By Sam Paul
The Gaza Strip is a Palestinian enclave between Israel and Egypt. The 140 square miles — just slightly larger than the land area of Las Vegas — is home to over two million people. Nearly half of this population comprises children.
The long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine has only escalated this month, after the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, launched an attack on Oct. 7 against Israel. Hamas gunmen were sent into bordering Israeli towns to kill and abduct civilians.
In retaliation, Israel has bombarded Gaza with airstrikes and threatened a complete siege, cutting off the strip’s access to food, medicine, and fuel.
On Oct. 13, less than a week after the initial attacks, leaflets fluttered down over northern Gaza from Israeli planes. The pamphlets directed the people of northern Gaza to evacuate the area within 24 hours.
However, there is no refuge in the south. Israeli attacks continue, and the Rafah border with Egypt, the only viable crossing in or out of Gaza, is heavily patrolled.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to Israel’s strategies as a violation of humanitarian law, saying, “The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devolved by settlements and plagued by violence, their economy stifled, their people displaced, and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.”
More than 1.5 million Palestinians have been displaced in just two weeks, and Springfield College student Tasnim Abu-Ain can only describe the feeling as helpless.
“It’s very scary and it’s frustrating at some times,” she said. “I feel like I’m tied up, I can’t do anything. There’s nothing we can do since we are so far away.”
Abu-Ain is a second-year graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Springfield College. Her father, Mohammed, is Jordanian, while her mother, Reem, hails from Palestine.
Some of Abu-Ain’s family immigrated to the United States in 1948, when the Israeli-Palestinian war began. However, her maternal grandparents and several cousins, aunts, and extended family members still live in the Middle East.
While Israel still controlled the West Bank and border passage required Israeli-issued permits, two months ago, the environment in Gaza was much less hostile. Abu-Ain’s mother actually deemed the situation stable enough that she planned to return to visit her family. Abu-Ain also intended to make the trip with her mother, which would have been her first time in Palestine.
Now, everything has changed. With the fighting only escalating and Palestinians bracing for Israeli ground operations, Abu-Ain and her parents have been unable to communicate with their family overseas and have no way of knowing if or where they are being relocated. They are also unsure of when or if they will be in contact again.
“It’s so difficult, and then we just heard from the news that someone from our family passed away,” Abu-Ain said. “We haven’t been able to check with anyone.”
Abu-Ain’s family is just one of the many affected by the air and artillery strikes as the death toll in Gaza nears 6,000.
From over 5,000 miles away, Abu-Ain is now focusing on things that are within her control, including the education of others and dispelling misinformation about the conflict. She also wants people to understand the history of the conflict and the motivations behind the war.
“Despite my background, I’m not pro-murder or anything because I am one-sided-ish. I am trying to protect all people who are being impacted by this. Children are being affected on both sides and I think that’s not okay,” she said.
“I want to advocate for the families and people who are there. I know there was some misunderstanding, like, ‘This is about religion.’ This is about ethnicity and Palestinians,” Abu-Ain explained. “[Our family’s] neighbors at home are actually Christian and they are struggling as well, just because they are Palestinians.”
Abu-Ain noted that the faculty and her professors at Springfield have exemplified cultural awareness and sensitivity when she has reached out for their support. This conflict has been an opportunity for all to demonstrate their understanding, despite their political views. With the substantial access people now have to social media and news, Abu-Ain hopes for educated speakers from both sides of the issue.
The Springfield College Office of Spiritual Life, in partnership with Abu-Ain and other concerned students on campus, is facilitating a conversation exactly like this. For those who are interested in understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict further, the discussion will be hosted in the Campus Union Lobby/Cafe this Thursday, Oct. 25. Students are encouraged to ask questions and share their perspectives.
“I think part of what we can do is just have more education about this matter. Having some group and peer support can actually get people to understand not only the Palestinian but also the Israeli perspective because they’re going through a lot too and they’re also being affected,” she added. “We need people who are actually culturally aware and culturally sensitive to talk and facilitate these conversations.”
Photo courtesy of Nick Pantages