As violent outbreaks between Israelis and Palestinians continue in the Middle East, students with ties to the region are reacting in Philadelphia.
Despite the two sides’ agreeing to a cease-fire, the unrest has not settled down in certain areas and tensions continue to rise.
Temple senior David Feingold lived in Israel for 10 years, and many of his friends and family – including his father- still are living there.
“In one sense I’m glad that I’m here and not in the middle of it. On the other hand… I wish I could be there to do something,” said Feingold, an English major. He coordinated a pro-Israel rally with fellow Temple student Emily Hoffman at the Liberty Bell on Oct. 16.
The Department of State issued a warning Tuesday for U.S. citizens to defer all travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, citing a “heightened threat of terrorist incidents” and encouraged Americans already living there to move to a safe location. Prior to this warning, Feingold said his father feels safe and encouraged his son to travel to Israel.
Hoffman, who called the conflict a “sibling rivalry” said: “It’s like talking to small children. You just have to get them to stop the bickering and talk about what it is they’re fighting about.”
When the state of Israel was founded in 1948, many people never accepted its boundaries, which included a divided Jerusalem. In the wars of 1967 and 1973, the Israelis gained control of Jerusalem. Palestinians seeking to reestablish a sovereign Palestine claim territories in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as their homeland.
“The Arab states want to get back what was once theirs, wheras the Israelis indicated they sort of forfeited that,” said Richard Immerman, professor and chairman of the Temple history department and director of the Center for Force and Diplomacy.
The Israelis and Palestinians living here feel strong ties with the people who live in that area and it creates strains in their relationships at home.
“Jews in the U.S. and Muslims in the U.S. feel a very emotional attachment to people of that region. It could be within a school or within a community that clashes and arguments can spiral and escalate. I have not seen it at Temple… I wouldn’t rule it out…because there is not a particularly large Arab or particularly active Israeli community here at Temple, but it could happen,” Immerman said.
Hoffman said it wasn’t easy to talk about the situation with one friend who owns a Middle Eastern restaurant in Philadelphia.
“You try not to get angry because you’re friends,” Hoffman said. “You have common ground that you do share. But it’s hard not to get angry when you’re talking with somebody. There’s certain things you shouldn’t talk about with friends, and politics and religion are two of them.”
Former president of Temple’s Muslim Student Association, Idris Abdul-Zahir, has had experiences where friends have been able to work out their differences.
“I still have a lot of Jewish friends. I can sit down at their house and eat dinner,” Abdul-Zahir said. “Do we talk about it? Yes. You have to. People are dying over a piece of earth.”
At the heart of the matter is the battle over who gets control of Jerusalem; both sides claim the city is their holy land. Immerman said both sides’ claims are legitimate.
“I really think that Jerusalem should be an international city. It seems any other solution to me would be derived by a premise that party A has more claim to Jerusalem than party B,” Immerman said. “I don’t think any of the parties are going to accept that, that isn’t the one who is given Jerusalem.”
Abdul-Zahir doesn’t argue over who should own the land and believes the holy land can be shared.
“I don’t say Jerusalem is for Muslims,” Abdul-Zahir said. “Whoever is there, that’s who is there. Whoever’s there can co-exist. This is God’s earth. If this land is so holy for both parties, then why all the killing? Why all the disrespect of their religious homes and places of worship?”
Hoffman takes a point of view that is central to the conflict: “I think the Palestinians should have land granted to them which they have had. I think Jerusalem is for Israel, it is for the Jews. It can be shared with the Arabs, it can be shared with Palestinians to a degree, but it is Jewish land.”
Immerman says it is not possible to have peace and also insist on demands.
“[They say] we want peace but we also want X, Y or Z. As of right now, you can’t have both,” Immerman said.
While a cease-fire is in effect, violent outbreaks continue to erupt in disputed territories. Abdul-Zahir said the fighting should be stopped at all costs because it hurts everyone.
“When a kid gets shot it doesn’t matter if the child is Palestinian or Jewish,” Abdul-Zahir said. “That’s just wrong, period. When mosques are being bombed or burned and synagogues are being shot at, there’s no excuse for that.”
Aside from the territorial conflicts in Jerusalem as well as the Gaza Strip and West Bank, ideology intensifies the battle.
“Frequently those types of conflicts–religious–are the most difficult to resolve,” Immerman said.
The portrayal of the conflict in the media has shown some graphic images on both sides. One image showed a 12-year-old boy and his father being shot by Israeli gunfire. Another showed the corpse of an Israeli soldier being thrown out the window of a Palestinian police station, which was later bombed in retaliation.
Abdul-Zahir says that what he sees on television about Palestinians is mostly associated with violence.
“It’ll show Palestinians with the guns raised and with tie rags around their heads like gangsters and terrorists, but show Jewish people just crying at funerals.” Abdul-Zahir said. “The first thing you might think of is Jews suffered the Holocaust. You think Muslims or Palestinians, you think what? Bombs, killing, people dying.”
In the territorial battles, Immerman says one side has to offer a major concession that is not a practical political move.
“Negotiations along those lines would be political suicide,” Immerman said. “Someone has to say, ‘I’m going to make this negotiation even if it costs me the next election.'”
Abdul-Zahir says the two religions would be able to co-exist if it weren’t for the corruption involved with political battles.
“If the Jews live there, so what? Muslims live on the same block as a church here,” Abdul-Zahir said. “They are (politically) too far down the river now to back down.”