At the University of California,
Berkeley -- and increasingly on other college and high school campuses --
students are discovering healing Dialogue to replace obsolete rallies,
flag-waving, finger-pointing, and "taking sides" that increase
alienation and fan the flames of war.
Jewish and Arab students are not waiting for governments, politicians, and institutions to change the world. Remarkable young women and men are taking it on themselves to begin breaking down walls to build long-awaited, authentic human relationships.
The newly-gathered students at Cal call themselves "Salaam-Shalom."
They learn from one another, each expanding each one's own knowledge, discovering together new compassion and creativity.
Jewish graduate student Roger Studley described campus problems: "First, there is a lack of any communication between people from different camps and groups. Secondly, everything on campus is one group shouting at another and shouting back. It's very political, noisy, and nobody is sitting down and talking to one another."
"The only way to break down stereotypes is to get to know people. If they can get a dialogue going, it would be the only place on campus where that is happening," said Rebekah Stern, an active member of Berkeley Hillel.
At first, they delay going into the most difficult political problems because, Palestinian Laura Haddad says, "we believe we have to know each other first."
"Without being able to talk, you're going to be stuck," Studley says. "Modestly, we can demonstrate this approach. If somehow that winds up making other people who are more important in the game take notice, that's a good thing."
"I think this is a step in the right direction," says Salman Alam, a board member of the Muslim Student Association.
For more information about Salaam-Shalom at U.C. Berkeley, send e-mail to Salaam_Shalom@hotmail.com
We encourage other campuses to follow this path. -- L&L
Published in The Daily Californian -Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Group Finds Discourse on Middle East Conflict:
Students Emphasize Friends to Build Relations
By EMMA SCHWARTZ
Amid shouts of hatred fueled by the Middle East conflict, one UC Berkeley student group seeking to represent a variety of perspectives calls for a dialogue of understanding.
"Friends" is a common buzzword for members of Salaam Shalom, a group that aims to build peaceful relations between Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews on campus. "People say dialogue is easy, but it's not easy to tear your soul inside out," says group member Judy Gussman.
The group's first meeting, held at the end of the spring semester, was at times heated as the group tried to make sense of violence through open dialogue. "It was a little tense," says Laura Haddad, a Salaam Shalom member. "But as someone at the meeting put it, if it weren't a little tense we wouldn't have been getting anything done. However, if we hadn't been friends first, we wouldn't have been able to hold that discussion."
The group has yet to stage an open forum on serious issues surrounding the conflict. For now, the students focus on forging friendships between members. "We haven't had a big discussion because we believe we have to know each other first," Haddad says.
The first dialogue, which was just for the group organizers, asked members what brought them to the group in an attempt to make the discussion personal rather than political. "It has involved a great deal of soul-searching of things you were raised with," Gussman says. "They all have the ability to step back from that and look at their world in a new way."
The group began as an attempt to add a peaceful perspective to the campus debate on the Middle East conflict. "I was distressed by two things," says UC Berkeley graduate student Roger Studley. "First, there is a lack of any communication between people from different camps and groups. Secondly, everything on campus is one group shouting at another and shouting back. It's very political, noisy, and nobody is sitting down and talking to one another."
Many members of the group joined out of frustration with the apparent lack of dialogue between already existing groups who have a stake in the conflict. "I got involved because I noticed the intense polarization on this issue," says Robin Baral, a UC Berkeley student. "I've been here long enough and involved in enough activism to know what happens. I felt like the politics had gotten in the way with people getting to know each other."
Haddad says the group offers an alternative route for those who don't feel a place in either of the two major political groups, the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Israel Action Committee. Students say that while they have no illusions that they are going to solve the conflict, they believe a resolution cannot be reached without discussion.
"We take seriously that it is important to understand someone else's view as much as your own," Studley says. "We believe that the first thing you have to do is get to know an individual. Once you have that, you are much less likely to shout and will be able to understand someone's opinion with further complexity rather than as a political stripe."
Students from Muslim and Jewish student groups said that Salaam Shalom has great potential to clear up misunderstandings. "I think this is a step in the right direction," says Salman Alam, a board member of the Muslim Student Association. "Misinformation about some of the main issues causes people to jump to wrong conclusions about each other. Peaceful, respectful discussion is the best way to clear up some of these misunderstandings," he added.
Other students remain hopeful and say dialogue could form an important middle ground for students. "The only way to break down stereotypes is to get to know people. If they can get a dialogue going, it would be the only place on campus where that is happening," said Rebekah Stern, an active member of Berkeley Hillel.
Salaam Shalom members hope their group will be a model for students on the Berkeley campus and all over the country. Group members say they have received e-mails from students across the country who are beginning to form similar groups. "Without being able to talk, you're going to be stuck," Studley says. "Modestly, we can demonstrate this approach. If somehow that winds up making other people who are more important in the game take notice, that's a good thing."
Haddad says that they plan to set up a series of discussions in the fall where students break into small groups with a facilitator. "It's really in small groups where people will get to know each other," Haddad says.