This is the second article in a series of articles on the conflict in Israel and Gaza. Read the previous one here.
Since Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israeli citizens and the subsequent military strikes throughout the Gaza Strip, members of the M-A community with personal ties to the region have been frustrated by misinformation and an oversimplified narrative that doesn’t distinguish Hamas from Palestinian citizens or the Israeli government from its citizens.
Senior Grace Hanna, president of the Middle Eastern Group of Students (MEGOS), has family near the border of Gaza in Egypt who have been affected by the conflict. She said, “I have family that lives really close to Khan Yunis, where Israeli forces are now moving to. I’ve been able to communicate with most of my family. Most of them are relatively safe, and thankfully they haven’t been forced out of their homes. But a lot of them are really apprehensive of what’s going on and have moved further away.”
She continued, “I’ve been really nervous for my family because I know these people, and it’s really hard to think of these humanitarian crises that I, growing up in Atherton, can’t imagine affecting the people that I love. Seeing different students in MEGOS and hearing about their experiences and their families over there has made me more and more scared.”
Hanna said, “It’s really hard because, in the world, Jews are a minority. October 7th was a really big deal for a lot of Jewish students, and I completely understand. But, it’s hard when you’re coming from a different side of it. A lot of retaliation has been against Middle Easterners in specific. If you look at the West’s perspective, there’s a lot of hatred towards Middle Eastern and Palestinian heritage, especially after events like 9/11. I wish the perspective would shift to look at more of the tragedies that are going on all over this conflict because it’s not a right and wrong thing.”
According to PBS, the war has killed over 17,400 Palestinians and Israelis in just two months.
Hanna said, “It’s really important to know that there are victims on both sides, and that the Israeli government is not the Israeli people. When critiques are thrown out against the Israeli government, that’s different than the Israeli people. Hamas is also not the Palestinian people, and when critiques are thrown out against Hamas, it shouldn’t be allocated to all Palestinians.”
When critiques are thrown out against the Israeli government, that’s different than the Israeli people. Hamas is also not the Palestinian people, and when critiques are thrown out against Hamas, it shouldn’t be allocated to all Palestinians.
MEGOS has held conversations over the conflict, some with the Jewish Student Union (JSU), during lunchtime meetings. Hanna said, “We’re strictly an educational club. It’s not to form opinions or create a solution, but to provide a space for Middle Eastern and North African students.”
In a discussion with the JSU, Hanna remembered a discussion in a MEGOS meeting. “One comment that stuck out to me was somebody said, ‘The reality is, this is Israel’s land,’ and that’s just not true. If you look at the people who have lived there for their whole lives, and for generations before that, the political landscape of the Middle East wasn’t one person’s land, it really is a diverse place.”
Sophomore Kianne Saad has been able to stay in contact with her Palestinian family members who live in Israel on the border of Gaza. Her family was only 20 minutes from some of Hamas’ missiles that hit Israel. She said, “Everybody, my family in Israel too, is staying in a shelter—they don’t go out unless it’s necessary. Even before the bombings and shootings, the electricity would go out a lot and we couldn’t reach them. It’s definitely scary to know something could happen at any moment and I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
Saad recalled visiting Israel fondly, describing, “My grandpa brought me and my sister to this hill where you could see everything—the whole entire city— and it was really beautiful.”
She continued, “One time, my grandma took me on a tour bus around the perimeter of Israel. When we reached the Palestinian border, we saw a bunch of Israeli flags hung up, and then on the other side, Palestinian flags. I can’t even compare it to California because the environment looks completely different. The Palestine border is kind of rundown, with houses and agriculture.”
Many M-A students experience the conflict mostly online through social media. Especially on social media, a slew of misinformation and disinformation has been intertwined with real accounts of the conflict and information.
According to NewsGuard, a rating system for news and information websites, 74% of the top posts about the conflict on X, formerly known as Twitter, spreading “prominent false or unsubstantiated narratives” came from verified accounts; only 32% were flagged with Community Notes. According to CNN, a TikTok of the video game “Arma 3” captioned “The war of Israel” was viewed over 100,000 times. However, according to NBC, many journalists on Instagram have been able to provide firsthand media and amass millions of followers.
Saad explained that she previously angered some other students who misunderstood her intent on social media. She said, “I put a Palestinian flag as my ‘status’ on Instagram, not with the intention of supporting Hamas, simply wishing for everybody’s safety. People then messaged me telling me things like, ‘This is embarrassing,’ and ‘What are you doing?’ I explained that I didn’t mean anything malicious. I feel like everybody’s a little bit on edge right now, and if you do or say something that doesn’t seem right to someone else, things can really explode.”
I feel like everybody’s a little bit on edge right now, and if you do or say something that doesn’t seem right to someone else, things can really explode.
Saad continued, “I feel like the overall public narrative is really centered on Israel. I wish the people of Israel well, and I hope they are safe, but supporting Israel doesn’t necessarily mean you have to support the Israeli government. Those are two different things. The Israeli government is oppressive to Palestinians. I wish more people were educated on both sides of the story. People are treating it black and white, but there’s so much more range to it.”
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