Delve into the reflections of American University students as they grapple with the reverberations of the Israel-Hamas conflict from afar. Their stories unveil a spectrum of emotions, building bridges of understanding and empathy across continents, while showcasing a youthful perspective on a complex and far-reaching geopolitical strife.
From Zachary Ainbinder-Barkley, Editor-in-Chief, Student Israelity:
October 7th, 2023 will be a date that forever lives in infamy. As a student of International Policy and Middle Eastern Studies, I strive to understand the conflict from as many different perspectives as possible. My thoughts have been with friends and family, along with the people of Israel, who have stepped up to serve (whether it be in uniform or not), the 1,400+ lives lost that day, and the people of Gaza who have been caught in the middle of Hamas' barbaric actions. Being able to write up and discuss thoughts while processing such a tragic event has been a challenge for so many, which is why I chose to empower some of AU's brightest to answer a question that has been on my mind since the war in Gaza has unfolded.
As Editor-in-Chief of Student Israelity and as a student for the Meltzer Schwartzberg Center for Israel Studies, I am proud to belong to a community that features a diverse group of people, coming from a variety of backgrounds, each telling a different story. It is this diversity that makes our community strong, and one that will push through even the darkest of moments.
Over the past several weeks, I have asked my colleagues the following question, and here is how they have responded:
Considering the recent events in Israel and Gaza, how do you envision their impact on the future of the region?
The events of October 7th have turned regional geopolitics and aspirations for stability inside-out. Hamas' attack was partially in response to the Abraham Accords, the Negev Summit, and the recently paused Israel-Saudi negotiations, all of which hindered the potential for a sovereign and viable Palestinian state. This war, in all of its pain, agony, and suffering, will ultimately show that there will be no long-term peace in the Middle East without a justifiable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has a two-state solution. These times might seem dark, but I always try to take a look at the light at the end of each tunnel. In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the very person who called for a surprise attack against Israel four years prior, spoke at the Knesset and proclaimed, "It is the battle of all and every citizen in our territories whose right it is to live in peace." The Yom Kippur War of 1973 and today's Israel-Gaza war both share a devastating cost, but this might be the event that will help place the building blocks for a two-state solution several years down the road. Alas, we must see how this war will end and the costs it will have on both the Israeli and Palestinian people, but my hope is that when the rubble is settled, there will be opportunities for healing, and moving forward.
It is difficult to look into the future with optimistic feelings because these events have unfolded due to pure hatred. Hopefully, the IDF will be able to eradicate Hamas and its military capabilities to eliminate its capacity to run the Gaza state government. I wish that one day Palestinians will be able to govern themselves and rule their own territory. Additionally, I would hope that they could be supported by their Arab neighbors so Israel isn’t responsible for sustaining their state. By using their precise intelligence and targeted strikes, I have no doubt that Israel will continue to protect the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, so one day there can be peace. Hamas, and other groups like Hezbollah, are terrorist groups that thrive off causing chaos. Ultimately, I wish to live in a world where people can coexist without hatred and where everyone can recognize the goodness of their neighbors.
The recent events in Israel, Gaza, and the Middle East as a whole have been very concerning for the future of only American influence in the region but also concerning for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. I hope and pray that the Palestinian people will meet liberation from Hamas, and the children of Gaza can live a normal life, and an equal education, while not coming at the expense of Jewish and Israeli blood. As for the future of the region, I believe that there is only one solution, Arab states must start to call for the end of Hamas, and actually start to do something for the Palestinian people, not just call for the destruction of Israel. While the Abraham Accords were revolutionary, I believe that more can be done for the region, especially between Israel and Saudi Arabia. For there to be a free Palestine, there must be a secure Israel.
I earnestly anticipate a transformation from the prolonged, divisive, and distressing state of affairs towards a future replete with hope and progress. Israel manifests a resolute determination to curtail Hamas' influence within the region, engendering optimism within me that the ensuing power vacuum could very well catalyze a brighter, more prosperous future for the Palestinian populace.
This promising alteration in perspective can be dissected into two critical aspects. From the vantage point of domestic politics, there is a discernible shift in the Israeli populace; individuals who previously appeared apathetic towards resolving the longstanding Palestinian issue are now exhibiting a newfound commitment to proactively seek peace and stability in the region, expressing their support for a two-state solution. Concurrently, with the diminishment of Hamas’ authority, the responsibility inexorably falls upon Israel to undertake substantive measures, aimed at constructing necessary infrastructure, nurturing development, and forging a lasting, peaceful relationship with the Gaza Strip.
I harbor a profound hope that these positive advancements will lay the groundwork for a future characterized by stability, homogeneity, and prosperity, benefitting both Palestinian and Israeli communities. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how these developments will ultimately unfold and manifest in tangible outcomes.
The atrocity that Hamas committed has dispelled hopes that it might be possible to establish a workable modus vivendi between Hamas and Israel with Hamas ruling in Gaza. Efforts at supporting the Gazan economy or hopes that Gazans might rebel against Hamas's brutal totalitarian rule have come to naught. This will require a new approach to Gaza, one that excludes Hamas from power and will likely demand attention from Israel and regional and international actors to figure out a long-term solution. How will Israel dismantle Hamas? Who will rule in its place? How does this impact prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace? Countries in the region and around the world will need to address these questions and their ramifications for years to come.
The Middle East Conflict has taken back center stage overnight, mobilizing people all around the world and sparking a rise in antisemitism and islamophobia. But whatever irreparable damage has already been done, can be contained. As developments are still unfolding, it is hard to make any prognosis on an event that has already deeply altered Israel's society and shattered any illusion of a peaceful Middle East, without addressing the Palestinian issue first. The cards are now with Israel's emergency government which in its quest to root out Hamas must avoid being entrapped in the “Gaza prison”, as Thomas Friedman has put it. Should a major ground invasion proceed as expected and be successful in ridding the enclave of Hamas, it could create a massive power vacuum that leaves Israel in control of the Gaza Strip without a contingency plan in place. This dystopian scenario would certainly pose a disruption of the region on a scale that neither Israel, the Palestinians nor the Arab states are ready to deal with and whose reverberations will be felt by generations to come.“
One interesting impact to focus on regarding the current war development will be how this drastically changes the electoral landscape. Polling data in September 2023 showed that Netanyahu and his coalition had become vastly less popular since they assumed office. Because it is so early, it is extremely difficult to see how this war will change the voting for the next election, which is expected to take place in October 2026. Regardless, the voting landscape will likely change and could take one of two forms. If the operation is en masse considered successful, Netanyahu could garner enough support to continue going for yet another term. Conversely, if the operation does not go as planned, Netanyahu most likely will be out of a job as prime minister, and opposition leaders such as Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid would be expected to battle it out for the next leader of Israel. Under their leadership, Israel could backtrack on controversial Netanyahu political installations such as the Judicial Reforms or the Nation-State Law.
About our Contributors:
Zachary Ainbinder-Barkley is a senior at American University (AU). Zach is enrolled in AU’s School of International Service, focusing on foreign policy, security, and conflict resolution in the Middle East, while also pursuing a minor in Israel Studies. Zach is currently working for the Middle East Institute as a Research Assistant for their Policy Center. On campus, Zach is heavily involved with the Center for Israel Studies (CIS), serving as editor-in-chief of Student Israelity.
Lauren Cayle is a Junior at American University from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is pursuing a degree in Sociology and Jewish Studies. As an active member in the Jewish community, she serves as President of Chabad AU, President of Israel Culture Club, Vice President of Outreach of Students Supporting Israel, and Heritage Chair in the AEPhi sorority.
Max Lagoy is a sophomore born in Leesburg, VA, he has lived in, Missouri, Hawaii, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida, and Israel. He is majoring in International Relations, with a minor in Israel Studies and Hebrew. Max has worked for the Union for Reform Judaism, as a recruiter for their study abroad program in Israel and also has worked at a Jewish summer camp. He hopes to work for the United States embassy in Israel and further improve American Israeli relations.
Barak Levitt is a Junior at American University, where he studies in the School of International Service and specializes in East Asia and Middle East Foreign Policy. He has gained valuable professional experience as a Public Diplomacy Intern at the Embassy of Israel to the United States in Washington, DC, and as a researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East Studies. In addition to his academic pursuits, Barak is an avid Warriors fan who aspires to be drafted into the NBA one day.
Ido Levy is a second-year PhD student at SIS and an associate fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has written extensively on Middle East security affairs, jihadist groups, counterterrorism, and military operations. Check out his book, Soldiers of End-Times: Assessing the Military Effectiveness of the Islamic State, available on Amazon.
Peter Lowien is studying history and law at the Ludwigs-Maximilians University in Munich. He is currently on a semester abroad at the American University in Washington, DC, where he is also completing an internship at the Middle East Institute. His interests span the 20th-century history of the Levante and Iraq; European imperialism; Palestinian and Arab nationalism; and identity construction in the Middle East.
Ariel Plevan is a freshman at American University. He studies in the School of Public Affairs studying political science. Ariel has worked with various Jewish organizations, spending the summer of 2023 at a Jewish summer camp. Ariel is also active with the AU Hillel and is on their Israel Committee.