They are students whose family homes may be under constant threat. They may have visited the land and felt its importance to their people. They may have grown up hearing distinct versions of right and wrong.
They are Israelis, Jews or Israel supporters. They are Palestinians, Arabs or Palestinian supporters. They are all Bruins.
The Israel-Palestine conflict, far-removed geographically, holds a substantial presence on our campus. Most recently, ongoing violent exchanges between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas militants sparked protests outside Kerckhoff Hall on Thursday.
Here at the University of California, the conflict plays part of an ongoing discussion of campus inclusion and diversity and often results in tension between numerous groups and communities.
Since last summer, the UC has released reports addressing on-campus anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and student representatives have voted on both system-wide and campus-specific levels to divest from Israel. The nature of this incessant contention, argued both in person and on social media, drastically damages our campus climate ““ especially when any middle-ground is met with denial and distrust.
Student groups on either side may argue that mere dialogue does not align with their goals. Rahim Kurwa, a graduate student in sociology and member of Students for Justice in Palestine said the group’s target audience are students unfamiliar with the conflict, not necessarily those in opposition to their views.
However, acknowledgment of the plights faced by all those affected could elevate campus conversation, accepting differences with educated nuance.
What many students seem to exhibit is not only disagreement, but a mutual denial of the other’s legitimacy; they fail to acknowledge opposing views in many of their prominent narratives. They exclude the loss, pain and fear of the other.
But by glossing over relevant facts that do not fit our own narrative, we are not only alienating fellow Bruins, but also demeaning them.
It would be of little use to argue that either side accept political positions that would contradict or compromise their fundamental goals. Students do not have to agree with each other in order to find a reasonable space for discussion.
Here at UCLA, an improvement in discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict is within reach. Students ““ first locally, and then on a more significant political level ““ should simply refuse to alienate one another.
The conflict will not be resolved in Westwood, at Irvine or at Berkeley. Our students, however, will become tomorrow’s conversation leaders and activists responsible for shaping the next chapter of the conflict.
But in order to become the generation to finally realize Palestinian self-determination and ensure Israeli security we must begin with the basics.
Forced dialogue for the sake of a vague concept of campus climate might not be the right step forward, but the personal choice to recognize and humanize all viewpoints is an easy enough idea to digest.
If this concept of personal respect is carried to student groups, involved organizations might find their legitimacy improved through organized and moderated debate, presenting the general student body with a broad spectrum of ideas rather than mutually exclusive arguments. Programs such as the Olive Tree Initiative, a student-run organization that seeks to educate on conflict resolution by taking students to the Middle East for hands-on learning, create such a space for more cooperative discussion of conflict situations.
Such initiatives ““ which actively include students of every ideological stripe ““ should be promoted by university administration and identified as a model for productive student engagement.
“Dialogue is a good thing, but (a rally) is not the forum for conversations,” said Jonathan Gilbert, a fourth-year political science student and president of Bruins for Israel. “It’s a forum for slogans and yelling.”
Rather than engage in a battle for interested listeners on Bruin Walk that merely culminates in heated sentiments, student groups could engage in an exchange of ideas and possible proposals for open conversation and cooperation.
Perhaps Jacob Goldberg, president of the Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA and third-year international development studies student put it best: “Ideas should compete. Students should cooperate.”