The Challenges of Moderation in the Middle East

BY JOEL POLLAK

Last Wednesday, Harvard Law School Alliance For Israel co-sponsored a lively discussion held at Harvard Hillel on the subject: “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Challenges of Moderation.” The featured speakers were Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, and Benjamin Pogrund, INSPIRE Fellow at the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University.

Nusseibeh has been a prominent advocate of Palestinian rights and peace with Israel for several decades. After earning his PhD in Islamic philosophy from Harvard in 1978, he returned to the Middle East and went on to become an important underground leader in the first intifada. Most recently, he authored a two-state peace plan with Israeli warrior-turned-politician Ami Ayalon.

Pogrund was one of the most important journalists in South Africa during the apartheid era, serving as deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, one of the most important anti-government newspapers. Today he lives in Jerusalem and directs the Yakar Center for Social Concern, where he brings Israelis and Palestinians together in mutual efforts at conflict resolution and relationship-building.

About ninety students, faculty and community members packed Harvard Hillel’s Beren Hall for the discussion, which was chaired by Hillel director Dr. Bernie Steinberg. Pogrund spoke first, contrasting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with apartheid South Africa but saying that he drew inspiration and hope from the way in which South Africans had resolved their seemingly intractable differences.

Nusseibeh recalled how each side had historically suppressed its moderate voices, creating a climate in which supporting peace carried heavy political risks. When asked by a member of the audience to comment on the rights of Palestinian refugees, he suggested that Palestinians had the right of return but that it might have to be sacrificed in order to fulfill the right to freedom and independence.

The Harvard Society of Arab Students and Harvard Law School Justice For Palestine had both been invited to co-sponsor the event, but they declined while leaving the door open to future cooperation. Nusseibeh and Pogrund implored American students to build bridges between Jews and Arabs in diaspora communities; hopefully, we will find ways to fulfill that aspiration at HLS.

Joel Pollak is President of Harvard Law School Alliance For Israel.

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