Grassroots Student Groups Calmly Tackle Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Take Less Confrontational Approach Than National Groups

Field Lessons: The Olive Tree Initiative brings students to Israel and the Palestinian areas, where they learn both sides’ narratives.
Courtesy of the Olive Tree Initiative
Field Lessons: The Olive Tree Initiative brings students to Israel and the Palestinian areas, where they learn both sides’ narratives.

By Seth Berkman

Published February 10, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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When bVIEW was founded in 2011, Arad said it was important that the new group stay unaffiliated with established organizations, so students could voice unpopular opinions in a non-hostile setting. Also important was bringing on speakers with a range of perspectives. “There’s no agenda here.”

This school year, bVIEW has held programs examining Zionism and the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians at Brandeis.

Ashraf Hussein, a Palestinian student at Brandeis with Israeli citizenship, said he was impressed that student members of Students for Justice in Palestine and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee were involved. “They still disagree on a lot of big issues, but at least they came together to listen,” he said. “It’s remarkable.

Olive Tree Initiative
University of California, Irvine

“Students join so they can say something and not be told what to do.”

The Olive Tree Initiative, which began at UC Irvine, has spread throughout the UC system and to 15 schools in the northeast.

Students from the schools — including Jews, Catholics and Muslims — embark on three-week educational trips to the Middle East, splitting their time between Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as meeting with 80 speakers, community leaders and politicians from a range of backgrounds. Upon returning to their campuses, the students are encouraged to use these conversations and experiences to enrich their communities, having been exposed to all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian argument.

“You can’t do that on college campuses, create the cognitive dissonance we experience on our trips,” said OTI Assistant Director Corey Feinstein. “We’re not an advocacy organization. On one level, advocacy organizations traditionally inform and tell their students what to say and how to say it, whereas with OTI, students join so they can say something and not be told what to do.”


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