With teary eyes glued to the TV, Jaime Ber, ArtSci ’24, was awake in Toronto as newscasters reported on an attack in a country home to family and friends last week. She watched CNN’s coverage of a war on the other side of the world that night, and cried until her parents woke up the next morning.
A missile attack on Israel orchestrated by Hamas out of the Gaza Strip—deemed a terrorist group by the Government of Canada—on Oct. 7, was combined with a ground offensive resulting in approximately 200 Israeli citizens being taken hostage.
The Israeli government has since escalated its military action, imposing a siege on the Gaza Strip that blocks all humanitarian aid, water, and electricity from entering Gaza, impacting nearly 2.39 million residents of the Gaza Strip.
For Ber, having family in Israel means the fear of war is palpable thousands of miles away from the frontlines.
“The rest of my family has spent the last week running back and forth to their bomb shelters, and not being able to leave their homes out of fear of the armed terrorists still in their backyards,” Ber said in a statement to The Journal.
Ber’s cousins living in Israel have been intimately impacted by the outbreak of war. One cousin has a friend who was killed by Hamas militants when they opened fire at the Supernova music festival near the Gaza border. Another of Ber’s cousins, who is too old to be on the frontline, is training soldiers for combat.
Returning to Queen’s after reading week, Gili Golan, ArtSci ’24, feels there’s been a shift in the decades-long conflict between Palestine and Israel.
“I realized this isn’t just another one of those wars. This is going to be something that changes the perspective of the Jewish community, both in Israel and in the diaspora,” Golan said in an interview with The Journal.
Born in Israel, Golan is worried for his family, and other young people in Israel who have been called to military duty. As of Oct. 12, Israel called up 360,000 army reservists to the front lines. Jewish students at Queen’s are on edge, according to Golan.
“I know friends, peers, who are tucking in their Jewish necklaces. It no longer benefits them to be Jewish on campus because you don’t know who you’re talking to anymore,” Golan said.
Jewish students need a safe space to come together and connect in the safety of their community, Golan explained. He warned students’ mental health and ability to complete academic work will be compromised, and also wonders how teachers will acknowledge the conflict.
“You don’t know what it’s going to look like. You don’t know what the professor is going to say or not say, those two things can be equally as scary,” Golan said.
A Palestinian freedom protest was held in Kingston over reading week on Oct. 12. Though Golan respects the right to protest, he believes there’s a fine line between antisemitism and human rights advocacy during such rallies.
On Oct. 13 the Israeli government gave 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza 24 hours to evacuate the densely populated northern half of the Gaza strip, pending further military action. The move didn’t provide civilians with enough time to evacuate without devasting humanitarian consequences, according to the United Nations.
“You can support Palestinian human rights and also advocate for a Jewish state in the Middle East that protects Jewish people, because it’s the only place that does so. It’s not a zero-sum game,” Golan said.
Since the attack, Israel has launched its own air strikes and allegedly deployed white phosphorus in residential areas in the Gaza strip. The blockade and chemical warfare violate international law, according to Human Rights Watch.
The social media frenzy regarding the conflict has made it difficult for Golan to receive unbiased information. He’s actively searched for information coming out of Gaza to have an accurate picture of what’s happening.
“I know there’s plenty of Palestinian students on campus who are suffering from the response Israel has taken towards Hamas terrorists,” Golan said.
For Layth Malhis, ConEd ’24, checking on family and friends in Palestine didn’t begin on Oct. 7.
“For us, it’s a daily occurrence of waking up in the morning and seeing the news of what’s going on,” Malhis said in an interview with The Journal.
Born and raised in the Palestinian West Bank, Malhis encouraged his professors and peers in history classes to have open dialogue about Palestine following 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas in 2021.
“The conflation of Palestinians [and] Hamas is [used] to demonize us,” Malhis said.
“It’s hard being Palestinian [at Queen’s]. It means to be somebody who has to justify your humanity, to have to explain you’re human.”
To equip himself in starting dialogue on Palestinian rights and oppression, Malhis has taken Jewish history courses, and believes education and free speech is the way forward. Malhis urged the University to advance conversations on campus by hiring Palestinian professors and opening an Arab history institute.
“I love Jewish history. It’s a part of the Palestinian identity because we’re a pluralistic society, historically, and still today,” Malhis said.
A joint statement released on Oct. 10, penned by groups including Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at Queen’s (SPHR), which Malhis is a member of, called on the University to take a stand against Israeli occupation.
“A lot of people were scared that if they were to sign on to our statement and have their full name on our statement, they would be targeted,” Malhis said.
Students at Harvard University who signed a similar statement were doxed, with online platforms publishing their name, photo, and location. Websites such as the Canary Mission post information about students from Ontario universities. The platform’s mission is to document people and groups who allegedly promote hatred of the USA, Israel, and Jewish people.
Malhis transcribed every signatory’s name himself into initials to protect their identities. After the statement was released, Malhis received a threat on Instagram direct message from a Queen’s student.
“To know that somebody in your classroom, genuinely has this much distraught to you and feels they can send an egregious message to you, it’s wrong,” Malhis said.
Threatening words don’t scare Malhis from standing up for his nation. Fearing violence isn’t new to him.
Both the AMS and the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) released statements condemning all acts of discrimination and hate. Student governments encouraged impacted students to seek support through campus resources.
“These are deeply trying moments for many communities, in particular, the Israeli and Palestinian communities experiencing the horrors that continue to take place,” the SGPS statement posted to Instagram on Oct. 11 read.
Even with statements of support, Palestinian and Jewish students at Queen’s fear facing violence on campus as they return to academic activities.
“We’re scared for our safety. Our physical safety is something we’re really scared about. Not just the emotional stuff in terms of encountering people in school,” Nati Pressmann, ArtSci ’25, said in an interview with The Journal.
As an Israeli citizen, Pressmann studied the Arab-Israeli conflict at Hebrew University. Despite understanding the conflict’s origins, Pressmann was in shock when she heard the news of the Oct. 7 attack.
“It’s a lot of sadness for the lives of innocent civilian life on either side. The fact that Hamas doesn’t care for people in Gaza, and they don’t care for Israeli civilians, because they’re putting everyone in danger,” Pressmann said.
Her concern for Jewish students is fueled by Queen’s students’ posts on social media which, for Pressmann, conflate terrorism for resistance
“We’ve seen our peers—that we’ve gone to [Trinity Social] with, we’ve studied with, we were in seminars or tutorials—and we’ve seen them share things, saying that what is happening is an act of resistance and not terrorism,” Pressmann said.
“That affects all Canadian Jews because Canadian Jews are all connected to at least someone in Israel or know someone in Israel who’s been murdered. It’s devastating to see because I feel when we see those posts, we feel that Jews are not being viewed as people.”
To make Queen’s safer for Palestinian, Israeli, Muslim, and Jewish students, Pressmann wants students to come together and have productive conversations about issues on campus.
In a statement to students on Oct. 13, Principal Patrick Deane acknowledged it’s a frightening time for Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, and Palestinian students, staff, and faculty.
“Students who have been away for Fall Break are returning to a climate of tension and uncertainty,” Deane wrote. “Administrative offices are receiving calls about what will be done to ensure violence does not erupt on campus.”
With violence escalating in the Gaza Strip and within Israel, Deane condemned violence and encouraged the Queen’s community to come together during all the uncertainty.
“In times like these, we must not forget our humanity,” Deane said.
Queen’s Law Palestinian Advocacy (QLPA) echoed a similar sentiment in a statement to The Journal.
“We will remain dedicated to maintaining an open and ongoing dialogue with the Queen’s community to ensure every student feels secure and respected on campus,” read the QLPA statement to The Journal.
“When we reference decolonization in the context of Palestine, we are by no means condoning violence against civilians,” QLPA said. “We mean to emphasize our belief that the historic mistreatment of Palestinians cannot be justified or downplayed by the acts of one group.”
The Journal contacted Palestinian students, but many weren’t comfortable going on record, fearing personal repercussions.
Both SPHR at Queen’s and Queen’s Hillel, a Jewish organization on campus, held vigils for Queen’s students impacted by the war on Oct. 16. Students commemorated lost lives within their communities on campus.
All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.