Finding common ground regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Ryan Friedman | Class of 2017

The past month has seen increased violence in Israel and has resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians—both Israeli and Palestinian. This violence has stirred the emotions of many students and Student Union groups, including WU Students for Israel (WSI) and WashU Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Both groups have organized events in the past week for their respective beliefs, yet both have been asking for the same thing: peace.

I have been involved in pro-Israel causes throughout my life. I’ve been involved with WSI and WU Israel Public Affairs Committee (WIPAC) in the past during my time here. I’m actively involved in the Wash. U. Jewish community. I’m a Hebrew minor. I was involved in a Jewish youth group in high school. I’ve been to Israel four times, as recently as five months ago.

Despite the passion I have for Israel, I can’t help but be appalled with the reactions and responses of some students, both as individuals and as groups. My Facebook feed has been filled with people commenting on posts either supporting their own views or condemning those they disagree with. To me, the highlight of this was a series of Facebook posts between WSI and SJP regarding how the other group should behave. In summary, WSI condemned other SJP chapters’ actions and made a call to action to WashU SJP, whereas SJP stated they will not be subjected to the demands of another student group.

WSI organized a “rally” set for Oct. 21. SJP organized a “peaceful demonstration/safe space” set for the next day, Oct. 22. Both parties believe their event was successful because it created a space for people with the same views to unite around a message they believe in; however, there was not much interaction between the events and the greater student body. Initially, I thought this made the events successful internally, but self-insulating. However, friends and leadership within SJP have explained to me that there’s a motivation to self-insulation.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a binary, black and white issue. Being “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestine” are not mutually exclusive: They are simply a part of a larger mosaic of beliefs. However, when the conversation is dominated by individuals with views that are considered to be extreme on either end of the spectrum, we only create further isolation and separation between students. One person involved with SJP told me, “I am pro-Palestine, and I do not feel safe saying that on this campus.” He also told me he confronted a student involved in WSI for filming and taking photos of their event. It is important to note, however, that SJP took photos themselves.

What does this campus climate accomplish? How can we say we are trying to make a difference in our student body and in society if we constantly hold each other to double standards? Progress doesn’t work that way. We can’t make a group of people feel like they need to specify their event is a “safe space” in order to feel safe. However, we can’t also then let only specific individuals document the event—that could make it “unsafe” for other people.

If students—as individuals or groups—want to seek a peaceful solution, we need to start creating dialogue between students with all views, across the spectrum. But first, we need to create the opportunity for all opinions to be heard. The road to peace isn’t through accusations, finger-pointing and marginalization, but through interpersonal interactions in an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their own views.

If we truly want to make progress, we need students with moderate views to facilitate conversation between each other. This creates the opportunity to have a safe environment that can create dialogue between students with opposing viewpoints. The moderates don’t need to even be members of WSI or SJP. WSI doesn’t reflect the views of the entire Wash. U. Jewish community and SJP doesn’t reflect the views of the entire Wash. U. Muslim community: WSI and SJP are political groups, not religious groups. As a result of this dialogue, student groups like SJP and WSI no longer appear as homogenous entities, but rather, consist of individuals with a mosaic of beliefs. It is only when all students feel comfortable expressing their beliefs that we can truly begin to work towards peace.

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