In any ordinary debate, it’s not much of an accomplishment when the two opposing sides are willing to sit in the same room as each other. Such is not the case with the Israeli-Palestinian debate on campus. And that’s why this week’s collaboration between the Pro-Israeli student group, American Movement for Israel, and the Pro-Palestinian student group, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, was such a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, this first-time forum is only a mild success — to turn one of the most unproductive debates on campus into something worthwhile, students will need to think of dialogue as a first, not the end goal.
Held Monday evening, The Parent’s Circle Family Forum was composed of Israeli and Palestinian speakers who are promoting peace efforts after having lost family and friends in the constant war between the two nations. With both AMI and SAFE sponsoring the event, the forum was the first collaboration between the groups. It aimed to bring awareness and understanding to the suffering incurred by both Israelis and Palestinians involved in the conflict and put a human face on the fight.
There’s a lot of good to be said for what happened Monday. On campus, the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is infamous for its screaming matches, interruptions and disturbances, rather than its respectable and mature dialogue. Granted, all of this hasn’t been the fault of University students. But regardless, this forum made a worthwhile effort to progress beyond that unproductive bickering. For that, both groups desire credit.
But it’s emblematic of this debate that a forum like this took so long to happen. Students at this university should be able to set aside whatever differences they have, regardless of how sensitive the topic at hand, and appreciate the diversity on campus. While SAFE and AMI have begun to do this with the Parent’s Circle Family Forum, they shouldn’t stop there.
The forum represents phase one of a journey for students to resolve their conflicts. Establishing a connection by talking about similar experiences of loss and suffering is a start for pushing the two groups toward a resolution. But it’s just that: a start. Both groups in this debate should be able to hold intellectual and mature debates about topics on which they differ greatly, not just about the things upon which they can agree. Past hotheaded arguments that bring about no satisfactory resolutions between parties should be replaced by enriching dialogue that will indefinitely allow students to understand one another and respectfully disagree with one another.
This event is one of necessity, but it shouldn’t be a wasted opportunity. Hopefully these groups will be able to reach a point where fruitful debate is possible and encouraged. Student groups should accept the responsibility of being a model for others to follow. Right now, they still have a long way to go.