A recent pro-Palestine demonstration at the Grote Markt. © Foto 112 Groningen

Israelis and Palestinians at the UG

‘I’m not where I’m supposed to be’

A recent pro-Palestine demonstration at the Grote Markt. © Foto 112 Groningen
With war raging once again at home, the lives of Israeli and Palestinian students in Groningen have been thrown into disarray as well. ‘I try to live my life, I try to study, I try to do things, but I feel truly paralysed.’
By Eoin Gallagher and Rob van der Wal
24 October om 14:55 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 6 November 2023
om 10:51 uur.
October 24 at 14:55 PM.
Last modified on November 6, 2023
at 10:51 AM.

‘My boyfriend texted me that rockets were falling in Tel Aviv’, says Hadar (26), an Israeli exchange student. ‘I was still asleep. Right after, he texted: “You’re gonna wake up and be shocked.”’

Israeli and Palestinian students in Groningen alike received the news on October 7 that their home had been thrown back into heavy conflict following a surprise attack by Hamas on civilian communities and a music festival. Since then, at least 1,400 Israelis and over 5,000 Palestinians have been killed and many more injured, according to media reports.

For Hadar, it’s been hard to continue living her normal life here in Groningen. ‘I still have courses and homework to do. But the first few days I was so distracted that I couldn’t focus on anything else.’


‘I try to live my life, I try to study, I try to do things, but I feel truly paralysed’, echoes Masa Faddah (20), a communications and information student from Jordan with Palestinian roots. Her voice is raspy and broken from screaming at a pro-Palestine protest in Amsterdam days before. ‘Even while I’m talking to you, I’m just thinking: What is going on right now?’  

If something happens, I’m not there to help my family


Keeping up with her studies is a struggle, and though friends and teachers are helping, everything feels secondary right now, she says. ‘It feels like every martyr is a relative of mine, it feels like they are my family, and I feel like all I can do is sit behind a screen and watch what is going on.’

In response to the attacks, Israel declared war on Hamas and began a total blockade and a missile bombardment of the Gaza strip, killing thousands of civilians and creating a humanitarian crisis. Limited UN aid was allowed to start trickling into the area on Saturday, but the situation remains dire.

Nothing new

‘I hate to say this, but in the end, we are used to it’, says Palestinian student Maria from East Jerusalem. Palestinians always expect something bad could happen, so for her, worrying about her family back home is nothing new. 

Nevertheless, she is more concerned now. Not only because of the danger of missiles, but also because tensions with Israeli settlers that were always high have become more fraught where her family lives. Violence towards Palestinians by extremist gangs has become common, she says.

Despite the police station there being less than a kilometer away, she does not feel that there is much protection. ‘That is always something in the back of our minds as Palestinians’, she adds grimly. ‘You are never safe, there is no one to protect you and there are no consequences for anyone who does anything to you.’ 

She is in contact with her family and so far, they are okay, though her mother is going out less. Being so far away from home is adding to her worry. ‘I’m a couple thousand kilometres away from my family, so if something happens, I’m not there to help them’, she says. 


Israeli student Nadav (25), too, feels the pain of being away from home right now. He recounts meeting with two Israeli friends in Groningen after the first day of attacks: ‘We basically just sat there, being together’, he says. ‘It felt super lonely being here. It’s hard to explain. It definitely feels like I’m not where I’m supposed to be.’

Like all Israelis his age, Nadav trained in the military. He would go if called, he says, but he doesn’t think he will be needed because he was not an infantry soldier. He has friends at home that are, though, and he is scared for them. 

You have to keep tapping into your emotions and talk about it and I don’t want that


Hadar and her boyfriend will not have to serve, she says: Hadar’s battalion was shut down before the war and her boyfriend was not a combat soldier. But like Nadav, she has friends who are being called to the battlefield in southern Israel. ‘Once in a while I hear from them and now they are safe, but I don’t know what will happen to them.’

Worry and grief is heavy amongst the Israeli community in Groningen with many having lost people, Nadav says. ‘I know so many people who know people who are dead or kidnapped.’ He is grateful that so far his family are well in Jerusalem, where it is considered safe, though he stresses that nowhere is totally safe right now. 

Too much

Meanwhile, the aura of student life has shifted for everyone. Maria had recently joined a board which she was excited about, but now is dreading. She has exams coming up, but doesn’t have the mind to study and is worried about her financial situation if the war costs her mother her job.  

She’s already sick of talking about the war. ‘Every second you’re getting a notification’, she says. ‘You’re terribly worried, so you’re checking up on the news more often. You see videos of people dying, images and stuff like that, which is horrifying, and then people are asking how you are. You have to keep tapping into your own emotions and talk about it and I don’t want that, it’s already too much.’

So now, Maria only checks the news twice a day and doesn’t reply to messages from acquaintances, just close friends. Nadav, too, is checking the news less: ‘Mentally I’m just getting super anxious and super sad. I can’t really start my day in any meaningful way if I’m stuck to the screen all day’, he says.


For Nadav, the best thing he can do from here is to be active with other Israelis; spreading awareness of Hamas’s recent atrocities in Israel and attending pro-Israel demonstrations. Hadar is posting on social media and holding small gatherings in her building to explain who they are fighting. ‘For me, we fight against terrorism from Hamas. Innocent Palestinians have nothing to do with that.’

We fight against Hamas; innocent Palestinians have nothing to do with that.


Similarly, Masa is trying to bring attention to what is happening to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank by attending and organising protests. ‘In Amsterdam, we were just screaming for justice and peace’, she says. Through this, she also finds community amongst Palestinians in the Netherlands. ‘We are all together in this and we feel stronger when we are together, even if we are just uniting in our collective sadness’, she says.

Maria, on the other hand, does not attend these demonstrations, as she feels at risk for participating. ‘I don’t know who is watching’, she says. She used to be more active, but stopped when she started having trouble passing through the airport. If it was just her, she would do more, she says, but she fears the consequences her family might face in Jerusalem.

Going home

Going home is still possible, but Maria is acutely aware that if the situation escalates, that may change. ‘You chose to come here, but you get scared because you might have to stay here and become a refugee or something.’ 

Nadav, who wants to return home for winter break, is also concerned. ‘I want to believe I will be able to go, but naturally I’m not going to book flights anywhere soon’, he says.  

The future of their region is uncertain; a humanitarian catastrophe and a ground invasion of Gaza looms, the possibility of further attacks in Israel remains, and conflict threatens to break out in the north of Israel with Hezbollah and other militia groups. All the while the danger that other states may enter the fray is stark.

Masa is wondering what will be left of her country after all of this, and whether she will ever be able to live there now. ‘I just don’t know where this is going to end,’ she says. 

At the height of her anxiety, she went for a walk in the park. With Groningen life going on unperturbed all around, she sat down, listening to the sounds of people laughing and rolling by on their bikes. As she did, she came to a realisation: ‘In the face of adversity, things just keep moving and I must move with them as well.’ 

For her, that is the hardest lesson to take from all of this.

Maria is a pseudonym and Nadav and Hadar only go by their first name. The editorial staff knows their full names.