BY MIKE HOLTZ, JIMMY LOOMIS, & KAITY CULLEN
As the presidents of College Democrats and College Republicans, we are deeply concerned by the summer’s escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas. We recognize that a peaceful and stable Middle East is crucial to America’s national security and foreign policy interests, and we share a humanitarian concern for those suffering the consequences of the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip. We believe that both sides have a responsibility to reach a long-term peace agreement, and hope that such a resolution is reached soon.
While we recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is exceedingly complex and that a solution will require concessions from both parties, we firmly support the democratic state of Israel as she continues to defend herself from Hamas. Israel has long been a key strategic ally of the United States and an outpost of liberty and democracy in the Middle East, and it is imperative that we stand by her in the most difficult of times. Additionally, we condemn Hamas for its use of terror and for its ongoing disregard for the life and well-being of the people of Gaza.
Although both sides bear responsibility for the current conflict, we feel strongly that Hamas has been disproportionately belligerent in its escalation. While the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have taken unprecedented measures to avoid civilian casualties – using leaflets, text messages, and phone calls to warn people before a strike – Hamas has consistently valued its own political gain over the lives of the Palestinians in Gaza. Recognizing that asymmetrical death tolls shore up political support in the Strip and draw international condemnation of Israel, Hamas has gone so far as to order civilians to act as human shields for its munitions stockpiles, using people to protect weapons instead of weapons to protect people. Many of these weapons are stored in and launched from schools, mosques, and hospitals, including facilities run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). When warned of impending strikes, Hamas tells its civilians to stand on the roofs of targeted buildings and act as martyrs, a method it shamelessly and publicly promotes.
Even in times of peace, Hamas readily places its political goals ahead of its people. Since coming to power in 2007, it has failed to invest in economic growth, choosing instead to divert resources to its terrorist and corrupt pursuits. Over the course of the summer, the IDF uncovered over 30 Hamas terror tunnels extending into Israel. Each of these tunnels, many of which are over a mile long and up to 8 stories underground, required over 500 tons of concrete and up to $3 million to construct. These materials could have instead been used to build schools, businesses, and hospitals. Over 150 Palestinian children have been killed in the construction of the tunnels, and because many of the entrances are located in private homes, they continue to place civilians in the line of fire. In addition, even as millionaires and billionaires have come to populate the ranks of its senior members, Hamas has continued to blame Israel for the lack of economic opportunity in Gaza.
It is critical to recognize that the actions of Hamas do not represent the desires of the Palestinian people. Those who dare to oppose the organization face strict consequences. In the final days of July, more than 30 Palestinians in northern Gaza were summarily executed by Hamas without trial after being accused of collaborating with Israel. Nearly 20 more were similarly executed in mid-August.
While we deeply regret every Palestinian life lost in this conflict, we believe that the international community has imposed an unreasonable double standard on Israel. With nearly 3,000 rockets fired into population centers in July alone and with terror tunnels extending deep within its borders, no other nation has been subjected to the frequent terrorist attacks that Israel has endured, and no nation should be expected to abstain from taking military action to protect and defend its citizens. While the Iron Dome defense system has been effective in saving countless civilian lives in Israel, each interceptor costs an estimated $35,000-$50,000, making it unsustainable as a long-term solution. We do recognize, however, that Iron Dome has been critical in sparing Palestinians as well as Israelis by allowing the IDF to act measuredly, and we praise Congress and the administration for securing an additional $225 million in Iron Dome funding earlier this month.
We are sincerely saddened by this summer’s loss of life among both Israelis and Palestinians, and we again hope to see a long-term resolution soon. We appreciate our lawmakers’ continued commitment to Israel during these challenging times, and believe that it is similarly important for students from both sides of the aisle to come together in support of our democratic Jewish ally. It is critical for Americans to recognize that a much more complex story exists behind the headlines and Facebook posts inundating our news feeds, and we hope that our respective organizations can be a helpful resource for information on this issue as the semester progresses.
The ongoing challenges abroad will test our courage, mindfulness, and resolve both as a nation and as individuals. The Wash U community must continue to stand with Israel.