After reading week: York reacts to the Israel-Hamas conflict

(Jeanette Williams)

York students returned to campus a week after the onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict on Oct. 7. Though reading week is typically a period of much-needed rest and recuperation, the ongoing conflict instead brought stress, trauma, and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty — especially for some student communities at York. 

On Oct. 16, various student organizations reacted to the recent events. Throughout the day, Excalibur spoke with students and groups across campus who shared their different concerns and thoughts on the conflict. This article explores some of the perspectives held by the student body. It presents the various dialogues that occurred during this sensitive and divisive time. 

The views and quotes in this article do not represent or reflect the views of the Excalibur editorial staff. Rather, the different perspectives demonstrate how individuals around York are reacting to and processing the events that occurred.

Palestinian Solidarity Collective Tabling 

In the morning, the Palestinian Solidarity Collective (PSC) held a tabling event at Central Square alongside the Socialist Fightback Club. Later in the day, Hillel, along with other groups, held a “United We Stand” vigil in solidarity with Israel.

Cynthia, a member of the PSC, explained that the group’s objective was to educate people about the conflict. “We feel that it’s necessary for us to be here. Also, we bring a lot of information that was published by the UN, by Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. We want to provide this data, this information, so that York students can also read it and understand what’s going on,” she said.

Cynthia clarified that the PSC was not interested in discussing the correctness or incorrectness of people’s personal beliefs, but that they support the safety of all students.

“A lot of people confuse supporting Palestine with being against Jewish students or not in concern of their safety, but that’s just completely wrong. We’re here with all the students. We’re just here to provide information; we don’t want to talk about whether you are right or wrong to have your own beliefs. We support all Jewish and Palestinian students for their safety. We also support everyone, no matter which side you’re on; [people] should be protected and be safe,” she stated. 

The Socialist Fightback 

The Socialist Fightback Club (SFC) was also present to support the PSC’s tabling  efforts. The Fightback shared pamphlets and information about the on-going situation in Israel and Gaza. 

Renu, a student with the SFC, explained the organization’s motivation for gathering on Oct. 16: “In the last six days, the Israeli state has dropped 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip. Thousands have died. Almost a million have been displaced … There is a mass slaughter of Palestinians. One one hand, you have Israel, one of the biggest militarized capitalist states in the entire world, supported by the biggest imperialist powers in the world, America. On the other hand, you have oppressed people who don’t even have a homeland. It has been 75 years of humiliation, harassment, and slaughter. We think it’s our duty to talk about the hypocrisy of the imperialist powers.”

Pamphlet shared by the Socialist Fightback Club (Photo by David Clarke)

“The administration has been harassing us. They made a public statement because a bunch of the student unions said they stand with Palestine. [The administration] made a statement condemning the student unions, saying their solidarity with Palestine is equivalent to supporting terrorism. This is disgusting, right? You have the mass slaughter on the one hand, and all these imperialist powers of the world are showing their support, giving arms and resources to continue the slaughter. We have to show the reality of what has created the crisis is the history of encagement and occupation,” adds Renu. 

Renu went on to say: “I think that’s the real cause of the bloodshed that we have today. The blood is on the hands of the Israeli state and the imperialists have funded that. The media has turned around and said Palestinians are somehow the oppressors. It’s a ridiculous distortion of the truth.” 

Renu ended her comments by clarifying that “when I’m talking about the Israeli state, I am talking about the capitalist, ruling class. We condemn Israeli imperialism and Zionism, that’s not the same as being anti-semitic.”

Later in the morning, another student approached the SFC table and directed obscenities at them. Others from the SFC attempted to de-escalate the situation by telling him to “walk on” and saying “bye” repeatedly. 

When asked about his thoughts on the matter, the student objected to the statement of solidarity made by the three student unions at York. 

“Personally, I don’t find what I just saw resistance, how it happened in Israel,” the student states. “I have friends and family who were murdered … The statement that was given out by YFS was beyond pro-Hamas, it was beyond inflammatory.

“They called the tearing down of this ‘illegitimate fence’ of ‘so-called’ Israel a ‘strong act of resistance.’ And they proceeded not to explain what happened after [Hamas] tore down this fence, which was they came into Israel and they murdered, beheaded, tortured, burned, innocent civilians, some of which were my family, my friends,” the student adds. 

“I have sympathy for every civilian that’s killed in the crossfire, both Israeli and Palestinian. This war is against Hamas … and for [YFS] to go on and make that pro-Hamas statement is not doing justice for their cause. I have people who are telling me they’re concerned for my safety on this campus. I refuse to put away my religion and my ethnicity in the face of this bullshit.” 

Vigil at Hillel 

Later in the afternoon at approximately 1 p.m., Hillel hosted a vigil at their office in the First Student Centre. Rabbis, professors, the provost and vice provost, York President Rhonda Lenton, and members of Hillel were all in attendance. 

The vigil was a moment of mourning for the lives lost and affected by the conflict, including those killed and taken hostage during the Hamas terror attacks. There were various speeches, along with the reciting of prayers and songs. 

Rabbi Aaron Greenberg, the director of the jewish learning initiative at York’s Hillel, expressed his gratitude to the university: “I think it’s of utmost importance to say publicly how much we appreciate and we thank the administration of this university, for the stance they have taken … for their tremendous support of the jewish community.”

“My dear friends, we are not here to mourn or cry, perhaps there will be another time for that. The goal of why we are here today is for strength and solidarity … we understand what it means to come together as a community, at a time where there’s nothing more important,” adds Rabbi Greenberg. 

Rabbi Shlomo Blackman speaks at the vigil (Photo by Jeanette Williams)

Rabbi Shlomo Blackman was another speaker at the vigil. He said, “We’re all trying to figure out how we’re going to win this war. The Talmud actually tells us what the answer is. It says, ‘You want to win a war, guaranteed? It’s to unify the Jewish people.’ Bringing unity into this world will guarantee a win. I have no doubt in my mind that we are coming out on top. We are going to be walking proud to be a jew … when we say winning, that means to be a light on a nation, to help out the entire world [and] to unify with one another.” 

“We’re fighting the war —  every single one of us. All of us are being called up to the frontlines. We all have to be leaders. The question is, ‘what positions are we taking?’ By us doing something right here, by being nicer to someone else, you’re saving someone else on the frontlines of Gaza or the Lebanon border. By being nice to one another, we are going to win this war.”

After the vigil ended, Excalibur spoke with Jacob, the advocacy intern at Hillel, who opened up about the need for reflection and community: “We hosted a vigil to honour everybody who lost their life on both sides, especially all the civilians that were killed. The goal today was to bring the Jewish community together, because right now we all need to be together.

“We all agree that Hamas killed a lot of civilians, but we also recognize that there were civilians on the Palestinian side that died as well. So we don’t want to just stand on one side — we all agreed that innocent civilians being killed is horrible. We want to honour the memories of all the Jewish people as well as all the Palestinian people.”

At the end of the day, the various student groups hosting campus activities remained relatively peaceful, even in the face of opposition. Each side presented their different perspectives. 

York continues to be a hotbed for various political issues, especially with the evolving Israel-Hamas war. It remains to be seen how this ongoing conflict will continue to affect the students, staff, and faculty at York. 

Excalibur recognizes that this is a highly sensitive time. We are committed to providing a fair platform for members of the York community.

About the Author

By David Clarke

Former Editor

David is in his fourth year, studying English at York University. He has a keen interest in filmmaking, writing, literature, video-editing, and ideas. When he isn’t working on his next project or studying, you can catch him watching film-noirs on Turner Classic Movies.


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