They Bombed the Universities Too

An open letter to the the President of my undergraduate alma mater, Princeton University, re: the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip

Kitanya Harrison
4 min readNov 20, 2023
Photo by Tim Alex on Unsplash

Christopher L. Eisgruber
President, Princeton University 
1 Nassau Hall,
Princeton University,
Princeton, NJ 08544.

Re: In Gaza, They Bombed the Universities Too

Dear President Eisgruber,

I write this open letter to you as a concerned citizen of the world and an alumna of Princeton University. As you know, there is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions unfolding in the Gaza Strip. The true death toll has been obscured by the bombing of halls of records and hospitals – war crimes. At the time of this writing, Al-Jazeera reports that the Israeli siege of Gaza has killed an estimated 13,000 Palestinians, approximately 5,500 of them children. According to Relief Web, 1.7 million people in Gaza have been displaced. Writing in Jewish Currents, Raz Segal, a leading Israeli scholar of the Holocaust, described the situation in Gaza as a "textbook case of genocide." Segal made this assessment over a month ago, and the bombardment and mass death continue unabated.

This is one of the bright line moments in history. Our actions will be judged by posterity. Even so, Princeton University has not used its considerable influence to call for a ceasefire. This does not shock or disappoint me, and I do not write to lament this failure. It was expected. Power of the kind Princeton has amassed over the centuries is firmly aligned with and shaped by the Western "rules-based order" that is standing by and allowing Palestinians to be slaughtered by the thousands. I write, not to hold you to standards an institution like Princeton cannot permit you to live by, but to remind you:

They bombed the universities too.

Israel bombed the universities in Gaza, destroying an unimaginably valuable trove of records, research and lives' work. The dreams of students lay shattered under the rubble. The brutal Israeli bombardment has eradicated decades of shared cultural and institutional knowledge that can never be completely reconstructed. This is not only a shameful execution of one of the aims of genocidaires – the destruction of the epistemic knowledge of a culture – but a deep moral injury to the whole world of academia. Paying a bit of public lip service to the ideals that should forbid this atrocity is something Princeton's leadership should consider, if for no other reason but future use in the recruiting brochures.

Annihilatory ideals that drive people to obliterate universities cannot be reasoned with. They can only be staunchly rejected and made the subject of ridicule and obloquy. The logic of extermination can be given no quarter, not even when it is ostensibly marshaled for the protection of a historically persecuted group. Princeton has a significant and valued Jewish community of students, alumni, professors, administrators and staff. They are understandably traumatized by the October 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel and the taking of hostages who remain unaccounted for. This horror is neither defense nor pretext for ethnic cleansing and genocide. In addition, these groups are not more important than Princetonians with ties to Palestine who are losing loved ones by the dozen while being every day besieged by images of Palestinian children with their heads and limbs blown off.

They bombed the universities! And the UN schools. And the hospitals. And the convoys of terrified, fleeing civilians, half of whom are children.

These grotesque violations of international laws and norms do not affront the values of the institution of Princeton University, which, let's face it, is a hedge fund and real estate portfolio sitting on top of classrooms, labs and student amenities. Nevertheless, the crimes against humanity occurring in Gaza do offend the principles of scholarship, inquiry and the search for justice to which many students and faculty dedicate themselves.

I ask not for your moral outrage but your pragmatism. There is only one place this is headed: with the scapegoats in docks at The Hague. Israeli officials have confessed to targeting civilians and have expressed clear genocidal intent (the most difficult element of the crime of genocide to prove). Their increasingly bizarre lies (including accusing WHO, UN and Doctors Without Borders staff in Gaza of being in league with Hamas) are being debunked in real time, and their actions threaten to destabilize the entire region. Eventually, they will be stopped because Western strategic interests will demand it.

Be the first of your peers to negotiate the institution you lead away from the shame of having to explain refusing to condemn clear crimes against humanity. Raise your voice clearly for a ceasefire and a just resolution, if for no other reason than to avoid winding up in the rogues' gallery whose members will be written up in history books as third-rate villains who enabled a live-tweeted genocide.

With regards,
Kitanya Harrison '00



Kitanya Harrison