The University of Michigan’s chapter of J Street U hosted Palestinian activist and artist Eid Suleman Thursday night. A group of nearly 20 students and other community members gathered to hear about his experience living in the West Bank.
J Street is a national organization that uses active Congressional lobbying tactics and community activities to advocate for a peaceful and just two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. According to J Street U Co-Chair Solomon Medintz, an Opinion columnist for The Daily and an LSA sophomore, J Street U exists to educate the campus community on and foster discussion surrounding the occupation of Palestine.
“I think our purpose is to show that people can be pro-Israel and anti-occupation on campus,” Medintz said. “We want to be a space where people can express those views.”
Suleman began with a history of the conflict intertwined with the story of his life. He was a resident of Umm al Khair, a village in the West Bank. Suleman came in contact with J Street two years ago when they visited his village, and this is his second speaking tour.
“I came from a long distance, the Holy Land for both people,” Suleman said.
J Street U Co-Chair Kayla Chinitz, LSA sophomore, explained the unique importance of J Street’s work.
“We are really interested in hearing from different perspectives, and as a young American Jew, I think it’s really important to hear voices I don’t usually hear in the spaces where I spend my time because if you don’t have conversations, bad things happen,” Chinitz said. “If you don’t have any kind of conversation, then you can create ideas and perceptions that aren’t accurate and aren’t based on actual lived experiences. So we’re here to hear the actual lived experiences.”
J Street engages in various activities to achieve its goals of education and discourse. Medintz said the group’s biggest accomplishment this year is planning an “alternative Israel trip” for students to go on in place of the Israeli-funded Birthright program many young Jewish adults participate in. Medintz was excited to have a community leader like Suleman speaking to J Street because it offers something different from their usual events and undertakings.
“We don’t often bring in speakers,” Medintz said. “Eid (Suleman) is partnered with national J Street, and he’s doing a tour of campuses where he’s speaking to schools across the Midwest.”
One of Suleman’s major points was stressing the difference between the rights he and his community championed as they compared to his Israeli settler neighbors’. Suleman resides in a village in Area C, which is the portion of the West Bank completely controlled by Israeli authorities.
“Their house is outside my house and we see each other, but there is a fence between our houses,” Suleman said.
Suleman chronicled his experiences with Israel Defense Forces. He said the soldiers were constantly watching, and they could ask for identification at any moment. Suleman felt like he had to be constantly prepared for confrontation.
“The situation with the soldiers in the field is very, very sensitive and it could blow up in a minute,” Suleman said.
In Israel, 18-year-olds enter the army for compulsory service, so many of the soldiers Suleman would interact with were very young.
“They are children and have all this responsibility,” Suleman said.
In contrast, Suleman explained how difficult it was as a father to explain to his children why their lives were so chaotic. He hopes they can one day know peace, but Suleman expressed a strong belief that a two-state solution is not possible if the region remains in its current state of disarray.
“I am living there, I see what happens and it’s far away from reach, this two-state solution,” Suleman said.
Suleman uses art as an outlet for the stress he faces living under the occupation. He has seen fellow artists undergo scrutiny from government officials, and he himself lives in fear of detainment for his activism.
“The military know me and follow me, and the police know what I’m doing,” Suleman said.
Suleman still chooses to venture these risks because his art grounds him.
“I’ll tell you, it’s not easy sometimes to stabilize yourself and keep your hope on your side,” Suleman said. “Sometimes you just need to breathe.”
LSA junior Ryan Rich said he came to the event at a professor’s recommendation. The class discusses the social dynamics of conflict, recently addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Rich believes it is important to hear perspectives of those people actually involved in order to paint the full picture of the issue.
“You can be fed all sorts of information, but unless you hear a first-hand source and how it's impacting them, you won’t know what’s going on,” Rich said.