A playground on the spot where an Israeli barrier was removed in the village of Bilin in West Bank, June 19, 2019. A lull in protests appears to bolster the Trump administration’s belief that economic growth will produce peace, but Palestinians say the calm is a symptom of despair. (Samar Hazboun/The New York Times)

November 1, 2019

Amidst Israel-Palestine Divide, Two Speakers Stress Necessity of Dialogue and Debate

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As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows little sign of relenting abroad, two speakers — one Jewish and the other Arab — came together to in a bid to show students that in frank conversation and honest debate may lie the way forward.

On Oct. 30, Yossi Klein Halevi, author of New York Times best-seller Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor, and Mohammad Darawshe, a renowned expert on Jewish-Arab relations, spoke at Statler Auditorium on the importance of fostering mutual dialogue amidst political strife.

According to Halevi, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one fundamentally marked by two differing narratives that divide two indigenous peoples — narratives that, after decades of ethnic and religious conflict, will continue to dog the peace process, if left to unaddressed.

“The tragedy of this conflict is that we press the deepest psychological wounds of each side. We are our story, that’s what defines us,” Halevi said. “But these stories are so deeply ingrained in us that they will continue to disrupt attempts at peace until there is space for our stories.”

Halevi’s recently published book represents an attempt to address these dueling perspectives; in the text, Halevi converses with an imagined Palestinian neighbor in the hopes of eliciting a a discussion between those on both sides. At the end of Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor, the author invited responses from Palestinians, which he said “weren’t easy to read, but hopefully … [would] trigger an internal Israeli conversation.”

In his response to Halevi, Darawshe spoke on defining identity. An Arab-Israeli citizen, Darawshe believes “the land of Palestine is part of my skin, I feel it in my own body. National identity isn’t defined by political science. I go to my 64 olive trees and I understand it.”

While agreeing with Halevi on the importance of cross-cultural exchange, Darawshe said that he believes resolving the near century-long conflict will take more. In order to move forward, there needs to be a willing leader, a willing public — and a hunger to challenge “the power structure.”

With the peace process between both Israel and Palestine having been stalled for decades, such a combination has seemingly failed to materialize. Even so, Darawashe expressed the need for optimism and noted that those involved have little choice but to eventually reach a resolution.

“Palestinian and Israeli-Jews are stuck together, are destined to continue being stuck together,” he said. “I think what’s missing in the discourse between Israeli and Palestinians is the word hope … university students, especially students such as Cornell students, that do aspire to be world leaders are the ones that are going to be leading the next generations.”

The second event in Hillel’s Conflict Conversation Series, the talk was held as a response to last spring’s Boycott, Divest and Sanction vote in the Student Assembly, when the Israel-Palestine conflict came to a simmering head on campus.

According to Jacob Spiegel ’21, Hillel’s Israel chair, the speaker series is an initiative created in the wake of last year’s narrowly defeated resolution — one he believes was “filled with inaccuracies and extremist viewpoints” — in order to “provide students with a range of nuanced perspectives … so that they can find education and their own opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Echoing the extent to which relations between both sides have become strained in recent months, Halevi pointed to the presence of a security guard standing near the entrance of the auditorium for the duration of the event, which he said “says an enormous amount” and that “is really demented.”

Instead, Darawshe said, those who truly wish for peace must abandon political pretensions for actual dialogue and change, even if it proves difficult.

“Have the courage to do what Yossi and I did: talk to each other. And not to live in your sheltered bubble where you are indulging in your self-righteousness,” Darawshe told The Sun. “That’s the easy way. You need to take the harder route; the route of dialogue is harder than speaking to yourself and among your own.”