Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Student Groups Exchange Views on Middle East

June 14, 2010

Three student groups shared their experiences with and opinions on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict during a panel discussion at the end of last semester. 

Students from Puzzle Peace, Brown Students for Israel (BSI), and Brown Students for Justice in Palestine (BSJP) directed the afternoon panel, titled “How Did We Get Here? A Symposium on the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict.” Prof. David Jacobson, director of the Program in Judaic Studies, served as moderator.

BSI president Laura Fried told the panel her conversations with Israelis had made her aware of a gap between what Jews in and out of Israel think is “good” for the country. Within Israel, Fried said, there exists a strong strain of opinion that if you want to help, you should move to Israel and contribute to the economy, she said. Knowing that this opinion holds much less sway outside of Israel has made Fried rethink the extent to which advocacy in the US and at Brown University actually helps, she said. 

Sophia Manuel, a member of Puzzle Peace, grew up in a Jewish household where her parents avoided discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She took a class on the Arab-Israeli conflict during freshmen year, where she said she tried to step out of her own shoes to understand Jerusalem as a city important to many diverse people.

Manuel went to Israel on a program with the New Israel Fund (NIF) and on Birthright Unplugged, a program that presents traveling students with the perspective of “displaced” Palestinians. Troubled by Israeli actions in the Palestinian territory, she decided to educate herself by conversing with both Israelis and Palestinians.

“As a Jew, you have the idea of Israel whether or not you have a relationship to it. It is put upon you by the outside world,” Manuel said, adding that she consequently felt the need to develop a relationship with the country. This relationship “had to be the right one,” she said.

Rosi Greenberg, a member of BSJP, said she has an identity “buy in” because both her parents are rabbis. She attended Zionist youth camps and Birthright Unplugged.
For Greenberg, the issue comes down to basic human rights and interests and learning about both sides to restore social justice in the world, she said.

Last summer, she lived in a refugee camp for six months, passing though checkpoints every day. She met a mother who would sneak through the wall every night at 2am to get to her workplace at 7am.

Greenberg said she doubted that the wall surrounding the camp made its inhabitants safe. Its permeability would have made it possible for a suicide bomber to inflict serious harm, she added.

Overall, she said, she favors a broad coalition of people working for justice that includes Jews, Palestinians, and others.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Samura Atallah ‘11