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Israel and Hamas Conflict

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On October 7, 2023, Hamas, one of the largest and most advanced terrorist organizations in the Palestinian territories, launched an assault on Israel. After firing over 2,000 rockets in their initial attack, the Hamas militant forces stormed blockaded sections of the Gaza Strip and bordering towns, resulting in over 1,400 Israeli fatalities, over 200 kidnappings, and unprecedented destruction across Israel. In their attack, Hamas used human shields, targeted civilians, and committed violence against women and children. Over two dozen American citizens have been killed, and the 13 who remain unaccounted for may be among the hostages. Subsequently, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) responded with airstrikes on Gaza, leading Hamas to claim more than 8,000 Palestinian deaths and 15,000 injuries as a result of the Israeli counteroffensive. Sixty-two percent of the deaths are women and children of Palestine. The number of deaths is rising with no ceasefire in sight. Additionally, Israel has imposed restrictions on essentials for living, including water, food, electricity, and medicine that are being imported into Gaza. Hamas has accused Israel of targeting hospitals and medics, which would be a violation of international law.
The current war between Israel and Hamas can be attributed to ongoing conflict over territory and governance in the Holy Land. The international response to this conflict has varied, with the US and many Western nations condemning Hamas, while Russia and Iran have taken stances supporting its efforts.
Since SHP is a diverse community filled with people of Jewish and Palestinian heritage, it is important to recognize how this conflict has affected the community. Dr. Benjamin Su, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) at Sacred Heart Prep, shared his thoughts on the conflict, explaining how “as a school, we want to prioritize the well-being of our students. So even before we talk about issues, we want to make sure our students feel supported.” He also adds that in the “first week of the conflict, [the school] held a prayer service” where members of the community were able to offer prayers for all those, whether Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, or Palestinian who have suffered.” This rapid response reflects a deep commitment by the school to foster a supportive environment for all students of various backgrounds and faiths. Su also emphasized the school’s principles being “grounded in Catholic social teaching.” One of the primary teachings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is that “The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.”
While the school has taken no official position, the school’s response remains grounded in core Catholic values. According to Catholic social teaching, “The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war.” Su reaffirmed the school’s commitment to Catholic Social Teaching by explaining that “What Hamas committed in Israel on October 7 violates the call to life and human dignity, which is not okay.” He also stated that “what’s happening in Palestine right now to Palestinian civilians in terms of human suffering is also a challenge to the life and dignity of the human person.”
The school remains focused on centering on the needs of people rather than turning its attention to the political entities involved. According to Su, within Catholic Social Teaching, there also exists a “preferential option” that states that “God loves everyone regardless of who you are, what you’ve done. At the same time, the preferential option means that we also set priorities to care for the people who are suffering the most and who are most at risk.” This teaching only further acknowledges the school’s stance to support all those who are vulnerable rather than addressing political entities.
Sloane Smith, 27’, Co-Leader of The Middle Eastern Affinity Space (MENA), explained the club’s position on the war, saying, “The club’s official stance is that we are remaining neutral, more than ever. We’re trying to create a safe space for kids to voice their opinions and ask questions because there’s a lot of misinformation. So we’re using our space as more of an educational one.” MENA has organized two meetings since the start of the conflict on October 7th, 2023. The meetings consisted of adults on campus discussing their Middle Eastern heritage and the history surrounding the conflict and open discussions. Sloane makes it clear that this is an extremely difficult situation to navigate. In response to how the club hopes to promote student voices, she said: “We want to make sure that we don’t cut off any voices while trying to make others heard. So we typically will post about issues on our Instagram, but for all news, we have not been able to find super neutral sources as of now.” She added, “We also have some meetings just for people who identify as part of the community.” MENA hosts these meetings because “it offers a much more intimate community, rather than a big space.” Sloane further explained that while MENA “hasn’t directly talked to JSU,” yet, the club has expressed interest in collaborating with them.
Abigail Gruber 26’, a leader of the Jewish Student Union (JSU), offered her perspective on the conflict, saying, “It is important to realize that no one side is perfect, there’s no perfect outcome in this. There’s no way that nobody’s going to be hurt because thousands of people have already been hurt. So I think that we should just hope for peace.” Gruber makes it clear that the loss of human life, regardless of which side they are from, is unacceptable. As a club, the JSU is “trying to be as neutral as possible. But, we are the Jewish Student Union, which is Judaism, which is based in Israel.” Despite the high tensions, she explains that “JSU has not yet met as a Club” because “It has been a very hectic couple of weeks.” Although MENA and JSU have not collaborated or communicated yet, Gruber says, “I would love to talk to them. I just haven’t gotten the chance yet.”
Dr. Jennie Whitcomb, Principal of the Prep, and Mr. Rich Dioli, Director of Schools,
offered their view on the conflict. In regards to the school’s stance, both Whitcomb and Dioli said, “The school does not have a formal stance,” as Sacred Heart is not a school that takes a stand on political issues. “We hope all of our members of our community work out their own understandings and stances,” said Dioli. The school aims for members of their community, specifically the students, to come to their own conclusions based on critical thinking and without administrative influence. Whitcomb elaborated on the idea that students are the ones who make an impact by giving the example of the student-led clubs on campus. She said, “I think that the affinity groups, such as the Jewish Student Union and MENA (Middle Eastern North African), help people connect to talk through this issue.” Mr. Dioli added, “As a school, we try to support them and want groups to feel that they have a safe space.”
Additionally, Whitcomb explained that the prayer service Dioli helped organize three days after the initial attack was not intended to express the views of the school. Rather, “The prayer service was for peace. It was not to take one side or another, it was a call for peace across a region that has seen a lot of war and violence both right now and historically. Calling for peace does not mean taking one side or another per se” as “a prayer service for peace calls for an end to war no matter who is fighting.”
Whitcomb addressed how the school may react if the conflict keeps growing and the steps that will have to be taken to have the conflict addressed by the school. She says, “I think that if there were students who wanted to do something that responds to new escalations, perhaps our Tuesday gatherings would be another place, or students might work with Mr. Carroll and Campus Ministry to craft daily centering prayers that speak to us at that moment.” It is apparent that the school encourages community members to get involved in order to make a difference.
To conclude, Whitcomb reiterated that “Sacred Heart is always a school that supports our student body as much as possible. We see this conflict as an opportunity for the students to lead and exercise their voices rather than waiting for the adults to weigh in on the topic. And we are not going to weigh in on the topic.”
With Sacred Heart being a diverse community, the neutral stance of the school certainly promotes open dialogue and provides students with a safe space to express their views without the worry of going against the administration. Given the variety of student-led clubs, Sacred Heart is a place for students to formulate their own opinions and engage in open discussions.

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