HKS Affiliated Authors

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy

Additional Authors:

  • Maggie Gates


[The following represents solely our own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the institution.]

The reporting and images from the Hamas attacks on Israel from Gaza that we have seen in recent days are devastating, harrowing, and disturbing. Many here at Harvard have roots in or ties to the region and have been following the news with great fear and anxiety. 

We do not know yet how all this will go on, but it is certain that the lives of many will be changed beyond recognition. There is a good chance of this conflict escalating in the next few days or weeks, with many more casualties and much more trauma on both sides, with spill-over effects in many places around the world. This extends to Harvard and the Boston area, too, where so many people live who have these roots or ties to Israel and Palestine. 

This is a time to mourn for the people who were killed, and a time to hope that the wounded will receive good care. We hope that the people who were abducted will not be used as human shields in the likely invasion of Gaza, but that instead they will be treated with the kindness that is due to the innocent, and that serious efforts will be deployed to secure their release.  

Our hearts break for those who lost family or friends, or who for now either must live with the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to their loved ones or with the fear for their safety if their loved ones have been abducted. Nobody should ever have to live through such acts of brutality, and there is no justification for such acts of terrorism. The innocent people who were killed, wounded, raped, or abducted in towns and villages outside of the Gaza area, at the Supernova festival and many other places, were grabbed from the midst of their lives because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Acknowledging all the loss and pain inflicted by these acts of terrorism is the main thing to do right now.

The conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people is one of the most visible human-rights issues in the world, and it has been for decades. Millions in the region are not safe and lack basic means for living a minimally decent life. This is a conflict with a deep history and a great deal of complexity, which has affected and engaged millions in very different ways. People — reasonable and caring people — have very different perspectives on it, perspectives so dramatically at odds that their defenders are often beyond seeing where the other side even comes from.

The events of this weekend are the terrible next chapter in this conflict, and remind us that over generations the various leaders in this conflict have failed to reach an enduring resolution that alone could create the conditions for a peaceful future. Some will say that on a day like this, it is not “the bigger picture” that we should be talking about. But we sincerely hope that any military and political decisions made soon will be made with an eye on the fact that, when this chapter of the conflict ends, people in the region will still live near each other, and that there will only ever be peace if a solution is found that is acceptable on all sides.

There were many comparisons to 9/11 this weekend in discussions of the Hamas attacks. Decisions made back then were very much driven by the pain inflicted by the attacks on NY and DC, and in hindsight we see that the decisions made in that spirit mostly set the stage for ever more suffering around the world. Many Palestinian civilian lives have already been lost in the counter strikes, and many more will suffer immensely during the siege of Gaza. Our hearts go out to them as well. As near impossible as it will be for many who are now in pain, we must continue to witness what is happening and contribute to a public debate about what is to be done that will prevent terrorist brutality in the future.

Mathias Risse, Faculty Director

Maggie Gates, Executive Director