On Friday evening, about 50 students and faculty gathered in the Rackham Amphitheatre to listen to speakers Husam Jubran and Yuval Ben-Ami engage in a dialogue about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The event, called “Challenging Narratives and Conflict Resolution,” was put together by students who studied abroad last May through the Center for Global and Intercultural Study Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates Israel and Palestine program.
On the three-week-long trip, students traveled through Jerusalem, the West Bank and Tel Aviv. Students met Israeli citizens and Palestinians, and learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through different perspectives. Jubran and Ben-Ami, the speakers at Friday’s event, were the students’ tour guides on the trip.
Jubran, a Fulbright scholar with a master’s degree in conflict transformation and peacebuilding, is a Palestinian who resides in the West Bank. Ben-Ami is Jewish-Israeli travel writer, and lives with his family in Tel Aviv. Together, they conduct dual-narrative tours, in which they share their personal stories to portray both sides of the conflict.
LSA sophomore Sophee Langerman was a part of the GIEU Israel-Palestine program, and helped spearhead the event. Jubran and Ben-Ami’s hopefulness while on the trip inspired her to bring them to campus to share their insights with a larger audience.
“Seeing these two really gave me hope for the future in general of all of us, in America, in Israel, in Palestine, everywhere,” Langerman said. “I just wanted to have the opportunity to share that with the entire community here.”
Langerman also noted the event was put on entirely independent of the Center for Intercultural and Global Studies, given the controversial nature of the conflict. The conflict has become more controversial on campus given Central Student Government's recent #UMDivest decision, in which CSG voted for the first time in U-M Ann Arbor's history to pass a resolution centered around supporting the University to divest from companies operating in Israel and are involved in alleged human rights violations against Palestinians.
“It was initially supposed to be part of our CGIS project; however, a couple weeks before we were supposed to put this on, members of CGIS informed us that they did not think this was a fit event because of the controversy and following that we had to submit all of our grant information to them to validate that this wasn’t privately funded,” Langerman said. “We put this on entirely independent of the study abroad program.”
Ben-Ami began the dialogue by describing his and Jubran’s work as dual-narrative tour guides as more than simply conducting tours. Through their roles, they can inform people of the intricacies of the conflict.
“I think I invented a word,” Ben-Ami said. “I think we are de-manipulators. We try to undo manipulations, and to prevent manipulations. The country that we come from, politics is so emotional, and it’s always geared toward action. There is so much bias. There is so much propaganda. There is so much manipulation. We take a stand against that by working together, and in the way that we show the country.”
Ben-Ami went on to describe his childhood growing up in Jerusalem, and how he began to develop his own opinions about Israel as he aged. As a young adult, he traveled abroad and began to write, and continued to write in order to process the conflict when he returned to Israel. He now gives tours as a way to help people understand both sides of the conflict and work toward an effective solution.
“(Jubran and I) can’t be only friends. … That’s not good enough,” Ben-Ami said. “We have to struggle together to create real change. We do it through informing. This is what we’re good at.”
Jubran also spoke about his childhood growing up in Beit Sahour, a town near Bethlehem in the West Bank, and how that lead him to his current involvement in dual-narrative tours. He emphasized the role fear played in the development of his perspective. Every time he conquered a fear, his mindset and attitudes toward the conflict changed. He says he remains hopeful and has no other option than to remain so.
“I can’t afford to be hopeless. It’s a privilege that I can’t have,” Jubran said. “I enjoy my life, despite all of the difficulties, and I think the daily challenge that you have to keep thinking about what you shall do every single minute, it gives, in a way, meaning to my life. It makes it more meaningful and more productive in a way.”
The men focused on changing the conversation away from blame and toward cooperation.
“You can’t support Israel without supporting Palestine, and you can’t support Palestine without supporting Israel,” Ben-Ami said. “We are not neighbors; we are roommates. We are bedmates. We live together. Our future is mutual. So saying, ‘I’m for that group and not for the other,’ doesn’t make any sense.”
During a Q&A period, Jubran and Ben-Ami fielded audience questions about the United States’s role in the conflict, what media sources they read and the backlash they face for working with each other.
“In general, Palestinians look to the United States as the superpower that’s capable of putting pressure on Israel, so they are expecting and they are hoping that the United States will practice some of that pressure,” Jubran said. “If they decide to practice that pressure, there will be a chance for peace.”
LSA senior Brandy Bennett attended the event and said she felt encouraged by the dialogue the speakers had.
“I think it’s really heartening, heartwarming to see two very opposing sides be friends, and to see people going in the right direction,” Bennett said.
She also noted she was a bit surprised there wasn’t more audience backlash.
“I was anticipating more backlash from the audience, as in people being upset on both sides. I know that this event was supposed to be on the community action and social change newsletter and they took it out,” Bennett said. “This event was supposed to come in their newsletter for everyone to see and the CASC staff was worried that it might be offensive to some people to have these two people on campus, so I was wondering if there would be more backlash around that.”
LSA senior Rachel Woods went on the GIEU Israel-Palestine trip and helped to bring Jubran and Ben-Ami to campus. After the event, she reflected on her experience encountering these two individuals.
“Going on this trip kind of reminded me of the super oppressive conditions that people can face,” Woods said. “Yet you meet people like (Jubran and Ben-Ami) who are fighting for their freedom, and it’s one of the most inspiring things to experience.”