Videos of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups shouting each other down on college campuses across America have filled Instagram and TikTok feeds in recent weeks.
But off screen, steps away from the clashes and anger, are college students on both sides of a seemingly uncrossable divide struggling with grief and fear.
WBEZ’s Lisa Kurian Philip spoke with two of them — from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University — about how they’re coping with the conflict abroad and on campus. To hear their stories, press the red listen button above.
Youssef Hasweh is a senior at the University of Chicago majoring in political science. He’s an American of Palestinian and Moroccan descent.
He was arrested by UChicago campus police on Nov. 9 for trespassing after he and 25 other students staged a sit-in at the admissions office. Hasweh and other pro-Palestinian activists are calling on university leaders to hold a public meeting about their investments in companies with ties to Israel.
How can I go to class when people in Gaza don’t have beds, they don’t have water, half their family members are under rubble? When people who look like my dad and look like my sister and look like my grandfather don’t have limbs?
How can I continue to be a college student? There is no college life when there is no Palestinian life.
These last few weeks have been some of the hardest weeks of my life, being on the phone with family and things being uncertain, and having your identity be so politicized — and losing friends I’ve known for 10 years.
I had a classmate of mine come up to me after class, and he told me that Israel should continue to bomb the children of Gaza because, if they don’t, then they’ll grow up to kill Israelis.
Just being Palestinian is a problem for some people, [it’s] a topic for heated debate. How can you ask a child, how can you ask a student, how can you ask an adult to navigate that?
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My father and his father were expelled from Palestine [in 1948]. Some settlers walked into their shop and said, “This is ours now.” And they had to walk from Palestine to Jordan.
My dad never knew a home … and he spent the rest of his life trying to get it back.
To be the next generation that has to watch our parents and our grandparents not feel at home — it really makes you feel unsettled.
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In the Muslim faith, you have to say Alhamdulillah, which means, “Thank God for everything.” And it really was hard for me to see God’s wisdom in this.
My brother-in-law just said, “When will there ever be another time in your life, where you know exactly who stands for you? And who doesn’t?”
The only thing that’s given me comfort is the community that I’ve gained during this.
[At our demonstrations] there were Jewish members on our side, there were white folk on our side, there was Black folk, there were Hispanic folks. There were Arab, Asian, Indigenous folks showing up. It truly was a beautiful sight to see.
Honestly, I don’t know if I would have the bravery to show up in the ways that my comrades are, if I wasn’t Palestinian.
Callie Stolar is a junior at Northwestern University majoring in religious studies. Her father’s family is Jewish and she says she’s explored Judaism more as she has gotten older, in part to stay connected with her family.
I remember reading about the music festival that had been bombed [in Israel on Oct. 7] — it felt very close. I love going to music festivals. I love being around people in that environment.
The fact that something as innocent as listening to music could turn into this dystopian scene in which … hundreds or thousands of people were killed — Jews that were my age who don’t have any involvement in the Israeli government — was truly horrifying and saddening.
I feel hesitant reaching out to new people, or going into more academic spaces or classrooms and saying that I’m Jewish. And saying that I don’t fully support either side, that I am in the middle — in a way that leans very much toward a pro-Palestinian cause, but also has an emotional stake in the continued existence of Israel.
It feels like everything’s very close to the surface, that one wrong word and I’m going to be canceled or something.
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My family fled Russia and Poland from pogroms. My grandfather escaped in a hay basket that was stuck through with a pitchfork, and he was so small that it missed him.
Those centuries of persecution make having a home and a place that is considered a Jewish state very important for Jews.
Listening to interviews from doctors who say that they have to operate with flashlights on their phone, on children who have lost limbs, who don’t have any more anesthetic to use — you can’t hear those stories and continue to support Israel.
That sort of internal conflict is very isolating.
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I call my dad almost every day and I talk to him about it.
I make my roommate listen to me, and all of my friends. I’ve talked to them enough about it that I think they understand where I’m coming from.
The thing is, I don’t have an answer. I don’t know what should happen. I’m just 20 years old. I’m in college. I don’t even have my bachelor’s degree yet. But I feel like so many people around me seem to know the answer.