Hundreds of thousands of miles away from Main Campus, there is a war in the Middle East.
Even though Temple is nowhere near the war, many students and organizations are deeply affected by it and passionate about bringing truth and awareness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to campus.
The obstacles they face in spreading this word, however, are similar to those that perpetuate the conflict in the Middle East – they cannot agree on what is truth, what is fair or what would be a viable solution.
One thing nearly everyone agrees on is that peace is the ultimate goal. How to get there is where discrepancies lie.
There were no recent efforts between the affected student organizations – Hillel, Temple Students for Israel, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association – to come together and discuss this conflict.
In fact, some student leaders in the organizations think it would be counter-productive to their causes.
“I would love to get together with [Students for Justice in Palestine], but they don’t acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. So why would I get together with a group like that?” said Arkadiy Landa, vice president of TSI. “The most basic prerequisite for peace is acknowledging the other party’s right to exist.”
Sarah Salem, a senior architecture major and member of SJP, said the group does acknowledge Israel as a state.
“SJP recognizes Israelis’ rights to live in Palestine, in what is now Israel, but we are not an organization that poses a solution for Palestine,” she said. “We are just an organization that tries to make people aware of what is going on in Palestine.”
Salem said she believes members of SJP are too removed from the actual violence in the Middle East to be able to offer solutions. The more important issue for Salem is the ability to coexist.
She agrees coming together as student organizations may not be in everyone’s best interest.
Salem said SJP generally makes it a rule not to attend events hosted by pro-Israel groups.
“It’s not because we don’t respect them, it’s because we do,” she said.
Salem said tensions rise quickly and unnecessary arguments can form at these events.
Dr. Khalid Blankinship, director of graduate studies for the religion department and Islamic history specialist, said civility will best help the situation between the student organizations.
“[These groups] can’t do much, but it would be very helpful if they could begin to be civil to each other,” he said. “The Muslims, because they have been on the defensive in the United States, are probably more open to that because you do not find Muslim organizations going out of their way to berate the Jews or Israel.”
Judah Ferst, program director for Hillel, acknowledges there is some tension between certain members of these groups but not between the groups as a whole.
“When they have had events, we have handed out pamphlets and vice versa,” Ferst said.
While these groups work to raise awareness on campus, there remains a strong sense of doubt among them about whether they can cause real change.
Landa spent the first week of the Spring 2009 semester tabling at the Student Center for TSI. The passionate self-proclaimed Zionist hung Israel’s flag from a table neatly organized with a colorful variety of pamphlets, facts, figures and photographs all supporting his cause.
As curious passers-by stop and linger, he engages them and explains his beliefs.
Landa said change will come “as soon as the Palestinian people stand up against Hamas and stop supporting Hamas and stop supporting Fatah, as soon as Palestinians accept Israel’s right to exist, they will give them Gaza and the West Bank.”
Both groups said they believe there is a strong media bias, but where the bias leans is a point of difference.
Landa said TSI’s goal is to “counter anti-Israel media-bias propaganda by providing people with the facts they do no get from CNN or BBC.”
Monira Gamal-Eldin, a junior business major and member of MSA and SJP, said to become more informed, students should “reach out to other news and media. Start watching Al-Jazeera English, [which is] less biased than American mainstream media.”
Dr. Rebecca Alpert, a religion and women’s studies professor who serves as SJP’s adviser, said the Jews fear they will not be able to practice their religion and live fulfilling Jewish lives if Hamas gains control of the area.
“That would be a tragedy, but it’s a hypothetical one,” Alpert said. “Right now, there is a tragedy that has Israel being very powerful and dominating the Palestinians and not allowing their free expression.”
While the debate here on campus, and perhaps worldwide, could go on indefinitely, all involved want people to keep in mind that real human lives are being lost on both sides, and everyone wants peace, recognition and a safe place to call home.
“Both Islam and Judaism as religions are religions of peace,” Alpert said. “This is not how we want either of our religions to be represented in the world, as bloody battling religions.”
Andrea Hanratty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.