Police at anti-Israel encampment at UC Irvine
Police at anti-Israel encampment at UC IrvineREUTERS/Mike Blake

This past March, I traveled to Israel with a group of young Christians to learn about the war. This was my fourth trip to the Holy Land, and it was unlike any of the pre-October 7 trips. We attended a Purim party with families who have been displaced since the start of the war and volunteered at a barbecue for Israeli Defense Force soldiers who recently had returned from Gaza—and much more.

While we heard myriad unimaginable stories of horror from October 7 and the ongoing hostage situation (there are still 133 hostages being held by Hamas), the most impactful experience for me was visiting the site of the Nova Music Festival Massacre in Reim. The night before October 7, thousands of young Israelis gathered in the desert for a night of music and dancing on a Jewish holiday. These largely college-aged music lovers were partying in the Negev to celebrate “friends, love, and infinite freedom,” but when the sun came up in the morning of October 7, the peace-loving rave became the site of the worst Israeli civilian massacre in the country’s modern history.

Attendees were mercilessly pursued and shot dead while fleeing from Hamas terrorists. When I visited the site of the massacre, families had set up small memorials on the spots where their loved ones’ bodies were found after they tried to flee. We saw candles lit inside bomb shelters at Nova, since people attempted to hide from Hamas inside but were either gunned down or killed by grenades thrown inside.

At the sight of the festival, there is an open area surrounded by trees. Videos I had seen of young Israelis desperately running for their lives through those same trees replayed in my mind. People my age, and the age of the US college kids protesting right now, met horrendous ends right after having a fun, normal night.

I think constantly about my recent experience in Israel, especially with college students across the US barricading themselves in school buildings and tents in the name of “freeing Palestine”. The protests going on right now make no mention of the horrors I bore witness to at the site of the Nova massacre. And the worst part is, some American college students, who are a similar age to these young Israelis at Nova, either do not care about the massacre or think it was justified as part of the ‘resistance’.

Most of these students have never been to Israel, Gaza, or anywhere in the Middle East. They get their news from Tik Tok, Instagram, and a lot of times do not even understand what they are protesting against. They have been manipulated by antisemitic propaganda trickling down from the Islamic Regime into believing that Israel and the Jewish people are violent colonizers determined to murder Gazan civilians. In reality, the opposite is true, and Hamas is the genocidal party, as written in their charter.

These American college protesters are neither victims nor heroes. The men and women who were at the Nova Festival however, were both. 364 people were murdered, and around 40 were taken hostage. That is a true tragedy, and most of the people claiming to be struggling at their free Palestine college encampments are cosplaying in hardships they manufactured.

The 20-year-old art majors shouting antisemitic slurs at their Jewish peers are not heroes. Israeli 22-year-old Aner Shapiro, who caught and expelled 7 grenades that Hamas threw at a group of sheltering party goers before finally losing his life, is a hero. The young engaged couple I met at a hospital in Tel Aviv, who both lost legs at the massacre are victims and heroes. But not a single pro-Hamas protester at Columbia, UCLA, NYU, etc., is or even knows the meanings of those words.

The violence and antisemitism coming out of these encampments is pathetic, and only stealing the spotlight from real Gazans and Israelis who are actually suffering. We need to turn the attention to the actual enemy: Hamas. If college students spent their energy drawing attention to Hamas’s genocidal intentions against Jews and their abuse of their own people, peace might have already been accomplished.

For this to be accomplished, young people in America first need to see Israelis and the Israeli Defense Force as people. Miss Universe Israel, Noa Cochva, recently sat down with random college students and let them ask her questions about Israel. One young woman said, “The main thing that I get from news is about the women and children in Palestine. It makes Israelis seem to be bad people.”

Another passerby who sat down explained that from “the outside” it seems like Israel is the bully and Palestine is the “underdog”.

The way Hamas, The Islamic Regime in Iran, etc., have manipulated college students based on western values into believing that Israel is an oppressive regime and Hamas are just idealistic revolutionaries fighting for a better future has been insanely successful. They intentionally craft their words in a way that plays into social justice ideals, and are able to misrepresent the truth and spread lies like wildfire on social media and therefore college campuses.

We need more person-to-person interactions like Noa Cochva initiated, where people talk to actual Israelis and have their assumptions addressed with the truth.

Students also need to realize that this war is not a clash over land between two legitimate governments. The Israeli government is a democratic protector of human rights, Hamas is a terrorist organization. The idea that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter is misleading and wrong. All you have to do is read the IDF Charter and the Hamas Charter and compare the two to see that Hamas is genocidal and Israel is not. When someone tells you who they are, believe them.

There is a war going on that Israel did not start. Yes, civilians are dying in Gaza and it is devastating. But while that is unfortunately a natural part of war, the methods Hamas uses to attain its goals such as using sexual violence to terrorize civilians, taking children and elderly people hostage, purposely targeting civilian areas and babies, burning families alive on purpose, are not natural parts of war and constitute war crimes.

Pro-Israel advocates need to humanize their cause and distinguish themselves from Hamas in terms of objectives and methods used to attain them.

Chloe Sparwath is an alumna of Passages, a Christian organization dedicated to taking Christian students to Israel and mobilizing young people to support the Jewish state on campuses and in communities across the US, and to stand up against antisemitism.