Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza: A Letter to DeGioia

By Sohrab Ghassemi

| Jan 16 2009 |

Dear President DeGioia:

We write to you today with a deep concern for the situation in Gaza. As the leader of our university, Dr. DeGioia, we have admired your dedication to affirming the Catholic and Jesuit heritage of our institution time and again. That tradition includes a commitment to social justice that was recently affirmed when Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI”s head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, likened the situation in Gaza to a big concentration camp and said, “We are seeing a continual massacre in the Holy Land where the overwhelming majority has nothing to do with the conflict.”

The state of Israel has undertaken a war of aggression against Gaza that has cost the lives of hundreds of civilians, including women and children. Furthermore, as students we have been shocked by Israeli forces” systematic destruction of the educational institutions of the people of Gaza. The American International School was completely destroyed, the Islamic University of Gaza has been nearly completely destroyed, the Ministry of Education was attacked and several United Nations schools have been shelled, resulting in the deaths of scores of civilians, including students.

Additionally, we are deeply troubled by the targeting of religious institutions, as tens of mosques have been blown up during hours of worship, killing many of those praying.

In 2007, you signed an advertisement with nearly 300 other college and university presidents condemning a proposed British boycott of Israeli universities. That boycott did not cost the lives or livelihood of people or result in the deaths of civilians, but you decided, as the leader of a university, to support other institutions of learning. We ask you to publicly reaffirm this university”s commitment to social justice by leading the moral conscience of our academic community in the far graver situation of Gaza today, where an entire infrastructure of Palestinian education has been destroyed by the Israeli state.

As further proof that the civilian infrastructure and population of Gaza are under attack, many in Gaza are without water for days on end. A five-month-old baby died due to the inability of the mother to find milk and thousands are at the brink of starvation – four emaciated children were found lying next to their dead mothers. These children were too weak to move after the Israeli forces denied the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the site for four days. To date, over 1,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 300 children.

The situation in Gaza is one which should shock the conscience of the world and the conscience of our university. We take heart in the fact that we attend a Jesuit institution that has a great tradition of being a voice for justice in the world. President DeGioia, we call on you to lead our community by again upholding our institution”s Jesuit tradition of standing for social justice in the face of the massacres of innocent civilians in Gaza.

We call on you, as the leader of an educational institution, to condemn the destruction of the educational infrastructure in Gaza. We ask you to issue a statement condemning the massacres in Gaza, calling for an immediate and total cease-fire and expressing especially your deep concern for the educational and religious institutions and civilian life of Gaza.

Over 400 Georgetown students, faculty and staff have signed in support of this letter. The following on-campus groups have also endorsed it: the Georgetown chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, the Pakistani Students Association, Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Students Association, the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and Our Moment.

Sohrab Ghassemi graduated from the School of Foreign Service in 2002 and the Masters Degree in Arab Studies program in 2006. He is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies and a member of the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine.

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