BY Jacob Goldberg and Joey Blatt
Every year, UCLA attracts some of this country’s brightest minds with the hope that they will go on to be the leaders and change-makers of tomorrow. The entire university experience is designed to sharpen students’ minds, encourage critical thinking and train students to analyze every issue from every perspective, especially those that are foreign to us.
Strangely, when it comes to conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prevailing approach runs contrary to the purpose of the university experience.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is treated on campus as an issue that is represented by opposing “sides” that seek to silence each other through protest or through resolutions passed by state-level and university-level governing bodies. But most students at UCLA are not affiliated with any “side,” and they care about preserving human life and human rights regardless of what “side” victims are on. Their energies should be harnessed productively.
Rallies and resolutions do nothing to equip students for real work in conflict resolution. It is dangerous and disturbing that the discourse on campus has been monopolized by people who insist on looking at the conflict as though it were black and white.
Students should be encouraged to analyze this conflict in the same way they would any issue ““ with a thirst for facts, an eye for complexity, a sensitivity toward human suffering and an understanding of how people resolve political conflict as well as how they create it.
Furthermore, we should engage in this analysis with the confidence that our peers will challenge our ways of thinking, and we should be grateful for that. Facts, such as the numbers of people killed in the recent exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza, the number of rockets that have flown from Gaza into Israel, or the rates of malnutrition in Gaza as a result of Israel’s blockade, should all be put into context before their relative weight is determined.
Where one begins studying this conflict in history can strongly affect one’s conclusion, so there is great value in considering the perspective offered by every starting point.
That each “side” came out to demonstrate its feelings on the current violence on Thursday morning is a testament to the vibrant and dynamic campus climate we enjoy at UCLA. However, students should not be led to believe that protest and counterprotest are the only ways to engage with this conflict on campus, and the Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA offers a unique opportunity for students who seek to engage directly with questions of conflict and peace-building.
The Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA believes that before students can pass judgement on what is best for the multifarious communities affected by this conflict, we should commit ourselves to comprehensive and continuous study of the conflict’s various causes and effects.
Moreover, this study should be solution-oriented. There are actions that Israelis and Palestinians have each taken whose effects are considered irreparable and unforgivable by the other. Nonetheless, no fact should be the end of the conversation unless a realistic solution has been proposed.
For three consecutive summers, the Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA has brought students of various ethnic and religious backgrounds to Washington D.C., Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan for three weeks in order to study the conflict experientially.
During these educational trips, students meet with various interlocutors, from policymakers to average civilians, who paint a more complex portrait of the conflict than any protester holding any sign would have us believe. Meeting victims on both sides highlights the urgency with which this conflict must be resolved, and discussions with politicians on both sides reveal the many obstacles to peace as well as innovative, lesser-known ways of surmounting those obstacles.
The Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA hopes to empower students to involve themselves directly in the process of peacemaking. Our programs are open to all who are fearless enough to face intellectual challenge and who desire, above all else, a positive and sustainable end to all conflict. Regardless of our loyalties, we come together in our conviction that the university is the place for university-level thinking and students interested in conflict resolution be offered nothing less.
Goldberg is a third-year international development studies student and external president of the Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA. Blatt is a third-year geography student and internal president of the Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA.