“A Painful Hope” attempts to find middle ground in Israeli occupation and Palestinian conflict

Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 10:05pm

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Annie Klus/Daily

WeListen hosted an event Thursday night in the Ford School of Public Policy featuring Shadi Abu Awwad, the relative of various Palestinian leaders during the First Intifada, and Hanan Schlesinger, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and teacher. The event, titled “A Painful Hope,” drew a crowd of about 100 students.

Both Awwad and Schlesinger come from Roots, an organization launched in conjunction with local Palestinians and Jewish settlers in Israel’s West Bank focused on promoting mutual acceptance and understanding among the two groups. Both speakers spoke about their respective experiences interacting with the other ethnic group, the moments that drew them towards reconciliation and their current work at Roots. The Daily was not allowed to record during their dialogue.

Schlesinger spoke first and recounted his background as a Jew from New York who emigrated back to Israel at the age of 18 to fulfill his desire to return to the place where the Jewish religion was first born. When explaining why he chose to settle in West Bank as opposed to the coast, Schlesinger explained that the West Bank was where his people were actually from, while the coastal areas were occupied by foreign forces throughout most of Jewish history.

As a settler in West Bank, Schlesinger spoke of the divide he witnessed between the two groups in the area and the widespread misconceptions held by Jews about Palestinians on how dangerous they were and their relationship with terrorism. Schlesinger then proceeded to speak about the moment when he broke out of the divide himself — as he was telling an American pastor of how he would pick up all hitchhikers along the road and then realized that he was only picking up Jewish hitchhikers. From then on, Schlesinger began to make more of an effort to connect with Palestinians and help others bridge the gap through organizations like Roots.

On the flip side, Awwad spoke of the misconceptions and hatred that he had held for Jews for most of his life as a Palestinian living in the West Bank. Awwad explained much of his hatred towards Jews was rooted in the actions that Israeli soldiers had taken against his family in their killing of his brother and routine-like midnight searches of his home. However, Awwad also said his entire family was involved in reconciliation efforts with the Jewish settlers and how they helped draw him in.

For Awwad, there were two main barriers that stood in his way — the continued presence and activity of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and the social ostracization he risked from his fellow Palestinians for mingling with the “enemy.” Ultimately, Awwad said he was able to overcome these barriers after witnessing an event where a number of Israeli and Palestinian mothers who had lost sons to the cross-ethnic conflict were brought together to grieve and comfort each other. Seeing that power of healing brought Awwad to Roots and meaning back to his efforts to alleviate Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

After the event, LSA senior Eli Rachlin, a WeListen member, described the talk as “the best two hours I’ve spent in longer than I can remember.”

“What struck me was the consistent commitment of the speakers to being honest about the limits of their own perspectives and understanding of the limits of other’s perspectives,” Rachlin said.

When asked about his personal experiences with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rachlin said he wishes more conversations about the issues could take place on campus.

“I have a lot friends on this campus who I know have views that to some degree are against the general Zionist view,” Rachlin said. “I want so badly to facilitate conversations. But even I … haven’t been able to really get too far into having conversations with my friends on these things … There’s a layer of abstraction that just makes the nature of the conversation different, but I still think that there is still a place for dialogue on this type of issue.”