Published Feb. 1, 2024
BY AVERY PALSHAW
While the Israel-Hamas war rages on in the Middle East over 7,000 miles away, Monterey Peninsula community members see impacts of the conflict through local protests, meetings, a shift in treatment of Jews and Palestinians, worries among those with family or friends in Palestine or Israel and a need for greater education on the issue.
On Oct. 7, Palestinian militant group Hamas stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns, killing hundreds of Israeli civilians in a surprise attack. Israel responded through airstrikes on Gaza, which destroyed several neighborhoods and killed hundreds of Palestinians in the days following. The violence has only worsened since then, and there have been multiple attacks from both Hamas and Israel, the majority of victims civilians. As of Jan. 22, 1,410 Israelis had been killed, while more than 25,000 Palestinians had been confirmed dead, making it one of the bloodiest wars active today.
Local community members have taken note of a shift in treatment towards Israeli, Palestinian, Islamic and Jewish people alike since the events of Oct. 7.
Carmel High School junior Tasneem Khalil, who advocates for Palestine’s liberation, recounts an instance on Oct. 12 in which she and her two sisters composed the words “Free Gaza” with seaweed on a sand dune off of Highway 1 in Sand City. According to Khalil, a man stopped to confront the three sisters, calling them “terrorists,” among other verbal assaults. Khalil says her 13-year-old sister began recording the man after he had taken down the message written in the dune and says he then put one hand around Khalil’s younger sister’s neck and the other around her body while lifting and shaking her to take her phone, which he threw into a nearby road, shattering it. Khalil alleges the man retreated on his bike before authorities could arrive.
After recovering the footage from the broken iPhone, the man was identified as Max Steiner, a former congressional
candidate who lost to Republican Doug LaMalfa in November 2022. Steiner openly admitted on Twitter to throwing Khalil’s sister’s phone, but has pled not guilty to misdemeanor charges of battery and vandalism.
Khalil says this has not been the only instance of mistreatment against her because of support of Palestine. The CHS student recalls having eggs thrown at her and others during a protest Oct. 22 in Monterey calling for cease-fire in Palestine as well as receiving multiple online threats, some, she says, calling her derogatory names and demanding that she stop posting on social media about the conflict.
Likewise, local Jews report a prominent change in treatment, which has prompted uncertainty and fear within the community. Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum of Carmel’s Congregation Beth Israel says he’s noticed a tremendous decline in service attendees since the events on Oct. 7 due to a frustration and fear surrounding the war and an overall sadness from the amount of innocent lives lost among both Israelis and Palestinians.
“We’ve had members who have been afraid to attend activities or events at the synagogue because of potential threats of antisemitism,” Greenbaum explains. “But, interestingly, because of this war, people have turned against Jews around the globe, which is really concerning.”
Greenbaum emphasizes the difference between being Jewish and being Israeli and the importance of not generalizing an entire group of people, saying that many have decided that Jews are “bad people” simply because Israel and Hamas are at war.
Several locals with family or friends living in Israel or Palestine have also felt the impacts of the Israel-Hamas war, as their worry for their loved ones grows.
“I have many friends in Israel from my summer camp I go to, and I’ve been very worried for them throughout the conflict,” says CHS junior Sara Martin, who annually attends Camp Newman, a Jewish summer camp in Sonoma County.
Another CHS junior, who has extended family in Syria and Europe, says he has noticed more fear among the Islamic community since the events on Oct. 7.
“My family that lives in Europe and in the Middle East have been much more scared to just go out, especially the women in my family who wear hijabs,” explains the student, who prefers to remain anonymous. “It doesn’t seem as safe anymore with all the conflict going on.”
The State of Israel was formed in 1948 after a Zionist movement called for the establishment of a territorial Jewish state following the persecution of Jews during World War II. Centered around the city of Jerusalem, Israel was proclaimed a state in 1948, backed by a United Nations Resolution, leaving Palestine divided into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and forcing over 700,000 Palestinians to leave their homes. This provoked tension between Israel and Palestine that has remained ever since. Israel went on to occupy the Gaza Strip among other Palestinian territories in 1967, but they eventually withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Rising to power in 2006 after winning the Palestinian legislative election, Hamas took over the Gaza strip, followed by Israel tightening a blockade around the entire strip, which remains in place today. The blockade slowed Gaza’s economy, prevented civilians from easily entering or leaving and led to escalated rates of unemployment and poverty, becoming one of Hamas’ motives for attacking Israel on Oct. 7.
Though it may appear like little action can occur from 7,000 miles away, measures are being taken across the Monterey Peninsula to educate the public about the Israel-Hamas war.
Monterey Palestine Solidarity, an organization dedicated to supporting Palestinian liberation, gathers every Sunday from 3-5 p.m. at the Window on the Bay park in Monterey, hosting events such as protests, community gatherings and art projects. A recent event of theirs included making red paper poppies to display in the park, the flowers a national symbol for Palestinians and the colors a representation of Palestine’s flag.
“We hope that local actions and events like ours will contribute to increased awareness as well as increased motivation to take action to support the Palestinian struggle,” says a Monterey Palestine Solidarity spokesperson and organizer, who prefers to remain anonymous.
Congregation Beth Israel has been offering prayers of peace during services and held a meeting Jan. 14 open to all community members to address the facts of the Israel-Hamas war and how to best respond to it.
“Rather than sitting here feeling helpless, what might we do to try to reach out to others or try to support those who are suffering,” says the Beth Israel rabbi. “It’s necessary for us to get the message out that we want to support all those who are suffering and all those who are in pain.”
Both Jewish and Islamic community members say they have noticed a lack of education in Monterey County regarding the conflict.
“There are major generalizations that are happening on both sides–pro-Palestine and pro-Israel–that definitely need to be addressed,” notes Magnolia Woodruff Lyons, a CHS junior and vice president of the CHS Jewish Culture and Culinary Club. “It’s really crucial that students are more educated on both the Israel-Palestine conflict and its history and the current situation that’s going on.”
Several CHS students note that the majority of their peers are not well informed about the Israel-Hamas war. Khalil and Martin both say that while some teachers do a decent job at addressing the issue from time to time, it needs to become a prevalent topic of discussion to prevent misinformation and stereotyping.
Regardless of opinion or experience with the Israel-Hamas war, what many can agree on is that this conflict impacts more than just the Middle East, something clearly felt on the Monterey Peninsula.