This is one American Jewish university
scholar's narrative and prescription for Palestinian and Jewish students on
their shared campuses.
Liora Danan (Liora@rice.edu) is a senior at Rice University in Texas.
She was born in Israel, where she spent much of the year 2000 attending Hebrew University and as a youth guide for Young Judea Israel programs.
Liora ate every day in the University's cafeteria on Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, that was recently bombed.
She is a rabbi's daughter.
Most articles about the one-sided, self-promoting, and uncreative campus rallies tend to blame one group or another. These rallies have added up to about nothing.
Liora Danan recently published this courageous new kind of editorial article.
She illustrates and personalizes the traps of both "overzealous activism" and of "inaction" by both Palestinian and Jewish students nationwide that have brought the Middle East pain and grief to university campuses.
Liora pleads to her fellow students to end the fist-shaking, rallies, and hatred.
"Our preliminary aim must be to eliminate the movement toward mutual distrust and dehumanization.
"But the opposite of overzealous activism should not be inaction; this disables any movement to dispel detrimental myths and stereotypes.
"Instead, those of us who have fought fervently in this debate, as well as those who have stood on the sidelines, should push for the facilitation of dialogue.
"Despite what some activists would have you believe, it is possible to recognize the equal human right to life on both sides and to support both peoples in their development of a common future."
Published September 6, 2002
The Rice Thresher -- student newspaper of Rice University -- Houston, Texas
Ending the war movement on college campuses
by Liora Danan
Thresher Editorial Staff
Unable to reconcile clashing claims, two peoples have declared war against each other: Rally-forming, flag-burning, fist-shaking hatred has dissolved hopes of creative conflict resolution.
And the front lines are closer than you think.
As unceasing violence and grief come to define the status quo of daily life for both Palestinians and Israelis, their war has spread to American universities, engaging pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students in a public relations battle as they vie for the support of fellow classmates.
The ethnic tolerance and cultural exchange that formerly characterized American college campuses -- and even the potential for a continued peace process in the Middle East - stand to be sacrificed in the cross fire.
At San Fransisco State University last semester, Jewish students reported that fighting broke out when pro-Palestinian students shouted hate epithets like "Hitler did not finish the job" and "get out or we will kill you," at 50 pro-Israel students who attended a "Peace in the Middle East" Rally.
Pro-Palestinian students said they were prompted by the Jewish students, who yelled words like "nigger," "terrorist" and "Arab loser." On the same campus, pro-Palestinian students displayed posters of soup cans with labels depicting dead babies and reading, "canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license."
Extremists on both sides have been able to exploit the openness of American campuses either to replant anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denial movements or to promote racist anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments. Intimidation, vandalism and print propaganda all indicate that racism and bigotry have resurfaced on college campuses, but disguised this time by the complicated issues surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Campus activists fail to recognize that in the context of Middle East violence, we bear the burden of ensuring that freedom of speech is employed toward a productive end.
This summer, I attended a Hillel seminar in Jerusalem, in which I, along with 350 Jewish students from American universities, were indoctrinated with militant, pro-Israeli rhetoric and encouraged to serve as soldiers on our own campuses in defense of the Israeli cause. And 350 students, blinded by their instinct to defend against the other side, accepted the challenge.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is complex. So I was alarmed to find myself surrounded by intelligent, committed American students who were unwilling to raise their awareness of the issues involved or consider alternative viewpoints.
The Students for Justice in Palestine held a similar conference this year for pro-Palestinian student activists and, based on the rhetoric released by the organization, espoused an equally uncompromising statement of purpose. In fact, both SJP and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington's pro-Israel lobby, dismiss dialogue between the two sides as either unnecessary or ineffective.
It is precisely this type of defensive attitude that has created the antagonistic environment that made taking sides necessary in the first place.
The cycle is disturbingly reminiscent of the same shortsightedness and refusal to compromise that brought war to the Middle East in the first place. In our scramble to "win the argument," we've lost sight of our common goal: the cessation of bloodshed and unnecessary suffering.
There are alternatives, but they can be arrived at only through open dialogue and innovative problem solving. At The University of California at Berkeley, for example, Jewish and Arab students have started a group called "Salaam-Shalom" that aims to bridge differences through an email listserv, educational videos and speakers and constructive discussion.
Such groups base their interactions on the idea that it is impossible to truly listen if you are still trying to convince someone of your own opinion. Real communication, on the other hand, can help build the personal relationships that are essential for coexistence.
It's easy to assume that a lack of violent or highly visible confrontation over the issue on the Rice campus means we are immune to the detrimental effects of this conflict. But lack of dialogue leads to ignorance, encouraging continued intolerance. This leaves engaged students to build up preexisting prejudices, while uninvolved students remain largely uninformed on one of the most crucial issues in today's world.
Our preliminary aim must be to eliminate the movement toward mutual distrust and dehumanization. But the opposite of overzealous activism should not be inaction; this disables any movement to dispel detrimental myths and stereotypes. Instead, those of us who have fought fervently in this debate, as well as those who have stood on the sidelines, should push for the facilitation of dialogue.
Despite what some activists would have you believe, it is possible to recognize the equal human right to life on both sides and to support both peoples in their development of a common future.
Liora Danan (Liora@rice.edu) is senior news editor and a Martel College senior.