Quick Take:

Santa Cruz County residents with ties to Palestine and Israel say they’re stunned and saddened by the violence in the region. Two organizations are scheduled to host vigils this week to mourn those lost in the violence.

Dana Peleg was at her home in Santa Cruz late Friday night when she received WhatsApp text messages about the first reports that Israel had been attacked. She was in shock.

The writer and activist from Israel has been living in Santa Cruz for 13 years, on and off.

“I was horrified,” she said Tuesday of the conflict that has so far taken thousands of Israeli and Palestinian lives. “Like everybody else, I was horrified and angered.”

Across Santa Cruz County, community organizations, Jewish leaders and people with ties to Israel and Palestine are condemning the violence and mourning the loss of innocent lives after members of the militant Palestinian Islamist group Hamas staged a surprise attack on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Saturday. Israel has retaliated with missile strikes in high-density public areas in Gaza. Militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon also exchanged gunfire in northern Israel in the worst outbreak of violence in the region in decades.

Santa Cruz Hillel said it is organizing a vigil, “United for Peace,” Wednesday evening at the McHenry Library on the UC Santa Cruz campus. Temple Beth El synagogue in Aptos will be hosting a virtual vigil Sunday.

Muna AlSheikh, who was raised in Jordan by Palestinian parents, wrote in an email to Lookout that she is heartbroken hearing about the violence. AlSheikh has lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains for 10 years and works in holistic counseling. She has been involved in peace work with organizations in the Middle East and social justice movements in the United States.

AlSheikh was in a Buddhist meditation retreat when she was told about the war. “My teacher came up to me right after our morning sit to say with sad eyes: ‘Did you hear about the war?’” AlSheikh recalled. “We hugged and teared and comforted each other, she is also an American Jew.”

Peleg said she felt like a zombie for the past several days. “I couldn’t sleep, I slept maybe three hours,” she said about the first night of hearing the news. “I had nightmares. It’s something just inconceivable.”

Peleg’s sister, her sister’s family, as well as her aunt, live in Haifa Bay in northern Israel, farther from the border with Gaza. While her family members are not close to the violence, she said she is very concerned about their safety.

“So far these areas have been relatively safer. But the situation is highly volatile and there is no knowing. … If Hezbollah attacks, I can’t and don’t want to imagine,” she said. “There have been some shootings on the northern border. It’s worrying.”

Dana Peleg, an Israeli poet who lives in Santa Cruz.
Dana Peleg, an Israeli poet who lives in Santa Cruz. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

AlSheikh, whose husband is half-Jewish, said she is aware of the trauma and fear that Jewish people go through but also deeply feels her Palestinian intergenerational trauma from decades of conflict in the region. “Everyone needs to be aware of the dehumanizing situation happening in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and especially Gaza — which is basically an open air prison,” she said.

For AlSheikh, she sees a need for hatred and racism to “transform into acceptance and respect.”

In a statement posted on Instagram on Tuesday, the Jewish Student Union at UCSC said it is “shocked, horrified, and hurt by the recent events taking place in Israel. We are tired of the pain that Jewish communities face so consistently.” The student group added that it is “intentionally working to create a safe and supportive space to mourn and process together.”

In a statement, Santa Cruz Hillel said the organization is “here to support our students and community as we process the unfolding events, grieve for the lives lost, and pray for peace. We know many of you have friends, family and loved ones in Israel, including some who have been directly impacted by these heinous attacks.”

Santa Cruz Hillel, located near the base of the UCSC campus, is a university-affiliated organization that focuses on providing students at UCSC, Cabrillo College and Cal State Monterey Bay with resources and encourages learning about Jewish culture.

UC Santa Cruz also expressed concerns about the potential for violence to spread. In a statement published on its website Monday, the university administration said, “Our hearts go out to everyone in harm’s way and all who have been affected.”

UCSC said the campus has mental health support for students and staff, as well as resources for international students and faculty. It said students “experiencing bias in the wake of these events” should report incidents to the school’s Bias Response website.

“As a university, we are focused on providing support to those in our campus community who are impacted because of family in the region or other strong ties to the area,” the UCSC statement said. “Video, images and news accounts of the violence and destruction can be terrifying and difficult to process. If you or someone you know needs support, we encourage you to take advantage of the free campus resources available.”

Rep. Jimmy Panetta joined a delegation of U.S. lawmakers to Israel on Tuesday to meet with Israeli leaders and victims of the attacks.

“The US must continue to stand in sustained solidarity with Israel as they go toe to toe with the terrorists who committed this bloodthirsty assault,” he said in a statement on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

The Resource Center for Nonviolence is set to host an academic conference on Zionism on Friday organized by the Institute for Critical Study of Zionism, a recently formed group of 10 scholars and 33 researchers, professors and activists, including several UCSC faculty.

In an email to Lookout, the RCNV said it was “taking increased proactive measures to ensure a safe and secure space for participants [of the conference] and the public, where meaningful dialogue and community engagement can thrive.”

Executive Director Silvia Morales said in an emailed statement Monday that the center “is deeply grieved by the recent surge of violence in Israel and Gaza. RCNV condemns all acts of violence that have occurred in the past few days. … Our hearts go out to all those affected, as we are deeply committed to the principle that every life, no matter where they reside, is equally precious and deserving of peace, safety, and security.”

A conference organizer from the Institute for Critical Study of Zionism declined to comment.

Max Chun contributed to this report.

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