Students on some campuses -- not all -- are alienated and in distress.  They don't have to be.
     It is possible to transcend the time-proven failure of sign wars, fist shaking, and finger pointing.
     In Spring, 2001, Jewish and Palestinian students at the University of the Pacific, with faculty support, reached out to one another. 
     They created a Palestinian-Israeli Awareness Week.  It is described on the Web at:
     The students repeated that informative and unifying week in Spring, 2002.
     They have discovered that "taking sides" does not have to mean being pro-us and anti-them. 
     We can be for both peoples.  All peoples.  Earth has just one side.
     And this is about people.           

Published in The Record (Stockton, Calif) on December 3, 2001

Student alliance builds bridges among faiths:
UOP group hosts Palestinian-Israeli Awareness Week

By Julie Davidow Record Staff Writer

"When you pick a side and have strong feelings, all it does is alienate people.  Talking rationally will always get you further."

-- Faria Chohan, president, Muslim Student Association

     On Sept. 11, when the rest of the world started pointing fingers, Muslim and Jewish student leaders at University of the Pacific asked each other what they could do to help.
     Jewish Students filed into the Muslim Student Association meeting the next day to show support.
     The president of the association went to the Jewish student organization's meeting.
     Campus memorials to the victims of Sept. 11 began with a prayer from each faith, including Christian, Wiccan, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish.
     "When Sept.  11 came, everybody rallied in amazing ways," said Joy Preisser, the university chaplain.
     Now the students of many faiths are using their nascent alliance, born and nurtured in the couple of years before terrorists attacked the United States, to host Palestinian-Israeli Awareness Week.  The events begin today and run through Thursday on the Stockton campus.
     Preisser said she wanted to align the campus' myriad faiths when she took the job two years ago.
     Since then, Pacific's relatively small Jewish community established a Hillel Foundation chapter, a Wiccan society was born, and an interfaith council began meeting.
     Theories of Sept..  11, as a massive conspiracy or suspicions that all Muslims: harbor terrorist tendencies fell flat at Pacific.
     Just knowing each other made the difference, said Faria Chohan, president of the Muslim Student Association.
     They already had shared strategies for motivating volunteers, publicizing events and setting meeting schedules.
     The Palestinian-Israeli Awareness Club's goal is to educate rather than preach; to model cooperation rather than militancy.
     To that end, club's members say their discussions revolve around organizing and planning, not debating Middle East politics.
     Everyone in the group has watched otherwise reasonable people on both sides lose it when caught up in the emotions stirred by decades of violence and jealously guarded partisanship.
     Members of their own group got into a fierce debate at a planning meeting last year.
     This year, Chohan has taken flak from Palestinian students who object to the Muslim Student Association's moderate approach to Middle East politics.
     "In my experience, when you pick a side and have strong feelings, all it does is alienate people," Chohan said.    "Talking rationally will always get you further."

"We're not trying to press peace on anybody."

-- Dave Belman, adviser for Pacific's Hillel Foundation chapter

     Dave Belnan, a graduate student and adviser for the Hillel Foundation, found his Jewish roots in an unlikely place: Pacifc is a private, Methodist university in a town with scarcely 2,000 Jews.
     The interfaith council at Pacific inspired him to delve into his own faith as well to learn about others, Belman said.
     "It's a very comfortable place for me," said Belman, a native of Walnut Creek.  "I've really been able to explore my Judaism."
     Organizers of the week's events say they've selected films and speakers that outline the history and politics of the troubled region without preaching.
     "We're not trying to press peace on anybody," Belman said.
     Farhana Lunat, a Pacific graduate and former member of the Muslim association, stayed on this year to help plan the week's events.
     This year, the organizers don't have to convince anyone of the relevance of the Middle East after Sept.  11, the Bush administration departed from its hands off strategy in the region, pressuring both sides to declare a cease-fire and floating the idea a Palestinian state.
     "I think as we can see from Sept. 11, what goes on there is really affecting everything," Lunat said.

To reach reporter Julie Davidow, phone 209-546-8294 or e-mail