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Students occupying Hamilton Hall at Columbia have renamed it Hind’s Hall.

Hind Rajab was a six year old girl murdered by Israeli tanks.

In her final moments, she made a call to the emergency services and said, ‘I’m so scared, please come. Come take me. Please, will you come?’”

(Quoted verbatim from a social media post from BreakThroughNews)

It caught my attention as I sat here in my campus office (Tuesday) staring down another RJ blog deadline.

Pro-Gaza student protesters broke into Hamilton Hall last night and occupied it during a sometimes violent and ongoing demonstration.

I joked with Carol on Friday morning that if I got arrested, she’d be on her own for supper. Both of us were watching news of student protests build at universities around the country. Later that night over a serving of fish fry and privilege in a cozy local supper club, I thought about it. The joke, maybe not all that funny to begin with, has not aged well in my mind.

The story of Hind Rajab checks out. I started with Wikipedia and read the source material. You can read the Washington Post article about its investigation at the link below. Hind was in a car with 6 family members when IDF forces opened fire killing everyone except Hind and her 15-year-old cousin, Layan, who was injured.  Layan called another uncle who connected her to the Palestine Red Cresent Society (PRCSS) who sent paramedics from a facility 50 miles away.

While Layan spoke to the dispatcher, another 62 gunshots were heard (two bursts in 6 seconds) in a cadence that suggested Israeli weapons. The call ended. When the dispatcher called back, six-year-old Hind answered. Layan was dead. Hind described the presence of tanks five times. She was in contact with dispatchers, and eventually her mother, in a car with dead relatives for 3.5 hours (evidently now injured) while the paramedics sought approval from the IDF to approach the car and rescue her.

“Come and get me quickly.”

They lost contact with her and recovered her body and those of her family and of the paramedics two weeks later, after the IDF withdrew.

Protests on my own beloved campus began at 9:00 am on Monday. I walked over at noon, after my lecture and after other obligations. It struck me that the location on the library mall was the exact location where I stood with students of all faiths in solidarity with UW Hillel for a vigil speaking out against anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of hatred following the shooting murder of 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018.

I stood with my students and listened and observed for a bit. It was a relatively chill protest. Having seen reports of anti-Semitism on social media, I walked the perimeter of the encampment at least twice, trying deliberately to read every sign and poster. I saw nothing overtly anti-Semitic. I also saw little obvious presence of Jewish people except for one woman in a hand-lettered “Jews against genocide” tee and a few signs saying “Not in my name.”

As Josh Marshall writes in a thoughtful essay (link below), understanding the nature of these student protests requires one to hold many hard truths in tension. And while I don’t agree with everything he writes, it is true that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that they started this acute conflict with a war crime perpetrated on Jewish people on October 7 – and it appears to be true that Hamas uses Gazan civilian as human shields.  It is also true that Israelis and Palestinians are ensnared in overlapping histories of searing injustice. But…

“But that being true doesn’t make tens of thousands of people less dead. And most of the dead aren’t Hamas. So if you’re a student you say — along with quite a few non-students in the U.S. — all that stuff may be true, but what I’m seeing is the ongoing slaughter of thousands of innocents and I absolutely need that to stop, especially if it is being carried out directly or indirectly with arms my tax dollars bought.”

I don’t buy fully Josh’s argument that the student protests are largely driven by non-student actors with larger eliminationist goals for Israel. I think they’re more organic.

Any sample of citizenry is going to represent a distribution of viewpoints with extremists in the tails. I have only contempt for commentators who point to an Israel-supporting woman on the UCLA campus telling protestors “I hope you are raped” to smear all Jewish people as hateful in the same way I have no patience with commentators who point to an individual protestor at Columbia saying “Zionists don’t deserve to live” as proof that the larger movement is anti-Semitic.

My instinct, based on decades of often daily interactions with students, is that the center of that distribution is composed of smart empathetic people who are legitimately recoiling at the asymmetry of the carnage now visited on the Gazans. It isn’t anti-Semitic to protest the killing of tens of thousands of people, bombing all of their hospitals and universities to rubble, displacing them and then bombing the designated evacuation zones and cutting off their food and water. Netanyahu’s response to terrorism has literally become terrorism itself on a larger scale and I am glad that he is criticizing the student protest movement (now 119 schools around the world). It means it’s having an effect.

Overnight (Tuesday night) a large police force in riot gear retook Hind’s/Hamilton Hall at Columbia University and there was continued unrest. Also overnight counter-protesters attacked the Pro-Gazan encampment at UCLA for over 4 hours while police stood off (insomniac that I am, I watched the live footage online). Arrests are occurring elsewhere too.

I’ve just now returned to my office (Wednesday) from library mall. On my way in around 7, I rounded a corner to see dozens of police staging. It was jarring. I parked and watched the police action as it pushed the students off to remove most of the tents in the encampment (curiously, two tents were left when the police retreated and left). Camping is prohibited on campus unless specifically authorized by our Chancellor. Twelve people, including faculty and students were arrested.

I hate the violence and the presence of police in riot and military gear. I don’t condone the destruction of university property or hateful speech directed at anyone. And if it mattered, I would wear my university hat and advise my own students to protest loudly but to do it within the bounds of university regulations – mostly out of concern for their own well-being.

But I also know that the cause of justice is sometimes advanced by principled civil disobedience that can come at a steep cost. I also believe that history shows the moral compass of these large student movements (119 schools now, is true more often than not (e.g. Civil Rights movement, Vietnam protests, Anti-Apartheid movement, Anti-Iraq War protests) and that prior student protesters were denigrated and mocked in their times.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is bombing Rafah where over a million displaced Gazans have sought security, softening it up for a ground invasion and resisting overtures to negotiate a ceasefire (

One of the student chants as the police advanced this morning was “Israel bombs, USA pays, How many kids did you kill today?”

Hind Rajab died slowly, alone and scared and surrounded by the corpses of her family. Fragments of US-made ammunition were found nearby.

I took a photo of something familiar written among the many sidewalk-chalk messages at the protest. I’m just going to believe it was written for Hind Rajab too.

Numbers 6:22-27

The Lord Bless U and keep U.

The Lord make his face shine on you.

And be gracious to you

The Lord turn his face upon you

And give you peace


(In case you can’t read it from the photo).

Wahington Post: ( Josh Marshall:

Tim Van Deelen

Tim Van Deelen is Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He grew up in Hudsonville, Michigan, and graduated from Calvin College. From there he went on to the University of Montana and Michigan State University. He now studies large mammal population dynamics, sails on Lake Mendota, enjoys a good plate of whitefish, and gains hope for the future from terrific graduate students. 


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Once again, thank you so much.

  • Pettinga Jayne says:

    With gratitude that you were led to “face down another RJ blog deadline”, this offering today voices our communal lament for this ongoing horror. The slaughter of innocents was wrong on October 7 and is mightily wrong today.
    Hind Rajab, I will remember her name, and also trust that when she pleaded for someone to come and get her soon, heaven heard her.

  • David Hoekema says:

    A Chinese grad student in Philosophy at the U of Arizona (where I am a visiting scholar for half the year) watched police move in, in riot gear with rubber bullets, to clear a campus protest there, and remembered the post-Tienanmin crackdown she witnessed in China. Why must our government — from White House down to local police — facilitate or instigate grossly disproportionate violence, in Gaza and on campuses, rather than stand up for innocent lives and for protesters against a war that has blown past every legal and moral limit? Thanks, Tim, for this eloquent commentary.

  • Thomas Goodhart says:

    Thank you!

  • Ken says:

    Once again you’ve touched my heart. Thank you so much.

  • David Warners says:

    Thank you for honestly and openly trying to make sense of the world’s brokenness and beauty through your Reformed Journal essays. You bless so many of us with your thinking and your writing.

  • David E Stravers says:

    Thanks for this timely reort.

  • RZ says:

    Tim, A very late response here… Thank you!

    I must reflect and journal a bit here…..
    1. Student indignation is usually provwn right by history. It may be idealistic and sometimes misdirected but the student conscience is purer than that of older beneficiaries.

    2. What students (and the U N and much of the world) perceive is that Hamas is no longer the greatest villain or the greatest threat. The Israeli government has superseded the bounds of revenge and humanity. Their vengeance is insatiable. Israel has far succeeded Hamas’ efforts to radicalize the mideast against Israel.
    3. This nationalist identity thing is so irrational. What exactly is the Jewish nation? What makes a Jew a Jew? After thousands of years, I am quite certain that several Palestinians have more Jewish blood than their Jewish counterparts. At what point do I cease being a Dutchman and identify as American? It is not a faith identity either, so what is it? Fear of being eliminated, perhaps. I conclude again this cannot be solved militarily.

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