[Letter] Condemning terrorism is critical

In this letter Michal Shemesh, manager of the Optical Facility department, responds to the publication of the Board of MSA Ibn Firnas’ open letter.

(Illustration: Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi)

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TU Delft presents an international working environment, with diverse communities of students and employees. This diversity entails a need for sensitivity and tolerance for very different views, personal responses and emotions. Especially in loaded times such as these, it is important to keep in mind that the news delivered to various places around the globe can be biased and contain misinformation, conspiracy theories and tend to show a binary picture of complex processes. 

In these times we should keep in mind the differences between our selective acceptance of information, our inherent biases, and our basic human tendency to instinctively adopt one view without getting the full picture.

For people originating from or affiliated with Israel, the terror attack by Hamas on innocent Israeli citizens on Saturday 7 October presented a dystopic reality that is almost impossible to digest and causes a very strong post traumatic effect. It is hard to sleep, eat or function in view of the high level of violence, including the abuse of young children, rape of young women and mothers in front of their families, and other acts of brutality.  

These acts are horrifying and there is no denial that they are globally well recognized as acts against humanity. These inhuman attacks did not distinguish between nationality, religion, age or gender. Among the victims (more than 1,300 excluding hostages and wounded) are many opposers to the Israeli Government, activists for peace and resistance to occupation. But haters do not stop to ask questions or seek justice. They wish to revenge, hurt and destroy without distinction. This falls outside politically engaged wars. 

A critical aspect of recovery from trauma is recognition by your surroundings. In Israel itself, many private initiatives (most led by movements that have actively resisted the current government for more than a year) have come together to support the victims, demonstrating heroic efforts and great love that are hopefully the first steps towards recovery. 

For Israelis living abroad, the pain is manifested by the refusal of the surroundings to acknowledge the trauma they have been going through, from people who claim to hold liberal views. On a personal note, my Israeli friends who live abroad have already heard statements that Israeli victims brought it on themselves because their country was established 75 years ago. It seems there is a growing confusion between complex political and historical events to very simple resistance against violence and empathy with its victims. 

In this atmosphere, publishing the opinion letter from the board of MSA Ibn Firnas calling on Dutch universities to refrain from making public statements adds to this confusion between resistance to violence and condemning acts against humanity and political views. A statement by an academic institute condemning terrorism and supporting its victims is critical to make clear that terror is not accepted under any definition of freedom of speech. Institutes that refrain from such statements actively encourage anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish acts as part of so-called ‘freedom of speech’. Framing this support as taking political sides in an ongoing war is misleading. 

We should be very careful in presenting views as facts

Stating that the current situation has lasted for 75 years is to directly support the notion that the establishment of Israel is the cause of the terrorist attack on 7 October 2023. In academic institutes such as TU Delft especially, we should be very careful in presenting views as facts, and restrain from shallow analysis that may play well on emotions, but does not follow logic and can help increase tension.

We all stand by the noble values presented in the Ibn Firnas letter. We wish to respect each other and create an atmosphere of inclusion. Acts that support these values should condemn any brutal violence and allow support for victims regardless of their origin or affiliation.

As an Israeli and a Jewish woman raising her children in the Netherlands and who works at TU Delft, I hereby formally ask the Executive Board to actively publish a statement of support for the victims of the 7 October horror attacks and condemn any violence, regardless of any political views. This support is critical for the recovery and functioning of individuals at TU Delft who are suffering from the effects of these horrors. 

And for the Ibn Firnas board, I would like to thank them for their statement of support of any victims. I hope that this humanity can continue regardless of religion and political affiliation, and not be conditioned by any action taken by academic institutes. I invite all students affiliated to Ibn Firnas or any other person that feels engaged by the situation to meet and share our feelings and views. Maybe in this way we can see each other as humans and allow true inclusion within TU Delft. 

Michal Shemesh did her PhD on the biophysics of actin cytoskeleton in bone absorbing cells at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. She came to TU Delft in December 2019 to do a post-doc in bionanosciences and is currently the manager of the KNIC optical facility in the BN department. She lives in Rotterdam and raises two children, two cats and one sourdough. She also delivers workshops on the micro-life in sourdough and on critical thinking. 

Opinion / Our platform is open to well written and well argued opinion articles written by students and employees of TU Delft. The maximum word count is 700. Email us at delta@tudelft.nl.

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