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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Community Task Force On the Middle East
Wellesley College

“We talk less about policy and more about personal experiences.”

At Wellesley College, a student-created Community Task Force on the Middle East pushes groups with opposing agendas to meet directly and discuss differences. The Task Force, which includes students from Wellesley Friends of Israel, Hillel, the Islamic Student Association, Wellesley Arab Women, J Street and Wellesley Students of Palestine, meet each Friday afternoon for lunch with Victor Kazanjian, dean of intercultural education and religious and spiritual life, to debate issues relating to the Middle East.

Ariel Robinson, a member of the Task Force, said her involvement has helped her uncover layers of the issue that she was never exposed to before. “The point of Task Force is to get uncomfortable,” said Robinson. “We talk less about policy and more about personal experiences.”

Hayley Malkin, another member of the group, was raised in a Conservative Jewish community and said she was never challenged to articulate her support of Israel beyond recognizing it as a Jewish homeland. Today, she said, she wrestles with her support for Jewish statehood and the unease she feels over occupation of Palestinian territories.

“I don’t know of any other group on Wellesley’s campus [that] engages regularly in the kind of honest, painful and eye-opening dialogue that is fairly standard for Task Force,” Malkin said.

Penn Dialogue Forum
University of Pennsylvania

“The mission is to serve as a safe space for students of all religions and backgrounds to discuss Israel and Palestine.”

When Elie Peltz, now a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, first arrived on campus, he felt there was no forum to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students who did speak up often felt threatened and disrespected.


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