll in Gaza. At the time of publication, 808 community members, including staff, faculty, alumni, and students have signed a statement standing unequivocally against “the genocide in Gaza.” 

One of the main demands of the USF students’ Oct. 25 protest was for the USF administration to “publically denounce Israel’s genocide of Palestinian people through an email to the entire campus community.” 

As we sit privileged in the West, it is our duty to demand recourse for these gruesome atrocities. I am disappointed that this concept of condemning violent acts seems to be a challenging idea to grasp for the USF administration unless it pertains to Hamas.

In response to the escalation by Hamas, President Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., was quick to put out an Oct. 18 email that labeled the events as “defying comprehension.” However, Palestinian civilians have been facing events that have “defied comprehension” long before Oct. 7, and have almost never received this kind of attention from the University– an indicator of the intellectual dishonesty being shown by major institutions across the country. 

The violence in the region has been ongoing since the Nakba in 1948 when at least 750,000 Palestinians were displaced beyond the borders of the state. Under Article 129 of the Geneva Conventions, forced displacement is considered genocide. This violence continues to this day, as the Palestinians fight for a right to their own homes. 

When asked for a statement on why USF has yet to condemn the actions of the Israeli government, USF spokesperson Kellie Samson directed the Foghorn toward a second statement put out by Fitzgerald, sent to the USF community via email on Nov. 10. 

This statement referenced Fitzgerald’s signature to “Universities United Against Terrorism,” a letter that denounced “Hamas and terrorism.”  In his Nov. 10 email response, Fitzgerald called for “the release of Israeli hostages” and noted that he “pray[s] for the Palestinian people and for an immediate end to the violence that is causing such horrible and inhumane suffering.” Many members of the USF community took issue with this statement.

This email was one of a series of lackluster responses that do nothing to alleviate the concerns of Palestinian advocates. It is morally egregious that Fitzgerald can sign his support for Israel, but only extend the same courtesy in the form of prayers for Palestinians.  

While USF might not have financial stakes in weapons manufacturers, standing with Israel and being silent on violence against Palestinians is akin to supporting their methods of warfare; tactics that include the use of white phosphorus against civilians. It is not a surprise, then, that USF students who feel strongly about Palestine chanted “USF, you can’t hide; you’re supporting genocide” at a rally on Thursday

Morally, it is simply a matter of recognizing the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people. So far, USF has refused to explicitly outline these atrocities or assign responsibility to Israel, which is why protesters continue to demand action and why continued protests by USF students should be welcomed. USF cannot remain neutral on genocide.  

Given that Fitzgerald is willing to sign a document that states he “stand[s] together with Israel Against Hamas,” he along with all the 100 other university presidents listed — can just as easily demonstrate their commitment to standing with the people of Palestine. In the same way they acknowledge the horrors facing Israelis, they must be willing to put out a statement that denounces the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people.

If, as the “Universities United Against Terrorism” document states, Fitzgerald stands against “murdering innocent civilians including babies and children,” the USF administration should start with the thousands of innocent civilians who have been killed over the past month at the hands of Israeli militarization in the region. 

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