The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Student groups respond to Israel-Hamas crisis

During a joint meeting between MSA, MENA and the Persian club on Friday, Oct. 13, students anonymously shared their reactions to the attack. Many were saddened by the news, yet felt unheard and overlooked by the larger WJ community.

On Oct. 7, 6:30 a.m. Israel Daylight Time, Islamist terror group Hamas launched a coordinated attack on Israeli civilians and military bases, initially firing over 2,000 rockets and infiltrating the Israel-Gaza border in several locations. Israeli casualties have reached past 1,400 killed, 3,800 injured and 200 taken hostage by Hamas. Responding Israeli airstrikes of the Gaza Strip have resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths, injuries and displacements. The world watches to see what happens next.

People across the world have felt the blows of this crisis, especially in MCPS, a school district with relatively high Jewish and Arab populations. Following news of the initial Hamas attack, students and student organizations, including the Jewish Student Union (JSU), Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Middle Eastern North African Club (MENA), at WJ and across MCPS moved quickly to speak out and organize.

Jewish Student Union (JSU)

Following Hamas’ attack on Israel, in an emergency meeting at lunch on Tuesday, Oct. 10, JSU members came together with Jewish faculty members and principal Jennifer Baker to discuss reactions and possible actions the group could take. Aside from voicing feelings about the weekend’s events, members talked about a cross-school vigil as well as potentially reaching out to the school’s MSA in an attempt to facilitate connections and dialogue between the groups.

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“Right now, we are letting our individual groups process [the situation], because it’s still very raw for everyone. But we would really love to do something [with MSA] because if we can’t even talk about the conflict or work together here, then how are they supposed to do it in Israel and Palestine,” senior JSU leader Ellie Meyerstein said.

Students also brought up their feelings about a controversial Instagram post made by the MSA that was later deleted. The message was reposted from Wootton High School’s MSA, affirming their support for “all Palestinian people, regardless of religion.” A number of students, mainly Jewish, felt that this post was unnecessarily controversial and political.

“[MSA] took [the post] down, but I feel like I don’t want to bring politics into the school and our club environment, and if you associate with people who do, you drag yourself into it,” senior JSU leader Elliot Kaminski said.

On Thursday, Oct. 12, JSU hosted a meeting with Rabbi Greg Harris from Congregation Beth El of Bethesda. During the meeting, Harris shared his feelings and encouraged those in attendance to have conversations with students who hold different views towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students and faculty also shared their own feelings, hopes and perspectives with the group.

“A lot of people are suffering. Every suffering is different. Just remember that people are suffering right now [and] try to support [them],” Israeli Bridge to Wellness mental health therapist Alon Raveh said.

That same night, members of the WJ JSU participated in a vigil at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac. Also in attendance were Israeli Embassy Deputy Chief Eliav Benjamin and House Representative Jamie Raskin, who gave speeches lamenting the loss of life and criticizing Hamas’ actions. Along with these special remarks, the ceremony consisted of prayers for Israel and victims of the attack.

“We led the candle lighting at the vigil [with] JSUs across MCPS. That was really special and nice,” senior JSU leader Leora Leavey said.

On Friday, Oct. 13, during JSU’s regular bimonthly meeting, guests from NCSY, a Jewish youth group, came to write letters to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and discuss the current situation in the Middle East and how students felt about it.

The WJ JSU has also been collaborating with other JSUs across MCPS to coordinate activities and create the MOCO JSU, a collection of Jewish clubs advocating for Jewish students across the county. According to Leavey, the MOCO JSU is planning a bake sale on Oct. 22 to raise funds for the Jewish National fund, which will provide humanitarian aid in Israel.

Ultimately, JSU encourages all students, no matter their religion, to have empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians and to reach out and provide support to their friends affected by this conflict.

“Think about what you’re posting before you post it. Read through all of it, don’t just post it because your friends are posting it because it hurts. Try to keep yourself informed, and if you don’t know things, try to research them, and just try to put some good out into the world,” Leavey said.

Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Middle Eastern North African Club (MENA)

Many students were left frustrated when much of the support provided by administration was targeted to Jewish students. Members of MSA and MENA shared that they felt and continue to feel ignored and overlooked by the wider school community.

“When the tragedy just started, my students felt they were not heard. It saddened me to see them complaining about how the messages of sympathy [did not] mention that my Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian students are very affected by the situation. They are also, by the way, not all Muslims. Some are Christians, others don’t follow any religion. It’s not always this very narrow thing. It saddened me deeply to see that my students felt neglected,” French teacher Farah Kinani said.

On Tuesday, Oct. 10, Kinani held an emergency meeting with MSA, MENA and Persian club to debrief and discuss appropriate responses to the recent events.

“Seeing kids from both sides die, seeing mothers crying from both sides, crying…It’s very sad. Now, I don’t care anymore about who did what, all that matters is that civilians, from both sides, are being savagely killed. Day after day. And we are witnessing this tragedy happening. And it is very sad, ” Kinani said.

Others at the meeting leaned more strongly towards one side or another.

“As a Muslim and Arab myself, I can say we feel very devastated at the thousands of lives of Palestinian men, women and children being lost. I can also say [I am] very angry at how people are reacting, victimizing the oppressor as if they were attacked, and as if this was not a response to 75 years of oppression and over 20 years of Palestinians living in concentration camps and open air prison[s],” an anonymous MENA and MSA member said.

During the meeting, students also expressed sadness for those killed and held hostage by Hamas. However, many felt it was too soon to hold a joint meeting with the JSU due to concern for potential backlash from other students. Instead, the clubs looked to find a way to help both Israeli and Palestinian victims.

“I don’t think MSA and JSU should have a dialogue together as we don’t share the same opinions. Since JSU is openly supporting Israel…and MSA is supporting [Palestinian civilians], I don’t think we will be able to get anything through,” the anonymous member said.

At another joint MSA and MENA meeting on Friday, Oct. 13, students wrote their thoughts and reactions on post-it notes, which they then stuck to a board, in order to express their emotions regarding the attack anonymously before thinking of ways to help.

“I wish that the WJ community understood that a lot of Middle Eastern and Muslim students feel dismissed,” an anonymous post-it note from the project said.

Students are also worried about what this war means for neighboring countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, as many have connections in these areas.

“We’ve seen lots of feelings of grief and a desire to help those who have been impacted by what’s going on,” senior MENA Co-President Aria Tahmasbi said.

In a MENA meeting on Monday, Oct. 16, students discussed possible fundraisers to help victims on both sides, such as a toy drive around the holidays.

Kinani seeks to help her students, no matter their background. A quote from Sikh civil rights and faith leader Valarie Kaur, kept up on the wall of Kinani’s classroom, serves as a constant reminder.

“If you want to help but don’t know how, begin in relationship. Who in your life is hurting? Offer to walk with them, listen to them. There is no fixing, only bearing it together. Only then, do we know what to do next,” the poster said.

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