Improving Arab / Israeli Relations


I originally intended to write an article expressing my frustration over the seemingly unconditional U.S. support for Israeli policies that are contradictory in nature and counterproductive in effect towards any hope of peace with the Palestinians. Instead, I have chosen to write about something that is equally disappointing: the lack of genuine dialogue between Israeli/Jewish and Arab/Muslim organizations in the U.S. in general, and on the Harvard campus in particular. As a Palestinian refugee who ultimately believes in coexistence and reconciliation, I am intimately saddened by the lack of genuine engagement between Jewish and Arab organizations here. I cannot help but ask, ‘if there are no efforts being made here, then where else?’ This is especially troubling since I am fully cognizant of the fact that American campuses could provide the ideal, if not the only, place where Jewish and Arab students can engage in open, serious and somewhat detached debate on the future of this seemingly endless struggle.

Instead of setting examples, or forging new models, both communities here define themselves as extensions of the larger struggle, and as a result have committed themselves to winning “America’s public opinion” and to nothing else. Presenting the “truth” has not only become a full-time job, but a cover to not doing things that are more difficult. After all, it is much easier, and in many respects safer, to speak past one’s adversaries than to directly engage them.

If students at Harvard, a place renowned for its progressive and innovative student body, are unable to constructively engage each other regarding prospects for reconciliation, then can we really blame those under occupation or fear of violence for the inability to achieve peace? It is true that this conflict is really complicated, and therefore answers or solutions will not be easy to come by. But since this is the case, why are not any communities here even trying to help the U.S. develop positions or strategies that can potentially be acceptable for both sides over there? After all, if there is one thing that history can teach us [from Camp David II] is that no side, regardless of its relative weakness, can be forced to accept a deal it deems unfavorable.

It is disappointing enough to see that Israelis and Palestinians there still see things from a zero sum lens. But it is appalling to see just how little groups here have grasped the fact that the destiny of Palestinians and Israelis has to inevitably involve sacrifice, coexistence and compromise. The simple possibility that what might be good for one side may also be good for the other is virtually nonexistent in any of the logic of the groups here.

I am not suggesting nor am I naVve enough to think that dialogue would suddenly forge peace and friendship. I myself have been witness to occasions where as a result of dialogue things actually got worse. Yet on many others, dialogue produced an unshakable conviction that peace is not just an abstraction, but a real and achievable possibility. More importantly, however, what is often missed is that dialogue does not necessarily have to result in an agreement or a resolution to the outstanding issues; instead its main purpose is to achieve recognition of the other side’s plight and suffering. Once that is done, many doors will be opened, both personal and political.

I endorse dialogue, knowing full well its true difficulty and challenge for both communities. On the one hand, for the Arab community, there is a strong feeling of intransigence, injustice and desperation. And given the pro-Israeli media bias, there is a pervasive need to present a side and tell a story that is not commonly told. As a Palestinian, I know this fully well. On the Israeli/Jewish side, there is a general feeling that Israel is under constant attack [here and abroad] and that overtures of dialogue are never reciprocated. As a result, pro-Israeli sympathizers feel that they have no choice but to defend Israel in every way they can. There is truth to this as well.

To the above excuses, I have a few brief comments. First, the Palestinians need to realize that being a victim should not warrant full-time indignation. Because victims too also make mistakes. But if they only see themselves as victims, those mistakes are never realized. It is one thing to be a victim, but another to be an angel. The two should not be confused. Similarly, on the Jewish side, there needs to be an understanding that criticism of Israel or its policies are not tantamount to anti-Semitism or a negation of Israel’s right to exist. Pro-Israeli groups should no longer use criticisms of Israel as jumping boards for all-out counteroffensives that are anything but helpful; because they, too, have a lot to learn from the other side as well.

Fadi Amer is a 2L.