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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

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Asheville community responds to Israel-Gaza conflict, amidst rising violence and casualties

Protesters holding signs on Montford Avenue above Interstate 240.
Elliott Jackson
Protesters holding signs on Montford Avenue above Interstate 240.

*Information updated as of 11/4/2023. Source’s name redacted upon request for safety concerns.

Across Asheville, residents show their support and raise awareness for the on-going conflict occurring between Hamas and Israel.

“We’re answering a call from Palestine. There’s several people asking us to be out on Friday, this day, so we’re answering that call, standing with Palestine. There’s genocide going on in Gaza,” Ken Jones said, an Asheville resident of nine years, who holds the side of a banner that reads: “Stop genocide in Gaza.” 

Jones and several others held their signs atop the Montford Avenue bridge on Oct. 13, passing directly above Interstate 240. As cars drive past, the thumbs of drivers pointing up can be seen through windshields and the sounds of supportive honking can be heard from below. 

“This group is a bunch of friends who know each other. We’re from different groups. A number of us are with Reject Raytheon AVL, but we’re not the only group out here. There’s a good political left here,” Jones said.

According to Jones, Palestine is and has been inadequately underrepresented in the media. Palestine has been victim to decades of colonialist, corrupt exploitation by the Israel state, Jones says. 

“There’s so much barbarity on the side of Israel coming into Palestine, but the mainstream media doesn’t show it. This is not much to say. If you have a conversation with someone maybe you can get through some misconceptions, but people are pretty locked down the way they feel about it,” Jones said. Probably 10 years ago I went to Palestine. If you go there and see the occupation, there’s no way you can be in favor of it if you have a heart at all.”

Jones said Israel’s perpetuation of false media, Hasbara, contributes to a large international misunderstanding of what is truly taking place. Hasbara, or explanation in Hebrew is, Jones says, an informational warfare technique implemented in conjunction with Israel’s policies.

“On mainstream media what you see is the Israeli story, the Hasbara. The lies they tell and none of the history. None of the 75 years of occupation. You don’t hear any of that,” Jones said. “All you hear is the clock started with the Hamas attack, that it didn’t start with the occupation, that it didn’t start with the incarceration in Gaza, it didn’t start with the kidnapping of children, with no charges.” 

Jones is amongst many others in Asheville who are extending their support to the Palestinians and Israelis who have died in the past three weeks of strife. 

“Really the population of Israel has been so misguided from the time they were born. You can live in Israel and never see a Palestinian town. The walls, the separate roads and everything like that, it’s complete apartheid,” Jones said. 

On Oct. 19, on the UNC Asheville campus, in the Highsmith Student Union, the center for Jewish studies and the department of history held a panel to discuss recent events with attendees. The panel was led by Ayelet Even-Nur, adjunct assistant professor in English, and history professor Samer Traboulsi.

“I think overall it was a good experience for a lot of people to be together talking about this thing together. I really appreciate Samer’s perspective and a lot of the questions asked lead me to reconsider how I would shift some of the things I covered to cater or respond to questions that were asked, primarily by students,” Even-Nur said. 

According to Even-Nur, the conflict between Palestine and Israel has been ongoing since the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, which involved the adoption of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, following a vote by the U.N. General Assembly. The plan aimed to divide Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state, which led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestenians and the entrance of hundreds of thousands European Jews. In 1949, the territory was divided into three sects of land: Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“Samer, a professor with the history department, gave a broad overview of how the Gaza Strip came to be. He talked about Palestine in the early 20th century and the Ottoman Empire. He talked about Jewish settlers and settlements leading up to the 1947 partition plan and the 1948 Arab/Israeli war,” Even-Nur said. 

The recent violence corresponds with an Oct. 7 attack on southern Israeli by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, who have held political authority in Gaza since 2007, Even-Nur said. That day, 1,400 people were killed by Hamas. The Israeli military reported that 203 Israeli people were taken hostage by Hamas during their initial surprise attack. The same day, Israeli authorities cut off water, electricity and fuel to Gaza, which according to the U.S. Department of State poses a humanitarian crisis to Gaza residents who lack access to shelter, food, clean water and medical treatment.   

“He (Traboulsi) went through it briefly, but he talked about some of the major wars that were fought, specifically in 1967, where Israel regained and began occupying both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. He talked about the Intifada in 1987 and the genesis of Hamas, the organization that carried out the attack on Israel,” Even-Nur said. “He talked about relationships between how the PLO led to the PA and the split between the Palestinian authority and Hamas. He then gave some context to thinking about this particular war, grizzly as it is, as part of the ongoing Israel/Gaza wars that have happened since Hamas took power in 2007.”

Even-Nur said at the panel she spoke about Israel’s internal politics and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared war on Hamas on Oct. 8, the day following the attack. Since, Israel has responded with airstrikes upon the Gaza Strip, leading to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestenians. 

On Oct. 13, the Israeli Defense Force called for all Gaza city residents to evacuate, and to move south. In an announcement from the Israeli Defense Force on Oct. 14, they shared their plans of a coordinated attack on Gaza.  

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, as of Oct. 27, 7,028 Gaza residents were killed and 17,439 were injured. Over 1,400 people were killed in Israel, most of whom were killed in the Oct. 7 attack, according to the Israeli military. 

On Oct. 17, at least 500 people died in an explosion at the al–Ahli Hospital in Gaza City. In the Israel Defense Force’s response, they claimed to have no involvement in the attack. Hananya Naftali, an Israeli journalist, shared a post online regarding the hospital attack on social media but deleted it shortly after. In a following post, they said they shared the information mistakenly. 

“I talked about Netanyahu’s internal political turmoil related to his criminal investigations. How that’s led him to have to work with very far right political factions in the Israeli Knesset, factions that are led by Itmar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich,” Even-Nur said. “I talked about how his administration with these extremist factions have been pursuing policies that are making life much more difficult for Palestenians and have also instituted judicial overhaul that led to really widespread protests across Israeli society so Israel was in a period of a lot of upheaval that exposed a lot of divisions in Israeli society, that Hamas definitely identified.” 

Additionally, Even-Nur said she discussed Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which involved the disassembling of Israel settlements. After the disengagement, Palestinians were granted control of the Gaza Strip, excluding control of its borders, territorial waters and airspace. 

“I talked about Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the sanctions and blockades that were imposed after Hamas took power after the civil war between Fatah and Hamas. I talked about how there have been these series of wars through which there have been negotiations, like Hamas has often used rocket attacks as a strategy. A way to negotiate certain things that it needs like prisoner releases, the ability to ease some restrictions on people and goods from Gaza, and many other things,” Even-Nur said.

During the panel, Even-Nur said she shared a resource they found helpful. Additionally, she spoke on individual media consumption, and how it is crucial to ask questions in regards to the underlying intentions of media’s coverage. 

“I shared one source I really like which is ‘+972.’  I think one way is to be discerning about what you read and to understand that whatever you read is coming from a particular place and to think about how this news source or outlet or journal is covering things and why,” Even-Nur said. 

Even-Nur said open discussions are necessary under such emotionally charged circumstances. According to Even-Nur, it is important to act with empathy and thoughtfulness during this conflict. 

“I think conversation is a good thing. I think talking about this is such a hotbed topic that elicits such emotional responses from so many people oftentimes it becomes really difficult to talk about, even in particular communities. Jewish people who have different political views have a really hard time talking about this. Any leftist movements as well. There have been a lot of controversies that have happened in the past days because of that. I think another thing we can all do is talk to each other, thoughtfully and empathically about it. In terms of broader things, we need a lot of international pressure to bring a more immediate ceasefire and longer term, a different, better, more possible paradigm to the area.” 

Amongst the protesters on the Montford bridge was Anne Craig, an Asheville resident who has followed the conflict between Palestine and Israel for nearly 30 years. 

“Right now the United States and Western Europe need to call for a ceasefire. They need to tell Israel to stop the impending land invasion and bombing of the Gaza area itself, where they are killing civilians and destroying infrastructure,” Craig said. 

According to Craig, Israel’s actions are indefensible. The USA’s continual support for Israel has allowed such action to persist, and perpetuates Palestinian casualties. 

“Basically Israel is a client state of the United States. It can only do what it’s doing with the diplomatic cover the United States offers it, with the U.N. and international community.There are countries in Europe that aren’t even allowing demonstrations for Palestinian rights to happen. That’s creeping facism,” Craig said.

Craig said Israel’s establishment was rooted in Zionism, an Israeli ideology involving the establishment of an all-Jewish state in Palestine. 

“There were political Zionists who said the only place we are going to be safe is if we have a state of our own. There were other groups like the Jewish Bund, which was in Germany and in Eastern Europe. They were socialists that felt being part of the diaspora was fine. They wanted to be citizens of wherever they were and work for a socialist, economic and cultural structure that supported the rights of all people. They were not politically Zionist,” Craig said. “Then there were people who were religious, cultural Zionists who wanted to live in the holy land. That was OK. They emigrated to Palestine in the late 19th century and early 20th century. I don’t know what type of skrimages occurred then, but it was the idea of political Zionism that started creating all of the problems.” 

Following the partition came an Israeli overtaking of Palestinian territory, which prompted the development of roadblocks, blockades and borders, which all contributed to the formation of Hamas in 1987, Craig said. 

“Eventually, Israel gobbled up more and more of what was supposed to be a Palestinian state and created roadblocks for there to ever be one. The U.S. kind of enabled that to happen. Israel pulled out its military presence from the land but they control the borders, the ocean, access and the air. So, there’s a resistance. An underground resistance which right now is Hamas,” Craig said. 

Craig said in her past, she was previously unaware of the negative impacts of Zionism. Craig struggled to discern Zionism from their own religious identity, but now, their perspective has developed. 

“I used to be indoctrinated. When I was teenager and I wasn’t thinking for myself, I was indoctrinated with the Zionist idea, defending Israel. I was marching in support of the Israel marches in the 1967 war,” Craig said. “I think how it started for me was, back in my 30s, I went to some anti-war demonstration in D.C. that said ‘Zionism is racism’ and it really flipped me out, and I started looking into it. I started learning more and more and learned I wasn’t a Zionist. I started believing in the most insidious way, that the identity of being a Jew was being manipulated in a sinister, sinister way; weaponizing the idea that if you don’t agree with Israel’s policies, somehow you are anti-Jewish. How undemocratic is that?”

Jones expressed their condolences to every life lost in the recent casualties. They offered platforms and resources to aid those currently suffering in the midst of the conflict.

“Main thing is to get educated. People are buying what they see on mainstream media and they don’t dig further than that. You have to look for alternative media, like the Gray Zone, like Max Blumenthal, Norman Finkelstein and Electronic Intifada. It tells the Palestinian narrative,” Jones said. 

Craig shared several resources as well. 

“, that’s a good website. It’s the largest anti-zionist Jewish organization in the United States. If you don’t know much about the historical trajectory, they have videos explaining how Israel came to be as a state,” Craig said. “There’s a new documentary to check out on Vimeo called ‘Israelism’ and it is about young American Jews, who are basically propagandized in their synagogues to equate being Jewish with being unconditionally supportive of Israel.”  

On Oct. 18, five days after the Montford protest, dozens of Asheville residents gathered in the River Arts District for the “Public Mourner’s Kaddish: Jews Against Genocide in Gaza in Solidarity with Palestinians.” A Kaddish is a Jewish prayer recited in the presence of 10 or more people, a quorum, who gather to acknowledge and respect the dead. Attendants mourn all those lost in the recent incidents of continuous violence.

“I feel really proud of the people. I’m proud of myself because it is really out of my comfort zone to stand up in front of a bunch of people and sing and talk, but it feels like the right thing to do and I’m grateful that everyone showed up,” said Theo Gould, an organizer for the event. 

At the Kaddish, organizers hold a banner, reading “Never again means never again for any people.” Below the banner lies an altar. All attendants place lit candles around it and a few attendants write the names of loved ones, family and friends who have died on pieces of white fabric. Stones are placed around the altar and songs in both Hebrew and Arabic are sung collectively. Gould speaks with firm opposition to the reoccuring violence. 

“I’m one of I think seven organizers. One of them messaged saying they felt really called to hold a space for grief. In that moment, rather impulsively, I was like ‘yea’ because there’s so much grief in my heart for the way the world is right now. I needed to do something, so this is what happened,” Gould said. “We’re just ordinary people. I want to emphasize that. I don’t have any organizing experience. We’re just people that needed to do something and you can do something too.” 

Gould offered several ways to support those suffering in conflict and expressed the need for an immediate ceasefire.

“People can call their representatives. They can call for an end to the ceasefire immediately. There are tons of resources such as Jewish Force for Peace, which is a great resource, and AROC, which is another great resource. It’s a complicated time to be human, so let’s be kind to each other,” Gould said. 

Of the dozens of people present, several UNCA students stood in recognition of the ongoing casualties.

“I feel a sense of mourning right now. Mourning for people I have no connection with other than being human beings, and that’s enough. I don’t know what to feel exactly,” said Ethan Colon, a senior at UNCA.  

Next to Colon stand two friends, UNCA students Isabella Giambusso and Griffin Salyer. Both remain informed on the current conflict, and share their response to everything thus far.  

“It’s not just Gaza that’s suffering right now. In the West Bank there are also a lot of protests and arrests. I think around 640 people in the West Bank have been arrested since the fighting started,” Giambusso said.

Giambusso said there are several means of providing aid to those suffering directly, such as to provide support via online resources and charities. 

“I know PaliRoots, an Instagram account that has charities you can donate to. The UNRW is one where you can make a recurring monthly donation,” said Giambusso. “$5, $25, anything helps because once Israel allows this international aid to come into Gaza, all of the donation money and everything you’re giving will be used to help the people in Gaza and all over Palestine.” 

Sayler said the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which discourages the use of products exported from Israel, is another way to support those suffering in Palestinian territories. According to Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, they aim to end international support for Israel and demand Israel adhere to international law. 

“There’s a few things you shouldn’t buy. It’s a move into divesting funds from Israel, because they are a settler colonial economy that rely on us. If we don’t buy their products, it does make a significant difference. They don’t produce that many things themselves, so the few things they do are really easy,” Sayler said.

Firestorm Books, a collectively-owned radical bookstore hosted a panel “Against Genocide in solidarity with Palestine” on Oct. 22. The panelists included Craig, Cindy Barukh Milstein and one other Palestinian supporter. The event served as a fundraiser for the Hebron International Resource Network, an organization in the West Bank working to house Gazan workers deported by Israeli forces. The panelists spoke on the history, occupation and dehumanization occurring in Gaza. 

“We have to understand that Israel is an occupier. Israel is controlling all the sources of the water supplies and electric supply. The reason why Israel is doing this is as collective punishment, which is a big part of it,” said the Palestinian supporter from Hebron, West Bank and Asheville resident of six years. 

Craig said the Asheville community will continue to offer its support in recognition of the casualties in Palestinian territories. Amidst the casualties, Craig calls upon Asheville residents to support those suffering. The violence must stop, Craig said, and Israel must act equitably towards Palestine. 

“Militarism doesn’t work anymore. It just doesn’t work. We have to press the reset button as a species. The vested interest doesn’t want to press that reset button. Israel and the United States have had 75 years to work out some kind of autonomy for the Palestinian people,” Craig said. 

According to the Palestinian supporter, Western media has failed to cover the realities Palestinians suffer from under Israeli authority amidst the current violence. During the panel, the source discussed the pain they have personally experienced, seeing unrepresentative media coverage of the shootings, airstrikes and invasions occurring in their own home of the West Bank. The source described Israel’s tactics of ethnic cleansing in Gaza and speaks of the number of Palestinians and Arabs in Asheville who are hesitant to express themselves, terrified of being victim to potential attacks. During the panel, the Palestinian supporter shares that they too are terrified expressing their voice. 

At UNCA, on Oct. 26, Traboulsi and Even-Nur led discussions of the recent events of the conflict during a second panel, located in Mullen And James Humanities Hall. That same day, the UNCA Students for a Democratic Society, a progressive organization dedicated to mobilization on campus, hosted a bake sale inside the Highsmith Student Union. All proceeds, over $500, from the sale were donated to the Middle Eastern Childrens’ Alliance. On Oct. 27, the Party For Socialism and Liberation organized an emergency demonstration in Pack Square Park, at 6 p.m. In Gaza, over 6000 miles away from where the attendees of the demonstration stood, outward cellular communications from Gaza ceased. In a statement from the Israel Defense Forces, they said they have increased their attacks in Gaza. 

“I think the Western media has failed to actually focus on the history of what’s going on in Israel and Palestine. They have failed to label it correctly and have failed to put the right words to describe the event that is taking place. I think they are spreading news that isn’t being confirmed. A lot of news has been spread that unfortunately has raised a lot of hate against the Palestinians and has raised hate against Muslims and unfortunately we have been seeing the impact of it in our community here in Asheville,” the Palestinian supporter said. “Palestinians have been facing collective punishment for too many years. Some things happen in Gaza then collective punishment happens on civilians, and happens on Palestinians in the West Bank as well. It’s a system the Israeli government is using.”

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  • K

    Ken SilverNov 10, 2023 at 7:41 pm

    It’s a terrible situation for sure.

    Please reconsider use of the word “genocide”. 1. Read up on “Holocaust inversion” please. It meets most modern definitions of antisemitism. 2. The people who are heeding IDF’s instructions to head south are not being met with dogs, gas, rail cars, or intentional slaughter by machine guns at close range.

    The worst antisemitic diatribe I ever encountered was from a UNCA graduate about ten years ago. Clearly, she was poorly schooled in these topics. We had both had a few. She had worked as an Rx sales rep during the height of the opioid racket, so no big intellectual or the type to wrestle with moral qualms. Yet she seemed a nice person until… Happily, she emailed me the next day and, in response to her request for foregiveness, I forgave her.

    Young people are generally permitted to make errors. You really should take a hard look about sloppy, over the top, use of the word genocide.

  • A

    AdamNov 7, 2023 at 11:52 am

    Support for Hamas is support for rape, murder, and kidnapping. Israel is a democracy with a large Arab minority that is represented in the government and in every political party. The real genocide is the the democratically elected Hamas terrorist group in Gaza that lays out a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Israel. On October 7th, Hamas carried out a terrorist operation in Israel that resulted in the deaths of over 1400 Israelis and the kidnapping of over 240. If these were your neighbors and your children, how would you expect the USA to respond? To try to negotiate with the terrorist network that threatens your life? Jones should ask himself, “Do I really want to support these rapists, murderers, and kidnappers?”

  • P

    Pete MillermanNov 5, 2023 at 12:37 am

    There is so much historical inaccuracy in this article.

    First of all:

    The British mandate for Palestine (previously a part of the Ottoman Empire) expired in 1948. Roughly two-thirds of this area was established straightaway as the nation of Trans-Jordan (now the Kingdom of Jordan.)

    You neglect to mention that the U.N. partition plan for the remaining one-third of the British Mandate for Palestine – (into a Jewish state and an Arab state) – was accepted by the Jewish Yishuv (pre-state residents), but rejected by the Arabs, who promptly invaded the nascent country in an attempt to exterminate the Jewish population.

    Several national armies from the Arab world, aided by local militias as well as the Arab Legion, carried out this invasion, but it was unsuccessful, and they were unable to defeat the young State of Israel.

    You write: “In 1949, the territory was divided into three sects of land: Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

    Completely and historically incorrect.

    Follwing this unsuccesful attempt to annhilate Israel, a ceasefire was established in 1949. The area now known as the “West Bank” was occupied, and then annexed by Jordan. Jews were expelled from this territory, (actual ethnic cleansing) and the Arab residents living there became Jordanian citizens.

    At the same time, the area known as the Gaza strip was annexed by Egypt.

    Until Israel captured these territories in a defensive war in 1967, there was NO talk of any “Palestinian State,” nor any movement to establish any sort of independent “Palestinian'” entity in any part of the region in question.

    This may be disputed territory, but there has always been a Jewish presence in the historical regions of Judea and Samaria (eg: the “West Bank.”) alongside Muslims and Christians.

    Also: The aim of BDS is not a “demand for Israel to adhere to international law,” as claimed, but rather a movement dedicated to the dissolution of Israel as a nation, …. to be replaced by a state with a “Palestinian” majority.

    (The 21st majority Muslim Arab state in the region, or 22nd, if you count Lebanon.)

    The BDS supporters have offered no context, no solution to the current situation, (other than Israel’s disappearance), and have displayed no honest effort towards taking steps to establish a lasting peace between the belligerent parties here. They seek only to demonize and deligitamize Israel.

    Thank you for providing a forum,

    Pete Millerman

  • H

    Harry PiersonNov 3, 2023 at 10:34 pm

    This “article” show complete lack of understanding of both the history of the region and how Palestinian terrorism results in Israeli RESPONSES.

    The speed with which the world has moved beyond 1400 Israelis being raped, tortured, mutilated and slaughter, babies put in ovens so their mothers could hear their screams while they were being raped…actions that would embarrass ISIS…

    The moment Israel responded, there were already calls for ceasefire.

    It was the deadlies and most ghastly day for the Jews since the Holocaust. Hamas committed acts the Nazis could not stomach.

    For someone like me, a child of two Holocaust survivors who lost all 4 grandparents and 7 aunts and uncles in the Holocaust, it was like a Second Holocaust. I feel like I will never recover from the trauma

    Palestinians are responsible for almost ALL the violence in the area, and responsible for the consequences of their violence.

    Before the 2nd Intifada, Palestinians used to easily travel into and out of Israel – 200,000 every day from the West Bank, and 100,000 from Gaza

    But then the Palestinians turned to suicide bombs to kill 1000 Israeli mothers and babies, in pizza parlors and on buses, and injure another 8,000.

    So Israel built a security wall and checkpoints, and suicide bombers were eliminated

    Now Palestinians complain about restrictions on their travel. Exactly who is to blame for that?


    “Palestinians celebrate deadly terror shooting in Jerusalem with fireworks, sweets

    Celebrations break out after terrorist kills 7, wounds several others, with crowds across West Bank and Gaza chanting, lighting bonfires and passing out treats”

    (I wasn’t allowed to include the link, google the above sentence to find the article}

    “A lot of news has been spread that unfortunately has raised a lot of hate against the Palestinians and has raised hate against Muslims”

    FBI hate crimes statistics show that an individual Jews is TWICE AS LIKELY as an individual Muslim to be the subject of a hate crime. In Asheville, police are investigating crediblw threats against one of our synagogues. And yet the article makes no mention of anti-Semitism, only “Islamophobia”

    Israel left Gaza in 2005, with NO BLOCKADE until 2 years later, after GAzans had already fired 1000+ rockets and mortars at ISraeli civilians

    Gazans could have built a country and a better life for their children, instead they committed to eternal violence against Israel, and have started 4 wars in the last 16 years.

    Gaza could have been the Riviera of the ME. with their beautiful shoreline. Instead, they CHOSE to be the Somalia of the ME.

    “I think the Western media has failed to actually focus on the history of what’s going on in Israel and Palestine,” writes Natsha. She’s right

    The Western media is too stupid to understand what’s going on, so they go towards who they naively see as “the victim.”

    The reality is that the Palestinians are the aggressors, and their “victimhood” is the result of their actions, calculated to evoke pity from the Useful Idiots of the West