We are writing to you today with a firm resolve, a clear voice and hearts pounding with an unshakeable devotion to the truth. We, devoted members of the UF family, write to you with a commitment to the idea that human dignity should be universal and that our advocacy for it should be unwavering. We write to you in the sincere hope that we can unite on the principles of justice and a respect for human life, regardless of where they may reside.
President Sasse, we write to you with the unyielding yearning that you will see the humanity of the Palestinian people and acknowledge their suffering. This is not a letter brimming with unproductive hostility and anger toward you but rather an urgent appeal to your humanity and a cry straight from our hearts to yours.
In recent days, a note written by you and addressed to “Jewish Gator Alums” has circulated, and some of the sentiments expressed in that letter raised our concern and necessitated this response. You expressed sincere sympathy for Jewish members of the UF community and pledged to prioritize their safety and well-being. Such expressions of compassion are, of course, welcome as all members of the student body and faculty should feel secure at all times.
However, there were notable problems in your letter that could simply not go unremarked upon; for one thing, you suggested that those who seek to “provide context” on the question of Israel and Palestine in the wake of reports of Hamas’s violence are “weakened by their moral confusion.” We, of course, take exception to this.
There is no moral confusion in pointing out that Gaza, with a population of over 2 million people, has been treated as an open-air prison under the Israeli blockade. There is no moral confusion in acknowledging Palestinians have faced displacement and death at the hands of the Israeli government. There is no moral confusion in iterating the true history that, for 75 years, Palestinians who were expelled from their homeland, and their descendants, have no right of return. There is no moral confusion in stating firmly that the present Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid.
President Sasse, we resolutely believe that stating all of the above unequivocally is actually the height of moral clarity.
In your statement, you very sadly failed to offer even the faintest acknowledgement of Palestinian humanity and the pain that many members of the UF community are feeling over the suffering currently being afflicted on the people of Gaza. Instead, you implied that those who seek to protest on behalf of the Palestinians are but “abject idiots.” We would like to be clear: no level of insults or hostility will silence our righteous efforts as we seek to shed light on the plight of the Palestinians. We know our cause is just, and we will never fail the Palestinians by wavering in our commitment to telling their story and fighting for their rights.
One of the highlights of your letter was contained in the following sentences: “Every single human life matters. We are committed to that truth. We will tell that truth.” We could not possibly agree more. In light of that spirit, as thousands of Palestinian lives have been extinguished due to Israel’s brutal bombardment of the Gaza Strip, we will stay firm in our resolve to speak the truth of their suffering and ensure they know their lives matter and that they will never be forgotten.
President Sasse, you are a man of faith, a father and someone who has expressed a strong commitment to the ideals of the U.S.Constitution. We therefore would like to extend an offer to you to meet with the leaders of Islam On Campus, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Arab Students’ Association so you can better understand the perspective of those seeking to shed light on the long-running pain of the people of Palestine.
For Palestinians, the olive tree symbolizes the strength of their spirit in the face of all adversity. We thus extend the olive branch to you, as we seek to unite on universal principles of truth and justice and ensure UF can serve as a model of both.
This was written by 2023 student leadership from Islam On Campus, the Arab Students’ Association and Students for Justice in Palestine.