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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

A Summer in Israel, a Fall for Activism

Updated: Jan 25

By Mason Edwards, Features Editor for the University Echo

Image 1: Isaac Scott, front row and second from the left, poses with other CUFI students and leadership in Israel. They visited the Western Wall, a holy site of prayer for Jews. August 2023. (Photo submitted by Isaac Scott)

He had no idea at the time, but Isaac Scott would be one of the last college students to experience Israel before Hamas shattered the country’s sense of security.

Scott remembers an Israel unparalleled in religious, historic and political significance—one wherein landmarks like the Gaza Security Fence hosted tourists, not terrorists. Over the summer, Scott spent ten days in Israel with his dad—a Christians United For Israel (CUFI) regional director—and a group of other CUFI students and organizers. The tour included notable religious landmarks, historical sites and the Gaza and Syrian borders—showing the region’s beauty and conflict.

“The whole point is to get connections, bring it to campus and have living proof,” he said. “I met with some Palestinians… Israeli leaders, a Christian volunteer Israeli Defense Force soldier and the guy that created the security fence.”

Image 2: Border at the Gaza Strip next to the village Netiv HaAsara. During the Hamas surprise attack on Oct. 7, thirty-five militants killed at least 20 people within it. August 2023. (Photo submitted by Isaac Scott)

Thanks to his former tour guide—who is now a combat medic—Scott’s family has stayed in touch with everyone he met. While overjoyed with the beauty of Israel, describing people before the attacks as dancing in the street and praying at holy sites, Scott felt he saw the nation for the people that inhabit it, rather than the Netanyahu-led government making the day-to-day decisions.

“The Jewish people are God’s chosen people,” Scott explained. “So, we have to stand up for them.”

So, when Scott arrived at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for the Fall semester, he felt driven to establish an on-campus sect of CUFI—thinking about it as early as August. Now, when he isn’t studying political science, he’s organizing a club from the ground up.

“I started this before the war, and it just so happened that the week I was getting ready to get things in motion, the war broke out,” Scott recalled. “It just furthered my belief that we should support Israel and we should free… I don’t know if the [CUFI directors] will agree with this, but free Palestine from Hamas.”

While the main CUFI organization supports Israel, Scott’s student chapter devotes itself to fighting antisemitism—which UTC has encountered before. The club has tabled outside the University Center, served coffee and organized a few different campaigns, like Taking Out the Trash.

“We literally put quotes of antisemitism in a trash bag and throw them away,” Scott said. “Antisemitism is at an all-time high. October 7 was the biggest loss of life for the Jewish population since the Holocaust.”

His next plans included setting up flyers asking for the return of Israeli hostages—an act he hoped would lead to the conflict’s end.

During the week-long Israel-Hamas ceasefire, Hamas released around 100 hostages, but many remain trapped. Now that the truce collapsed, bombs fall across Gaza again—endangering Palestinian civilians.

UTC student Rizwaan Abdul leads the Muslim Student Association on campus as its president, and—even though many in the Muslim community hesitate to speak with reporters—Adbul shared his insight regarding the ongoing conflict.

“Personally, what I’ve heard from a lot of people is, ‘Israel is justified in killing those civilians,” Abdul said. “If Hamas has no right to kill any Israeli civilians, then Israel has no right to kill any Palestinian civilians.”

Adbul asserted he does not support the actions of Hamas or is justifying them; although, he’s no fan of Israel’s treatment of Muslim minorities. As a Chattanooga Muslim, he had a hunch for what initially angered Hamas to violence. Israeli settlement into the West Bank and Israeli storming of the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque angered Muslims across the world.

“Suddenly, [people] pick and choose which lives matter,” Adbul said. “Palestinians are humans too.”

Image 3: Demonstrators march across a Chattanoogan bridge from Coolidge Park. They attended a pro-Palestinian rally along with around 200 other protestors. 28 Oct. 2023 (Photo by Noah Comacho)

During the conflict thus far, local Pro-Palestinian activists have gathered on two separate occasions: once in Coolidge Park, and again in front of Chattanooga’s Congressional Representative Chuck Fleishmann’s office. Their signage called attention to the humanitarian crisis within Gaza. According to the New York Times, nearly ten times more Palestinian civilians have died than Israeli civilians.

“On Oct. 7, Hamas led a surprise attack on towns, a music festival, army bases and other locations in Israel, killing roughly 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages, including children…,” a New York Times article summarized. “More than 11,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,600 children, have been killed since the Israeli campaign began.”

As UTC’s campus becomes a platform for dialogue and activism, students like Isaac Scott and Rizwaan Abdul work to value human life and foster understanding amid the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East.

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