Shaher Sayed, Palestinian imam of the Burlington Masjid, said it is hard to watch the outbreak of fighting in Israel and Gaza after a yearslong conflict.

“It is painful to see the tragic loss of life that we’ve seen there,” Sayed said. “What makes that worse is that it came on top of many years of neglecting — this goes for the U.S. and Israel and the majority of the world — neglecting to find a solution for that conflict.”

On Oct. 7, Hamas — a Palestinian militant group — attacked the southern border of Israel, resulting in a declaration of war by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Since then, 1,400 people in Israel and over 8,000 people in Gaza have died as of Oct. 29, according to Al Jazeera

Sayed said he woke to a breaking news notification on Oct. 8 when he rose for his morning prayer.

“I’m what you’d call a news junkie,” Sayed said. “It was alarming because it is really the straw that pushes the whole region in the unknown. Everybody, everyone that’s involved should have prevented it from getting into something like what’s happening.”

Sayed has been imam and board president of the Burlington Masjid — the only mosque in Alamance County — since 2000 and moved to the U.S. nearly 40 years ago. 

Sayed grew up in Hebron, a city in the southern West Bank about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Jerusalem.

He said he moved to the U.S. in 1987 to attend school, which coincided with the first Palestinian Intifada, a spontaneous uprising in 1987 that developed into an organized rebellion, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Sayed said growing up in Hebron then was less dangerous than it is now.

“At that time, it was a lot more tame than this in the bloodshed,” Sayed said. “It was a few people getting killed per year, not many per day like it is now.”

He said Palestinians have resisted Israeli occupation for years. 

“Palestinians always resented and resisted the occupation, always demanded the right to self determination and demanded to be treated as human beings” Sayed said. “I lived it as a teenager and as a grown man.”

He said living in Palestinian cities is more dangerous now than it used to be. 

“It’s more fatal,” Sayed said. “Back then maybe they’ll slap you, make you stand in the sun for two, three hours. Now, everybody’s so quick to the trigger.”

Sayed attended North Carolina A&T State University and majored in math and computer science. He said he ended up staying in the U.S. and has not returned to the West Bank except for a short visit in 1988.

He said because of the risk as a young person, he was unable to stay for long.

“If you’re young, you’re the first target for stopping and arrest and all that stuff,” Sayed said. “I barely had enough time to see my family and then just leave.”

Sayed still has family living in Hebron‚ including some of his siblings, their families and distant cousins, but the rest of his family is spread throughout Jordan, the U.S. and Canada.

“By force or choice, in Palestine it is not uncommon to see the family spread between different parts of the world,” Sayed said. “You have to feed your family. You have to be able to survive. Sometimes the situation is there — and this is when things are normal — there aren’t enough resources or jobs to facilitate for everyone.”

Sayed said his family in Hebron is under lockdown and residents of the West Bank can’t leave their cities.

“Physically, they’re okay,” Sayed said. “Emotionally, it’s beyond what anyone’s ever experienced or imagined will happen.”

Sayed said he is dismayed at the global response to the war. 

“I’m really at a loss of words for how lopsided the response from the U.S. or Western countries,” Sayed said. “All of them are very aware of the nature of the struggle and the issues that are going on between Palestinians and Jews, yet they acted like nothing was happening before.”

Sayed said the reaction has been unequal to the history of the conflict. 

“All of the sudden, because crazy crime was done or somebody did what happened on the seventh, everyone’s crying and declaring Israel’s right to defend itself and avenge its citizens,” Sayed said. “Like the people on the other side who have been killed and killed and killed and killed were not humans, were just thin air —  just bubbles made of thin air that somebody popped and then they disappeared.”

He said Palestinians want a ceasefire and justice. 

“We call for justice,” Sayed said. “And believe me — with justice, peace comes.”

Sayed also said it’s important to recognize the history of the conflict.

“When you claim one side for instigating something and ignore what pushed that side to that corner — acting in that way, in that manner — you’re not seeing the whole picture and not providing a solution,” Sayed said.

Benji Stern, a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi — Elon University’s Jewish fraternity — has friends serving in the Israeli military and said he thinks of them often.

“You sort of live in this bubble, and think we’re gonna be safe all the time — and we pretty much are,” Stern said. “But my friends who I consider some of my closest friends are serving in Israel. It’s hard. It’s hard to think about that.”

Stern said he knows his friends are proud to fulfill their duty to Israel, which requires most Israeli citizens to serve in the Israel Defense Forces for two to three years.

“They feel that sense of duty because it’s just like a family in Israel,” Stern said. “Everyone has a sense of duty to uphold and defend the State of Israel, so I know that they’re fulfilling their duty, which they’re proud to do.”

Stern organized a walk of solidarity for Israel on Oct. 16 with AEPi and said the event was to condemn terrorism and support Israel.

“The fact that a sovereign country has a right to defend itself from terrorists shouldn’t be controversial,” Stern said. 

Stern said Israel is important to the Jewish community and he hopes for a quick end to the war.

“Israel is a big part of what it means to be Jewish,” Stern said. “We pray for an end to the violence, and we mourn the loss of life on all sides of this issue, and we hope these conversations continue in the coming weeks and months, however long this takes to come to a resolution.”

Boaz Avraham-Katz, Jewish educator at Elon Hillel, has sisters living in western Negev, Israel, and said he calls them daily. 

“A lot of people lived there and they were minding their own business and living their best lives and trying to live in peace,” Avraham-Katz said. “And then all of a sudden, it feels like with a wipe of the hand, they were just dispersed, displaced.”

Avraham-Katz said he has been keeping up constantly with both Israeli and American media.

“Sometimes you can’t stop watching,” Avraham-Katz said. “You want to see what’s going on.”

Sayed also said he remains updated on the situation by consuming both Palestinian and American media sources. 

“Fortunately, I can’t find it in my heart to stop watching,” Sayed said. “As painful and aching it is to my heart.”

Avraham-Katz said because Israel is a small country — about the size of New Jersey — it is tight knit.

“Everybody in Israel knows somebody that either might have been taken hostage or is in the  army or knows somebody who knows somebody,” Avraham-Katz said.

He said it can be hard for Israelis who are away from Israel to watch from afar.

“A lot of people find it super difficult because we’re living here and we’re not there, but our friends and our family are there,” Avraham-Katz said. “So we’re trying to find ways to connect.”

Avraham-Katz said he is hopeful for an end to the conflict, especially after listening to stories of Palestinians and Israelis through the media.

“People need to be cognizant of everything,” Avraham-Katz  said. “Currently, the Jewish community is hurting. The Israeli people are in shock. I listen to stories every day, these kinds of things every day. And your heart breaks.”

Avraham-Katz said he is praying for peace.

“The purpose of peace is for both nations, for both people,” Avraham-Katz  said. “People don’t want to fight. People want peace.”