Noa Raman

Friends with Narratives: Israel-Hamas War

As the war between Israel and Hamas continues, my friends from San Francisco ask me: “why not move back home to San Francisco?” The last 84 days have cast a shadow of grief, uncertainty, rage, and sadness over Israel as it faces the ongoing war with Hamas. 

Everything changed on October 7, 2023, when Hamas infiltrators invaded southern communities in Israel to commit a horrific massacre. In central Israel, where I live, and across Israel, red alert sirens pierced the air at 6:30am that day, signaling the imminent threat of rocket fire. I sought refuge in the stairwell of my apartment building in Tel Aviv, while my partner Paul, who was surfing at Palmachim beach, found himself in a bomb shelter fearing for his life as missiles landed 5 feet away. 

I made the choice to make Aliyah (move to Israel), five years ago. As the Director of Partnerships for StandWithUs, an international nonpartisan education organization that supports Israel and combats antisemitism. I serve at the forefront of shaping strategies and fostering dialogue among students from Israel and various countries, including the United States, South Africa, Australia, and the Netherlands.

Since the October 7 war in Gaza against Hamas, I have witnessed two truths. First, that each individual or community interprets the conflict through a lens colored by their unique history, making it a daunting task to communicate the nuanced reality of the situation in Israel and Gaza. Second, it is very challenging to convey the rawness of this war to those who have not experienced war firsthand, especially because of how disconnected the Western world is from the reality on the ground. 

In the United States, popular ideologies on college campuses often reduce the conflict to simplistic narratives about race and colonialism. In conversations about the war, I have been told “it is not safe for me as a Black American to speak to someone who is Zionist.” But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not fit within the racial and political context of the U.S., and Jews in Israel are not colonizers driven by white supremacy. Zionism is the fundamental and intrinsic right of the Jewish people to self-determine in their indigenous homeland. Ironically, those who use American narratives about race to slander Israel are themselves engaging in a form of colonialism, by erasing a pertinent piece of Jewish indigeneity.

Jews have had a presence in this land for over 3,000 years. Major empires (Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Byzantines), repeatedly attempted to force Jews into exile over this time. My ancestors, for example, fled to countries across the Middle East and Africa due to the violence and oppression, while others fled to Europe and elsewhere. In the years that followed, repeated efforts to ethnically cleanse the Jewish populations from these various countries continued, resulting in mass murder or continued mass exodus elsewhere. Accusations of colonialism are a tool to erase Jewish history and identity, and ultimately to strip away our rights. Thus, Americans I have engaged in conversation about the conflict have projected their understanding of conflict rather than exploring the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel agreed to Palestinian sovereignty in 1937, 1947, 2000, and 2008, but Palestinian leaders rejected all of those deals, because they refused to accept our right to sovereignty alongside them. Palestinians have a right to self-determination, and so do Jews. If Hamas accepted this, there would be no conflict. Instead, they insist on a version of sovereignty where Israel is replaced by an oppressive regime based on religious supremacy. Once again, the conflict is not about race; many Israelis have very similar racial backgrounds to Palestinians. It is about two national groups with conflicting claims over the same land, with Israeli leaders offering compromises and Palestinian leaders rejecting them. Anti-Israel folks leave little room for nuance or any historical facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that do not fit their narrative.

At one of the campuses where I work with students, Leiden University in the Netherlands, Jewish Israeli students have faced accusations of being called a terrorist based on their identity; meanwhile, the same students are calling Hamas freedom fighters. Some Dutch students depict the conflict solely through the lens of Israeli oppression and Palestinian victimhood, despite lacking firsthand experience in the matter. This perspective overlooks the complex reality of the situation. Jewish students, who have personal connections and experiences, express their grief and concern for friends directly impacted by the conflict. One student shared, “I have nightmares of October 7. My best friend was murdered in one of the kibbutzim near Gaza, and other friends were affected at the festival. A close friend is currently fighting in Gaza. While I mourn, some of my fellow students openly support Hamas.” Unfortunately, it is all too common for anti-Israel voices to define the conflict without consulting Jewish students, denying them the right to shape their own identity on campus, a privilege afforded to every other group.

In South Africa, a march across the University of Cape Town spearheaded by student and community leaders openly called for the genocide of the Jewish nation, while waving Hamas and Hezbollah flags. This march was framed as an effort to extend South Africa’s fight to “end Israel’s apartheid” and advocate for social equality globally. The anti-Israel movement has exploited the history of Apartheid in South Africa to draw parallels, shaping perceptions of Israel. Israel does not fit into the framework of South Africa’s history, as Israel is a democracy that does not institutionalize racism nor deny any citizen’s right to work, study, or move freely based on race or ethnicity. It is crucial to acknowledge and learn from South Africa’s history without succumbing to misrepresentations that can fuel more hatred and division. 

There is no easy solution to the horrific Hamas-Israel war or the larger conflict. However this much is clear: one-sided approaches that blame Israel, try to strip away its power, and shield Hamas from accountability will only fuel more suffering and conflict. Those who want safety, freedom, and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians should not use the imbalance of power to empower Hamas or justify its massacre of Israeli civilians. Those who believe in peace should stop drawing false parallels between the Middle East and their own country’s history or projecting personal experiences onto the situation. It is unhelpful and unproductive. To help rather than make the situation worse, it is crucial to take the time to break through the layers of misinformation surrounding the conflict, and instead seek the truth.

 To my friends in San Francisco I respond: “Israel is home.”

About the Author
Noa Raman was born in San Francisco as a first-generation American to Israeli parents. She received her bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Lewis & Clark College, where she concentrated her coursework on the Middle East. Noa received a grant to visit Israel to research her thesis Causes of Territorial Disputes: How Uncertainty and Resources Contributed to the 1967 Six-Day War and made Aliyah—by herself—in June 2018. Previous to moving to Israel she worked on StandWithUs' campus team for 3 years mentoring college students in the Northwest United States to advocate for Israel and combat antisemitism. Today, Noa is the Director of Partnerships at StandWithUs, where she coordinates efforts and educates students from around the world about Israel’s day-to-day realities. In October 2022, Noa graduated with a master’s degree in disaster management and humanitarian aid from Tel Aviv University.
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