Tough Questions On the Hamas Attack On Israel: Parenting High Schoolers

The questions below were submitted by parents on our Advocacy Anywhere program “For Parents: Advocating for Effective Responses to the Israel-Hamas War” which took place on October 17, 2023.

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Some people blame Israel’s “occupation” as one of the root causes of the conflict. How should we talk about Israel’s “occupation” and the appalling notion that Hamas’ attack was somehow justified?

Let’s be crystal clear here: There is no justification whatsoever for terrorism, and Hamas has committed vile war crimes. More than 1,200 Israelis were killed, more than 200 were taken hostage in Gaza, and more than 3,800 were wounded. Hamas murdered, mutilated, and kidnapped innocent Israeli civilians, including babies, children, young adults, grandparents, the elderly, and the disabled. This was nothing short of a pogrom. The slaughter of innocent Israelis and the documentation by Hamas of these crimes against humanity must be denounced unequivocally.

Second, Israel does not occupy the Gaza Strip and has had no permanent presence there for nearly two decades. From 1948 to 1967, the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt, which took control of the territory during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, also known as Israel’s War of Independence. As a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel gained control over the Gaza Strip from Egypt. In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, dismantling its settlements and military installations with the hopes that its withdrawal would be a step toward solving the impasse of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Gazans elected Hamas to govern Gaza in 2006. After an 18-month civil war with Fatah (the group behind the Palestinian Authority), Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Since then, Israel and Egypt have maintained strict blockades over Gaza to block weapons smuggling and monitor the misuse of materials by terror groups. Hamas has received millions of dollars in international aid but has spent it on building weapons and tunnels rather than investing in improving the living conditions in Gaza. Despite Gaza being controlled by a terrorist organization that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction, Israel has long provided humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip through coordination with international organizations, allowing the transfer of goods and aid through specific border crossings while inspecting shipments for security purposes. This assistance includes food, medical supplies, and specialized medical treatment for Gaza residents. Israel also coordinates the supply of electricity and fuel, which is critical for essential infrastructure.

My kid was in a class where the teacher said that Hamas attacked Israel to protect the Palestinians. What should I do?

Talk to the principal or other administrator of the school to ensure these comments are not repeated and to ensure that all teachers are providing accurate, contextual information about the conflict. If needed, AJC has educational resources that can be shared.

The argument is not true, as there was no provocation in Gaza that led to the attack, and Hamas was aware that a terrorist attack against civilians would most likely lead to responsive military action against Hamas in Gaza, putting the Palestinians in Gaza at risk.

In 2005, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the difficult decision to pull out of Gaza and remove Israeli forces from the territory completely, he did it with the hope that it would reduce friction between the Israelis and Palestinians and perhaps lead to the right conditions to restart peace negotiations. Unfortunately, in 2007, these hopes were utterly destroyed when Hamas was elected and imposed their ideology on the Palestinian population. 

Hamas, which is a Sunni Islamist terrorist organization, set two long-term goals articulated in its charter: the end of the Jewish state and the creation of an Islamic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which essentially implies the complete destruction of Israel. 

Hamas terrorists are not freedom fighters, advocating for the rights of the Palestinians. Rather, they are inciting violence and want to inflict the most pain they can to Israel.

My kid’s school uses very biased resources about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can I do anything about it?

Reach out to your school principal to discuss the materials the kids are given. Encourage the school to include resources by AJCthe Jewish Education ProjectUnpacked, and others.  

The AJC High School Affairs Department would be happy to talk to you and share resources you could give your kid’s school administrators to provide a balanced and factual presentation of the conflict.

Shouldn’t schools be empathetic to both Israelis and Palestinians and acknowledge that both have suffered significant losses due to terrorism?

Schools should be empathetic to Israelis and Palestinians and acknowledge that both have suffered significant losses. The loss of civilian life is tragic - it does not matter which side of the border the civilians live on. 

It is important to distinguish between Hamas’ terrorist actions and Israel’s military response to protect its security. Hamas, which the United States has declared a terrorist organization, sought out civilians for torture and massacre in the most significant terror attack against Jews since the Holocaust. They are still holding at least 100 hostages, including babies, women, and the elderly. The Israeli army is engaged in defense of its people, which it has the responsibility to do. 

Rather than targeting civilians as Hamas did, the IDF does all in its power to avoid civilian casualties. Israel adheres to the laws of war in its military operations in Gaza, following principles such as necessity, distinction, and proportionality. Israel makes efforts to target combatants and military objectives while minimizing harm to civilians, provides advance warnings before certain operations, and coordinates humanitarian assistance for Gaza's civilian population. 

It is important to unequivocally denounce Hamas, which is controlling Gaza and unfortunately, using its Palestinian population as human shields. Hamas stores weapons in residential areas and even schools and hospitals, firing rockets from densely populated zones, operating command centers in civilian areas, and sometimes using civilian clothing to blend in. Such practices make it challenging for the Israeli military to target legitimate military assets without risking civilian casualties.

Some of my friends and colleagues have remained entirely silent after Hamas’ attack on Israel. Should I try to engage with them? 

It is very disappointing when people we consider friends or colleagues don’t denounce terrorism. Some people may be uncomfortable engaging on these issues, especially on social media, if they feel uneducated or concerned about creating tension. Depending on how close you are to the people in question, start the conversation in person to gauge their interest in learning more and being educated about Israel. This article can be a good way to start the conversation. 

Can one simultaneously be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian?

Yes, support for Israel does not preclude support for the national aspirations of the Palestinian people or any other nation for that matter. Over the last 25 years, much of the discussion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has focused on creating a two-state solution, which calls for Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side in peace with mutually agreed-upon borders. Most governments and world bodies, including the United States, United Nations, and European Union, have declared a two-state solution as official policy. 

Despite the halted status of the peace process, one can still support the national aspirations of the Palestinian people and a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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School Statements Denouncing Hamas or Antisemitism

As Jewish parents scattered around the country, how can we ensure that the schools (at all levels of instruction, including colleges) acknowledge our concerns, provide safety to our kids, and issue strong statements condemning Hamas? 

If your child is in elementary school, middle school or high school, talk with your school administrators and express your concerns for your child's safety and the importance of denouncing this terrorist act that impacts your family, whether directly or indirectly. 

For universities, encourage your kid to talk to university administrators (Deans and Vice Presidents of Student Life, for example) and explain why it is important for the university leadership to take action to ensure the safety of Jewish students on campus. Your kid should also reach out to resources on campus, such as Hillel or Chabad, and see if they can assist and facilitate dialogue with the administration. 

Last but not least, AJC has relationships with both students and administrators on many campuses and would be happy to facilitate discussion and advise on the best way to proceed. We encourage you to share this resource on “Speaking Effectively In This Moment” with school administrators at any level and use this template letter you can send your school administrators to request they issue a statement. 

 

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Promoting Interfaith and Intergroup Dialogue

My kid’s school has a tiny Jewish population but a significant number of Muslim students and families. I've been frustrated that the school did not put out any statements, but at the same time, I understand why they've been reticent to put anything out. Do you have any advice about how to handle a diverse student body?

Denouncing terrorism should not be partisan; it is the foundation that creates a safe space for dialogue to ensue. This war is not a war of Jews against Arabs or Israelis against Palestinians. This war is about defeating the Hamas terrorist organization.

While not all schools are the same, schools need to foster healthy dialogue and make sure to set the tone of respect as a fundamental precept by which everyone on campus should behave. It is a good idea to share with administrators the importance of their role on campus and how they can model an effective “tone from the top.” 

AJC has a department focusing on Muslim-Jewish relations as well as a Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. We do extensive work in that field and have content experts who could facilitate dialogue and discussions between various groups on campus. Please email High School Affairs, and our staff will put you in touch with the right people. 

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Over the last couple of years, schools have invested a lot in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) curricula. How do we get the school communities to think of Jewish students as part of those conversations?

Talk to your school principal or head of school and let them know that they have a significant role to play in the fight against antisemitism. When antisemitism isn’t treated with the same seriousness as other forms of hate, it risks becoming normalized. DEI programs have a vital role to play in confronting antisemitism and resisting its normalization. When antisemitism isn’t addressed as a relevant form of hatred that is still part of today’s world and when Jews are assigned an identity that equates Jewishness with whiteness and privilege, Jews can easily become scapegoats for a host of perceived social ills and misperceptions about Jews flourish unchecked. 

It is essential that DEI programming aimed at students include robust discussions about Jews and antisemitism. Ideally, this should include a discussion of the common threads linking various forms of hatred that marginalized groups experience in addition to antisemitism’s distinctive features, such as its connection to conspiracy theories and its tendency to escalate, not shrink, in tandem with Jewish socio-economic prosperity. 

Additionally, please feel free to reach out to AJC’s highly specialized staff to talk to your school administrators. We are also happy to provide training for students or staff. We can help sensitize teams to the needs of Jewish students and improve staff’s understanding of where Jews fit into the current DEI landscape. We can also help collaborate on productive pathways towards respectful intergroup communication on your kid’s school campus. 

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Holocaust Education

My child’s school has insufficient Holocaust education and does not teach much about the Jewish community. How can I raise these issues with school administrators?

Holocaust education is a vital component of understanding the history of the Jewish communities around the world, countering prejudice, and cultivating an inclusive world. At a time of increased antisemitism, it is even more important to teach about the Holocaust and Jewish identity. 

Holocaust requirements vary by state and are currently mandated in only 25 states. Ask your school leadership how many hours are devoted to Holocaust education or education about the Jewish community and advocate for a strong curriculum and appropriate number of hours. Share with teachers resources to teach about the Holocaust, such as guidelines from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museumcourses by Echoes & Reflections, and testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation. Please reach out if we can provide additional information.

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Antisemitism Training and Incident Reporting

How do we work to get schools to do regular and mandatory workshops or programs about antisemitism?

In May 2023, to address the rise of antisemitism, President Biden announced the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism – the first ever American action plan on antisemitism and the first whole-of-society effort to address anti-Jewish hate. The National Strategy calls on schools and colleges to “teach about antisemitism and other forms of hate.” 

Addressing antisemitism requires everyone to engage in conversations about best practices, from K-12 educators to religious leaders, corporate and political leaders, and those in the non-profit sector. Within high schools, this includes training educators to integrate education about the American Jewish community and its diversity, Judaism, antisemitism, and its areas of overlap with anti-Zionism and the Holocaust in age-appropriate ways into school curricula and co-curricular programming. 

Schools should provide opportunities for faculty to obtain education and training in these areas so that they feel confident in their ability to teach them. Make sure your kid’s school administrators are aware of their responsibility in educating students about antisemitism and other forms of hatred, and reach out to the AJC Campus Affairs Team for questions about resources and trainings. 

What do I do if an antisemitic incident happens on campus?

Unfortunately, when there is a flare-up in the Middle East, we see an increase in antisemitism in the United States and worldwide. 

When antisemitic incidents occur at your kid’s school, report the incident to law enforcement agencies and the FBI, and make sure that your school leadership is handling the incident with care and transparency and that they issue clear and unwavering statements that specifically name and condemn antisemitism or anti-Zionism. 

Remind them that administrators play an important role in responding to and preventing future incidents. AJC offers several resources on antisemitism, which can be found here. In addition, our staff experts are available to help suggest relevant language for strong statements. Strong statements consist of specifically naming and condemning antisemitism when it occurs, even in the larger context of free speech and academic freedom imperatives; it offers denunciation without reservations and avoids excluding those who profess a connection to Zionism or the State of Israel; it also offers pathways forward, including resources for victims, and proactively addresses antisemitism by generating an improved understanding about Jewish history, identity, and heritage.

Antisemitism is vastly underreported in America, including in school settings. Jewish students often feel that whatever antisemitism they may face is not “bad enough” to report, given the other oppressions that their fellow students may be facing. Ensure that your kid’s school has a clear, transparent reporting mechanism for antisemitism alongside other hate crimes and offers transparency about the measures taken in response.

AJC has 25 regional offices that span the United States. For further questions, we are happy to connect you to the regional office closest to your school to discuss incidents or ways we can be of assistance.

For additional resources to support your school community, AJC recently unveiled two new resources for school administrators: Confronting Antisemitism In Our Schools: An Action Plan for Heads of Independent Schools and an Action Plan for Public School Administrators.

 

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