The terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, shocked me deeply. I was also disappointed by the statement issued by the UNC Chapel Hill Faculty, Graduate Students, and Staff Regarding Justice in Palestine, which, among other things, “…We believe that an understanding of such loss must be situated within the historical and political context of ongoing colonial oppression.” On November 3, 2023, I sent a brief note to about 40 UNC faculty members who had signed this statement by then, asking them if they endorsed the atrocious crimes committed by Hamas during this attack. I received only one reply from a UNC faculty member whom I had addressed. After careful consideration, I decided to give my point-by-point response in a form of an open letter. Herein I removed the name of my addressee and changed their direct text to statements of problems they raised.
Dear Respected Colleague:
Thank you for your response on November 3, 2023, to my letter to the UNC faculty signatories of the “UNC Chapel Hill Faculty, Graduate Students, and Staff Statement Regarding Justice in Palestine”. While my brief note only questioned the moral equivalence stated in “…We believe that an understanding of such loss must be situated within the historical and political context of ongoing colonial oppression” given the inhumane atrocities committed by Hamas and its supporters on October 7, 2023, your reply broadens the spectrum to encompass social, academic, and even personal matters. This has prompted me to engage in deeper reflection.
What I Stand For and What I Oppose
You addressed me as “presumably a supporter of Israel” prompting me to ponder over my true affiliations and convictions.
I fully support the right of the Jewish state to exist that is affirmed in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947 .
As you probably know, the resolution was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine but rejected by the Arab Higher Committee. Most nations on our planet are made up of people sharing the same religious beliefs, culture, and language, established on land that the people have historic ties to.
As an American, I first and foremost support the United States of America. Israel stands as a key and crucial ally of the United States in the Middle East and is the sole democracy in the region. Therefore, I support Israel, along with the thousands of American men and women in uniform whom President Biden has deployed after October 7, 2023, to the eastern Mediterranean to deter Hezbollah and Iran from attacking Israel.
I stand by the right of Israel to defend itself, much as I support Ukraine’s right to resist Putin’s fascist state aggression. As a Russian citizen by birth, I know first-hand that it is impossible to appease and reason with criminal minds, dictators, and terrorists. For many years, I held the belief that maintaining a sensible dialogue with political and academic leadership was crucial for the well-being of future generations in my country of birth. However, this conviction ended abruptly with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the perpetration of unspeakable crimes against the Ukrainian people by Russians.
I stand by the words of my great compatriot, Academician Andrei Sakharov, who stated, “Peace, progress, human rights — these three goals are insolubly linked to one another: It is impossible to achieve one of these goals if the other two are ignored.” The appalling attack by Hamas and its supporters against Israel, resulting in 1,200 victims tortured and murdered in just a few hours, with nearly 240 hostages taken to Gaza by terrorists, goes against each of these principles.
These are undeniably most challenging times for our generation. I vehemently oppose aggression, falsehoods, misrepresentation, and dishonesty, firmly believing that today silence is not an option. With that in mind, let me scrutinize the rest of your letter.
Responses to Your Questions and Rationale:
“Do you know how many Palestinians have been tortured, murdered, brutalized, made homeless?”
I would greatly appreciate it you could point out a single confirmed case of torture of a Palestinian by Israel. A videotape, a picture, or some hard evidence would be quite helpful because such evidence can be presented in Israeli courts and used to prosecute those who perpetrate such alleged crimes against Palestinians. After all, we have prosecuted and convicted over a dozen American soldiers for the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse. Israel is a democracy, and I am sure they would do the same provided they are faced with solid evidence. I am deeply concerned about the claims of Amnesty International, and if true, they should be pursued legally.
However, nothing I saw in the Amnesty International report comes close to what we witnessed on October 7th, 2023. I doubt any Israeli soldier or civilian would “cut a man’s penis and put it in his mouth,” but that is exactly what was done to a younger brother of a faculty member at an Israeli university, according to a colleague who is a friend of mine. This friend also told me that another colleague was breaking down while telling how his niece was raped while her organs were being cut in the process. Unfortunately, I have seen a video of a murdered woman, with her legs still positioned open as left by her abusers, and her eyes, lips, and pieces of her skin and leg cut off. The terrorists and perhaps accompanying “concerned citizens” who did that conveniently filmed these inhumane acts. They even took Gaza photojournalists with them to transmit the images of their horrendous deeds to major news outlets.
Unfortunately, with nearly 1200 victims of the terrorist attack, the witness, forensic, and video evidence of the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust is overwhelming. Journalists worldwide have been shown a gruesome video and photographs compiled from body cameras of the attackers, along with other evidence, during Hamas’s October 7th attack. The video is impossible for a normal human being to watch, and its viewing is very restricted in Israel due to the trauma it causes to the relatives of the victims. A few days ago, a video was shown to the members of the US House of Representatives that left them stunned and shaken. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) expressed her outrage, stating: “Seeing the video footage of people celebrating the killing of Jews shows what we’re up against. And the fact that anybody would encourage or condone what Hamas did that day. It’s outrageous.”
No “historical and political context of ongoing colonial oppression” even if true can justify such horrendous and demonstrative massacre.
“Do you mourn deaths of children in Israeli attacks in Gaza in the past 15 years?”
I mourn suffering and death of a every child, every innocent person in Gaza and elsewhere.
I found myself in Dresden in the early 2000s, where remnants of the Allied bombardment in February 1945 still lingered. As I strolled through the streets, I couldn’t help but envision the catastrophic tornado of fire formed by the burning buildings, swallowing people into a fireball that tore through the city center. I grieved for every life lost, every German child, every woman, and every man — thousands upon thousands fell victim to these bombings. I questioned the necessity of such destruction. Yet, I couldn’t forget who initiated that war.
Recalling the story my mother shared with me, she visited Krakow shortly after World War II, around 1948, as a ballerina with the Bolshoi Theatre in the USSR. They toured Auschwitz, and she witnessed mountains of children’s shoes near the “undressing rooms” and “saunas” of the gas chambers, as well as piles of human ashes by the ovens. Hitler and German fascism initiated the war and perpetrated heinous crimes against humanity. Despite the immense human suffering, death, and destruction in Germany, it was the fascists who bore the responsibility for every life lost, not the Allies.
Speaking about the current war - would Israel have started a military operation in Gaza if there had been no attack on Israeli soil on October 7, 2023? Would the United States have dispatched two air carrier strike groups capable of whipping an entire country if there had been no threats from Iran to intervene in the conflict? Do not forget that there have been thousands of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza by Hamas and from Lebanon by Hezbollah – both groups with ties to Iran. So, who should be blamed for this war and its consequences?
Above I already mentioned the horrific atrocities that were committed against peaceful people during the attack of October 7, 2023. Do you think these inhumane acts were just a result of “an excess” of “Palestinian freedom fighters” who were “a bit carried away” by seeing their “Jewish oppressor”? And not only Jewish by the way – Israeli Arab families were also killed in that attack. If you think so, you have an enormously poor opinion of Palestinians.
No, the terrorists did what they did, filmed it and spread the images through the global media on purpose. They knew that such a horrendous act would leave Israel morally, politically, and militarily with no other choice but to start an operation in Gaza. In fact, Hamas leaders went on the record saying that “their goal was to trigger this very response and that they were still hoping for a bigger war”. Moreover, they “vowed to “annihilate” Israel and promised to repeat the October 7 massacre again and again until the Jewish nation was “finished””. Please refer to the direct statements made by Mr. Khalil al-Hayya and Mr. Ghazi Hamad, senior officials of Hamas, in the referenced publications.
Hamas does not care about the “temporary hardships” of the Palestinian people if their goals are achieved. Israel unilaterally and voluntarily left Gaza in September 2005. Since then, Hamas has been dismantling pipelines to build rockets that they fire at Israel, as well as digging tunnels.,  They have also placed rocket launchers and other military installations on top of and within hospitals and other civilian objects, exposing them to Israeli strikes and maximizing the Palestinian civilian casualties. This tactic – use of “human shields” - is characteristic of cowards and terrorists. It shows a total disregard for the lives of the Palestinian people.
Therefore, I strongly condemn Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza for launching their attacks and believe that they are the ones to blame for every Palestinian and Israeli life lost in this and previous conflicts. Just as Adolf Hitler was responsible for the German lives lost, Hamas is responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians. Hamas must be dealt with decisively, like Hitler was during World War II. Moreover, the destruction of Hamas and other terrorist groups is in the best interest of Palestine and the Palestinian people, just as the destruction of German fascism during World War II was in the best interest of Germany and the German people.
“The things you say Hamas did is Israeli propaganda.”
This comment of yours reminds me of a recent personal experience. You may know that Russian troops committed horrendous war crimes on occupied Ukrainian territory, killing peaceful Ukrainian citizens. In just one city, Bucha, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights documented the killings, including summary execution, of at least 73 civilians. According to some reports, the number of civilians murdered in the Bucha region during one month under Russian occupation could be as high as a thousand. Nevertheless, many in Russia refuse to believe that and consider it “Western propaganda”. I have people I know very closely in Moscow, some with scientific degrees, who are telling me that it is “obvious that the bodies were planted”, that “they moved” (and therefore alive), that “these were actors”, etc.
In Russia, there is a heavy cost for those who dare to speak the truth. Admitting the atrocities committed by Russian troops against Ukrainians is a crime in Russia. Well-known politicians Vladimir Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin and other lesser-known people were sentenced to long prison terms for denouncing the war crimes that Russia committed in Ukraine, including the killings in Bucha., ,  I have a faculty colleague and friend at the University of Chicago who is currently being prosecuted and placed on a federal wanted list by the Russian government for allegedly doing the same. But I do not think that the denial is only a function of fear, especially in the cases of people I know very well. The true reason is the inability to cope with facts that contradict one’s deep beliefs.
Like the crimes of Russians in Ukraine, there is overwhelming evidence of the horrendous crimes committed by Hamas against civilians during the October 7th attack. This evidence can be easily found on the web. As stated earlier there is a graphic film comprising footage captured from body cameras worn by Hamas terrorists on October 7, that contains disturbing scenes of torture, rape, murder, and mutilation of victims during the assault. Denying it as “Israeli propaganda” contradicts the facts and is not constructive.
“Hamas carried out attacks and taken people as political prisoners.”
Two hundred forty people kidnapped by Hamas include women, children, toddlers, and elderly. They are not “political prisoners” they are hostages.
“Israel is the state sponsoring terror in names of Jews and with American tax dollars.”
You are concerned about taxpayer money, and you should be. It is a very good question to ask why the money transferred to Gaza was not used to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. To improve education? To improve healthcare? Instead, it was invested in underground tunnels, weapons and hate education. Israel did not send suicide bombers to bomb coffee houses or buses in Gaza. Hamas did that in Israel. Israel does not teach their students in schools to hate Arabs. There are numerous reports that Hamas does teach their children to hate and to kill Jews.,  Israeli Arabs, Israeli Druze, and Israeli Bedouins express solidarity with Israel during these challenging times. Notably, the Palestinians of the West Bank have not heeded calls to violence from Hamas and Iran.
The terrorist attack on Israel on October 7th, 2023, is unjustifiable — an act of war and a severe violation of human rights. Clearly, none of Israel’s actions, policies, or governance justifies this attack, and Israel’s response aligns with international law. The responsibility for the suffering of the citizens of Gaza is attributed to Hamas, and those who have financed Hamas: they are responsible for sponsoring terrorism. Drawing a parallel, I think that Hamas is like ISIS in terms of its ideology and tactics, and that it should be confronted and isolated by the international community.
“Jews conduct a near complete genocide to the very people whose land they stole 75 years ago and continue to steal today.”
You know better than me that the Jewish people have maintained a continuous presence in Palestine for over 2000 years. There are well-known records that some may refer to as “Israeli propaganda,” commonly known as the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.
If we zoom in on the period starting around the 1900s, the time of the British mandate — the Jews were buying land in Palestine. Through hard work, they were turning the barren desert into livable flourishing land. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (II), a plan to partition Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states and the special international regime for the city of Jerusalem. The plan was accepted by most of the Jews but rejected by the Arabs, which was followed by the 1947 – 1948 civil war in Mandatory Palestine. In On May 15 1948, the day after Israel’s declaration of independence, it was attacked by Arab states. It is important to note that Israel did not initiate the war with the intention of territorial expansion — it was a response to aggression. The outcomes of these events are well-documented and widely known.
Tragically, many Palestinians have left their land because of these events. Arab nations, though, did not welcome their brethren, choosing instead to put them into refugee camps where many remain to this day. Many Palestinians however stayed and are known today as the Arab Israeli population. These Arabs enjoy all the rights that Israeli Jews have, including the rights to elect their representatives to governing bodies, to have equal access to healthcare, and to receive legal protection and more. Nearly every Jew from the surrounding Arab countries was expelled, leaving their homes and belongings behind, with no compensation. They made it to Israel.
The State of Israel was admitted to the United Nations on May 11, 1949, and has been recognized by 165 states, the first of which was the United States. Israel has also been recognized by the PLO as a legitimate entity representing the Palestinian people. In contrast, Hamas, that is a terrorist organization, has seized power in Gaza and murdered Palestinian Authority officials. Hamas aims to kill Jews, destroy Israel, and establish an Islamic state in its territory.
The historical debates are not the point of my letter. I wish to concentrate on the current violations of human rights and the immediate challenges that we all confront in North Carolina, in the United States, and worldwide due to recent and ongoing events.
Perceived Antisemitism and Hate Speech
Many UNC faculty members, some of whom are Jewish and/or have connections to Israel, have expressed deep concern about pro-Palestinian demonstrations and the statements that they consider antisemitic. Concerns have been raised about hate speech on the academic campuses. I believe that you would firmly deny any such accusation and of course in legal terms — this is something the courts would need to decide if they choose so. However, from a purely personal and academic perspective, I would like to share my thoughts with you that make me extremely concerned.
Imagine a scenario in which Group X hates Group Y and commits horrific crimes against them – raping, mutilating, killing, burning, and taking hundreds of hostages from Group Y in a brutal attack, like what happened on October 7, 2023. The historical context for why Group X dislikes Group Y, or the difference of opinion among UNC academics on that subject, would be irrelevant. It would not matter which community Group Y belonged to. As academics and human beings, we should be rightfully outraged by every hate crime against any group – Black people, LGBTQ people, Jews, Arabs, or anyone else. Therefore, I am deeply disturbed that few UNC academics wrote that “an understanding of such loss must be situated within historical and political context” after the events of October 7th, 2023. Killing people because of their group identity is a hate crime and such a statement is seen by many as supporting terrorists and criminals. How could anyone, especially a faculty member at one of the major US universities, justify and allow such statements – when Hamas is killing Jews just for being Jews? This is extremely alarming.
The slogan “From the River to the Sea…” is another point of concern for me. It is unmistakably antisemitic and amounts to hate speech in my view, especially after the events of October 7th. It demands the elimination of the state of Israel within its internationally recognized borders. Palestine would be free of whom? For anyone even remotely connected to Israel, this slogan advocates for doing to the 10 million Israeli citizens, including Israeli Arabs — many of whom condemn the attackers — what Hamas did on October 7th to anyone within their reach. We already heard from the Hamas leader, Mr. Ghazi Hamad, that the attacks will be repeated, and their goal is to “annihilate Israel”. To many Israeli Americans in the United States, this slogan essentially calls for harm to their relatives in Israel. And in Carolina, such words are threatening to every Jew on campus.
What Shall we Do?
We, as faculty, have a duty to oppose both antisemitism and Islamophobia. These forms of hatred have been denounced by President Biden. His administration also pledged to tackle the surge of antisemitism and Islamophobia in the education system, which has been fueled by the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskievich echoed this sentiment, stating that our campus must be free of antisemitism and prejudice, and urging us to foster a culture of mutual respect and learning.
Certainly, the rhetoric must be toned down, and the UNC community should not engage in chanting slogans like “From the river to the sea…” and others that are perceived as antisemitic and hateful speech by many on our campus. It is unacceptable to draw a moral equivalence between Hamas’s actions and Israel’s response. The signatories of the letter “UNC Chapel Hill Faculty, Graduate Students, and Staff Statement Regarding Justice in Palestine” should retract the statements that appear to justify Hamas’s violence by invoking “the historical and political context of ongoing colonial oppression”. We should all condemn Hamas for what they have done on October 7th, 2023. We must request safe return of all hostages who were kidnapped by Hamas.
We should also be very concerned about the plight of the Palestinians who are suffering from Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Israel says it allows civilians trapped in northern Gaza to safely move to southern areas through daily humanitarian corridors and warns them before attacking its targets, but this does not guarantee their safety or well-being.,  We should urge Egypt and other states to increase their humanitarian and logistical assistance to the people in Gaza.
We should have few doubts that the current military operation by the Israeli armed forces will destroy Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. But what will happen next? We have a moral duty to protect the human rights and wellbeing of the innocent civilians in Gaza who have suffered so much from this war and provide temporary and longer-term relief to the populace. How can we ensure that Gaza gets an administration that will not allow the resurrection of terrorism and will act in the best interest of the people? I hope to see Gaza as a peaceful and flourishing part of the Palestinian state, a respected and responsible member of the international community, a prosperous and innovative leader in economy, education, and science, and a provider of excellent and accessible healthcare. This could only be achieved in cooperation with a democratic Israel and the help of the international community. That is something we all should consider.
As an academic institution: our priority is to foster a non-confrontational discussion that prioritizes the safety of different groups on our campus. Only then can we discuss theoretical matters such as “colonialism” in a rational and academic way, based on facts; we may disagree on some issues, but we can still have a respectful and constructive conversation. Having different opinions is OK – propagating hatred and division is not.
Our nation is already very divided, as we witnessed on January 6, 2021. We should not make it worse by creating new conflicts among ourselves. This is too risky for our country and the rest of the world that relies on our leadership. Our enemies are delighted by our division, which they view as a sign of our weakness. Iran, a staunch supporter of Hamas, is eager to ignite a larger conflict in the Middle East to sabotage the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab nations. Putin, another ally of Hamas, is also pleased because the terrorist attack on Israel and the ensuing Israeli war in Gaza distract the attention and resources of the United States and other democracies from his war in Ukraine. They regard our divisions as a blessing and are encouraged by them. We must not let dictators and terrorists divert the world from the focus on peace, progress, and human rights.
Mescal S. Ferguson Distinguished Professor
Director, Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery
Chapel Hill, NC
November 17, 2023
Alexander Kabanov 26.11.2023