Image Credit: Cornelia Chen

Societies issue statements on crisis in Israel-Gaza

The newly-formed Oxford Israel Society and the Oxford Palestine Society have both issued statements on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The conflict in question follows a Hamas attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip on 7th October killing more than 1,400 people and taking more than 220 hostages. Air strikes from Israel in retaliation have reportedly led to 5,800 deaths.

Yesterday the Oxford Israel Society published a “historic statement” calling for “the immediate unconditional release of 200+ Israeli hostages illegally held in Gaza by Hamas terrorists, including at least 10 British citizens”.

Four hostages have been released from Gaza so far. One freed hostage Yocheved Lifshitz stated she “went through hell” when kidnapped by gunmen during the assault in Israel on October 7th.

Oxford University’s three main political societies endorsed the recent statement: the Conservative Association (OUCA), the Labour Club (OULC), and the Liberal Democrats (OULD). 

Prior to this in 2016, OUCA and OULD, as well as thirty former OULC Co-Chairs signed an open letter opposing OULC’s endorsement of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). This was a series of lectures condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestine and supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movements.

The signatories of this open letter criticised the use of the term “apartheid” in respect to Israeli policy, and expressed that “it is wrong to contend that Israel – a multiracial democracy – even remotely resembles the horrors of South Africa’s racist dictatorship”.

OUCA commented on the recent statement that though “[m]any things in geopolitics are complicated and difficult”, the “right of sovereign democracies to defend themselves against terrorist incursions and protect the integrity of their borders” was not.

Signatories of the recent statement also include Oxford JSoc, Chabad Jewish Center of Oxford and The Newman Society (the Catholic Society).

The Pinsker Centre, an organisation which describes itself as “a think-tank supporting free speech and open debate on university campuses” also expressed its support.

Previously the Oxford Israel Society responded to recent demonstrations for Palestine in another statement calling the Hamas assault “one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in history”, pointing out the “barbarity” of civilian losses. They stated “it is the duty of the world to see Hamas removed”.

This also condemned reporting on the conflict for framing “Israeli attempts to save civilians as illegal or even genocidal”. They instead state “Hamas is using the people of Gaza as human shields” and that “civilian infrastructure used for military purposes are legal targets”.

On support for the recent statement, Oxford Israel Society commented they were “glad” that “support for the return of the hostages is so broad across the student body”. They hoped hostages would be returned “back home” and that “perpetrators of these horrific crimes brought to justice”.

They also referenced that their “call follows a letter by the Oxford PalSoc”, quoting their view that the 7th October attacks were “the result of Palestinians’ long-brewing and well-founded anger in response to Israel”.

On 13th October, the Oxford Palestine Society published a joint statement expressing its “unequivocal support of Palestinian liberation” and calling for “an immediate end to Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza”. The statement identifies the “root cause of ongoing violence” as “Israeli settler-colonial occupation”.

The signatories state that their sentiments are supported by “international human rights organisations, the United Nations OHCHR, over 140 countries in the UN General Assembly, and millions across the globe who sympathise with the Palestinian cause”.

Broader support was pointed to in the statement with the 2021 example where “a record-breaking 180,000 people marched” for Palestine, precedent for the 100,000 demonstrators in London over the weekend.

To understand the background, the statement also emphasises that international and Israeli human rights organisations have published reports “outlining how Israel’s actions fit the international definition of the crime of apartheid”.

They also quoted the organisation Jewish Voice for Peace in their calls for the US to end military aid to Israel in order to end the “military occupation over Palestinians”. The statement aimed to unite people in similar opposition to Oxford’s role in “[upholding] colonial power structures”.

Including Oxford Palestine Society, fifteen Oxford societies have endorsed this statement so far. These include the Rhodes Scholars for Palestine, the Arab Society, the South Asian Society, the Syria Society, the AhlulBayt Islamic Society, Divest Borders Oxford, and the Marxist Society.