Shabbat this past Saturday, Oct. 7, marked the holiday of Simchat Torah, a joyous day on which Jews complete our yearly reading of the Torah and begin the sacred cycle of reading our holy book anew. However, this year, Jews who were looking forward to celebrating in the holiday’s festivities awoke to the devastating news of a surprise attack and a declaration of war.
Heartbreaking images and videos have streamed our Israel since Hamas began its attack. As of Wednesday, Oct. 11, Hamas, in pursuance of its explicitly genocidal agenda against the Jewish people, has launched over 5,000 rockets into Israel and sent its armed fighters across the border for the purpose of slaughtering civilians. Hamas rejects any distinction between Israeli civilians and soldiers. They have murdered over 1,300 innocents (including 22 Americans) and injured at least 3,300 more. At a holiday music festival turned bloodbath, where Hamas cut down 260 young people alone, a current Stanford student’s family member was amongst the many lost. In its wake, Hamas perpetrated the mass rape of Jewish women beside the bodies of their slaughtered friends. They have taken over one hundred and fifty hostages — including both the young and the elderly, as well as citizens of countries including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Thailand and more — whose loved ones fear they will never see them again. They reduced homes in Tel Aviv to rubble.
These terrorist attacks are unacceptable. Hamas’ violence has unleashed the bloodiest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in nearly fifty years, and their blatant transgression of legal and moral norms shocks the conscience. The Jewish people have been persecuted for 3,000 years. Hamas’ actions this Saturday made it the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust. Never again is now.
Like most Jews, I support Palestinians’ aspirations for justice and independence. However, that future will not come under the banner of Hamas — a designated terrorist organization with a long history of torturing and killing not only Jews but Palestineans (even including one of their own top commanders for alleged homosexuality). While recognizing the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people, terrorism and war crimes cannot be condoned under any flag or cause. International law offers no sanction for Hamas’ brutal actions — which, in fact, are flagrantly illegal violations. Hostage-taking, attacks intentionally targeting civilians and rape are clearly proscribed under all circumstances during armed conflicts under Article III of the Fourth Geneva Convention (common article III of the 1949 Geneva Conventions), customary international law on rape and Article VIII of the Rome Convention, to which Palestine is a signatory.
There is nothing to celebrate in a mass slaughter of Jews. Hamas knows well that its action will bring Palestinians no closer toward achieving their legitimate claim to self-determination, but will instead tragically set that goal on a backward trajectory at the cost of innocent lives. Hamas’ pursuit of genocide against the Jewish people has come at the expense of the Palestinian people, who have been their primary victims. As Hamas makes clear in its own words in Article 13 of its Covenant, it will never, ever make peace. To free Palestine requires freeing Palestinians from Hamas. Its radical tyranny over Gaza must end.
As distressing as it already is to process the trauma of a modern-day pogrom and grapple with fear for our loved ones in Israel that is keeping many of us awake at night, it is doubly devastating to do so while also processing the extent to which many around the world and in our own community are desensitized to Jewish bloodshed, with some even celebrating it. Even as we worry about Jews in Israel, Jews around the world are now being forced to question their own safety where they live. The palpable threat of a former Hamas leader’s call for a global ‘Day of Rage’ on Friday, Oct. 13, has led to synagogue and school closures and demanded an urgent increase in security for Jewish institutions facing targeting. In Britain alone, reports of antisemitic incidents have shot up 300% since the war broke out. On the steps of the Sydney Opera House, protestors chanted “gas the Jews.” In Alexandria, Egypt, a police officer shot and killed two Jewish tourists along with their Egyptian guide. From Utah to Chicago, U.S. synagogues have faced a flood of bomb threats. American universities too have been the scene of mounting antisemitism since Hamas’ attack. For example, on Wednesday, an Israeli student at Columbia University was beaten with a stick in front of the library while putting up posters with the names and photos of Hamas’ hostages.
Unfortunately, Stanford has been no exception to the devastating trend. Too many students here have posted on social media sites such as Fizz and Instagram, justifying Hamas’ mass murder. As many students feared loved ones being burned alive while watching Israeli homes and towns set alight by Hamas rocket fire, a banner was hung at Tresidder Union emblazoned with the words “The Illusion of Israel is Burning.” The word choice felt like a calculated attempt to exploit that fear and trauma — as it reminded many Jewish students of the image of the mass burning of Jews during the Holocaust, a scene which Hamas is now replicating. Students biking to class past White Plaza on Wednesday morning were subject to the cruel taunts of chalkings with messages lauding violence against Jews, including “Viva Intifada” (which refers to two historical episodes of terrorist violence that claimed thousands of Israeli lives) and “Israel is Dead.”
Jewish first-years eager to learn in their required “Civil, Liberal and Global Education” class were singled out and harassed by their instructor based on their identity in a disgraceful public shaming. The instructor, who has since been suspended, asked Jewish students to identify themselves and then separated them from their belongings, claiming that this was what Jews were doing to Palestinians. According to what students in touch with the targeted first-years told the San Francisco Chronicle, after asking them how many people died in the Holocaust and receiving the accurate answer of six million, the instructor responded “Yes. Only six million,” before adding, “colonizers killed more than six million. Israel is a colonizer.” Such incidents make many Jewish students at Stanford afraid to come to class.
The Stanford Jewish community appreciates the courage and moral clarity of those who have stood up as allies to the Jewish people over past days. President Joe Biden has rightly called out Hamas’ attack as “an act of sheer evil” and taken important steps to defend the lives of Israelis and Jewish Americans in these threatening times. His leadership in uniting the world behind Israel’s defense and Hamas’ destruction sends a clear message (see his letter, co-signed by Stanford alumnus Rishi Sunak, prime minister of the United Kingdom, along with the leaders of Germany, France and Italy). President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has also expressed strong support for Israel in response to Hamas’ attack, connecting his own country’s struggle against Russia’s invasion to Israel’s defense against Hamas’ invasion (as well as accusing Russia of supporting Hamas’ operations). Here on campus, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought comfort to many by taking the stage at Tuesday night’s White Plaza community vigil to express her support for Israel and Stanford’s Jewish community.
Like most Jews, I seek the peace and security of Israel as a Jewish state in the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people, a safe haven after millennia of persecution where Jews can finally claim control over their own destiny. Likewise, like most Jews, I also dream of a future of dignity and freedom for the Palestinian people, who, by the very same principles of self-determination, deserve a state of their own in a land that they too have called home for many centuries.
However, Hamas’ ideology of hate and methods of terrorism are contrary to that vision. The wanton bloodshed and carnage that these past days of terror have brought are obviously not the path to liberation; they are instead the harbinger of continued large-scale, unnecessary suffering for innocent Israelis and Palestinians alike. I fervently hope for a day when all Israelis, Palestinians and others living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea can live together in peace as neighbors. As we yearn for that future, please join me in praying for the memory of 2,000 civilians, Israeli, Palestinian and others, who have lost their lives in the past five days of violence. For their sake, from the destruction of war, we must build a better future.
“May the Maker of peace in high places make peace for all of us and for all of Israel.”
Matthew Wigler ’19 J.D. ’25
Co-President of the Jewish Law Students Association