Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

This was once my home: The effect of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis on Brandeis students

Published: November 20, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot</i>

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

There is an Israeli song called “Zeh Haya Beiti” (“This was once my home”). It’s about the pain felt when Israelis were forced out of their homes in Gush Katif—a bloc of 17 Israeli settlements in the southern part of the Gaza Strip—in 2005 when Israel completely terminated its occupation there.

“This was once my home, it was once yours, once mine, but now it’s gone,” it goes, “We have fought so much over this land that we forgot what we have been fighting about.”

The pain that people feel over this land can be heard in the music they listen to, the newspapers they read and the everyday conversations they have. The same pain is felt on the other side, something I was recently able to view more clearly.

This past week I had the pleasure of meeting five students from Al-Quds University of East Jerusalem through their school’s partnership with Brandeis. At first I was skeptical about meeting these students, but I developed a friendship with one student in particular, Sinan Abu Shanab. It struck me how easily I was able to get along with Sinan given the tense situation this campus has been enduring.

Following South African Supreme Court Justice Richard Goldstone’s visit to Brandeis, tensions between members of the two opposing sides have escalated on campus, and both have looked at each other with hate and disdain.

A population of the more actively pro-Israel students on campus felt protests at the Goldstone-Gold event were disrespectful and out of place. At the same time some of the pro-Palestinian supporters were trying to stand up for their beliefs. Misguided feelings and prejudices have taken control of many relationships among students at Brandeis and have negatively impacted the atmosphere. The campus has been buzzing, not with excitement nor with anticipation, as it was during the 2008 presidential elections, but instead with great negativity.

To the students from Al-Quds, it was a known fact that I am a strong supporter of Israel and a proud Zionist, but they accepted me regardless. I would get into heated debates with Sinan about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, American politics and which was the most superior hookah flavor.

At one occasion Sinan and I began to argue about what defines ownership of lands in Israel that were conquered during the 1967 Six Day War. Both of us furiously argued our points, and then Sinan said something that caught my attention.

He told me he loved the land, it felt like home to him and he knew he belonged there.

I instantly understood that his connection to the land was just as valid as my own, and that arguing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for me, was no longer about who was right and who was wrong.

Instead, it was about what we need to do from here to ensure peace.

One of the other Palestinians I met this past week was named Marwan. He approached me and said he knew what my views were and wanted me to hear his story.

He told me that he had lost three people in his life because of actions of the Israeli Defense Force. He had lost his two best friends and his three-year-old niece.

When he vocalized his feelings of this loss I was completely shocked at what I heard.

He did not blame the Israelis or the soldiers: He blamed the governments on both sides for their inability to foster peace. He told me above all he hopes to one day fly into Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, which he is currently not allowed to do because he is Palestinian.

Marwan told me he does not want to go to Israel or to Tel Aviv, but he wants to be equal to Israelis. To him, regardless of whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, all people deserve to be equal.

I promised Marwan that one day I would fly with him into Ben Gurion Airport. Hopefully when peace arrives, it will be one that involves coexistence between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Both sides of the conflict have suffered tremendously through loss of life, psychological and emotional issues, and through the long-lasting fear that has impressed itself into the hearts and minds of Palestinians and Israelis alike. There is no clear-cut solution to the situation, but in order to even think of any end to the bloodshed and violence both sides need to listen to one another.

People who cannot open their minds to the opinions and beliefs of the opposing side are the ones who are fueling the tensions that have not only taken hold of the atmosphere at Brandeis, but also act as an obstacle to the peace process.

I saw this clearly while spending time with the students from Al-Quds.

My co-zionists called me a traitor for talking to the Al-Quds students, while people who are pro-Palestinian questioned my right to interact with them.

This is my biggest criticism of not only Brandeis politics but of the opposing sides in the conflict as well. There is an inability to listen and to accept that both sides have a valid argument. There is not right or wrong: There are two sides, both of which are tired of fighting, but also too stubborn to listen.

Hopefully this message will be received as an olive branch rather than degrading criticism. Hopefully students at Brandeis will become a model for coexistence and understanding, rather than continue to follow the path of close mindedness and intolerance towards one another that has plagued the Middle East.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking or optimism, but hopefully this is the start to a change in the way we respect each other.