Despite the withdraw of sponsorship by the Georgetown University’s Students for Justice in Palestine, a joint program designed to open communications between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students went forward last week.
The event was billed as an “unprecedented gesture of mutual-recognition” co-sponsored by the Palestinian group, the Georgetown Israel Alliance and J Street U Georgetown. But following discussions between the National Students for Justice in Palestine and the Georgetown branch, the student group pulled out less than 24 hours before the Nov. 6 event in which the movie The Other Son was shown.
“Representatives from the national movement reached out to us. It wasn’t pressure. They helped us realize this event wouldn’t help toward their goal,” explained president Albert Doumar. He said his group plans to write a piece on what happened and would not elaborate until after it was published on campus.
The national organization’s website does not include a mission statement. However, the list of workshops at it third national convention held at the end of last month included such topics as: Breaking the Special Relationship: the ‘Israel Lobby’ & Political Power in the US; Deadly Economies: Israel’s Role in Worldwide Repression & Against Popular Movements; Colonization of the Indigenous: Shared Narratives of the U.S. Southwest, Golan Heights, & Galilee, Intertwined Histories; and Compounded Identities: Mizrahim & the Struggle for Palestine.
Some of the pro-Palestinian students agreed to attend the event as individuals, they explained. To show support, the pro-Israeli students said they, too, were attending as individuals and not as a part of their organizations.
Sophomore Jake Sorrells, a member of J Street U, said he was not disappointed. “We capitalized on this. We saw this as an opportunity,” he said. “As Jews, we can really relate to the pressures they are receiving,” he said, drawing an analogy from the growth of J Street, which he said was originally “considered an extreme fringe leftist organization” but is now a player in promoting peace.
Sorrells said he considered it “courageous” of the pro-Palestinians to still attend the event.
“In no terms would I say this was a disappointment whatsoever,” agreed Elijah Jatovsky, also of J Street U Georgetown. “In fact, now this event is more credible,” as people realize how hard it is to work for peace in Israel. “This reminded us of the challenge we face. It reinforced why we need to be here,” he said.
There were about 75 people at the event, and it is not known how many more people would have come had the pro-Palestinians not withdrawn their sponsorship.
The two-and-a-half hour program featured a French-made movie about two Israeli and Palestinian boys born in the same Haifi hospital but switched at birth. It portrays a struggle of built-up hatred and distrust between the Israelis and Palestinians that is softened by the mothers’ love and the then 18-year-old boys quest to learn what world they belong in.
The film showed that working for peace “is all about people. Behind all the facts and figures are human lives,” said Tamim Al-Nuweiri, a Palestinian. “We come here in humility, openness and appreciation of what each of us are bringing to this moment.”
She described the goal of the event “to improve the dialogue and to inspire everyone to play a role.”
Student Sapir Yarden, an Israeli, urged everyone to realize “things are not so black or white as them seem.”
Sorrells pointed to the peace talks currently going on between Israel and Palestine with the aid of Sec. of State John Kerry and declared how important it was to keep moving forward and put an “end to the oppressive occupation and violence.”
Following the movie, Georgetown’s Rabbi Rachel Gartner, Jewish chaplaincy director, and Iman Yahya Hendi, addressed those gathered in the auditorium. Hendi, who spoke by video as he was flying to Jordan during the event, said that having grown up in Palestine, “through that pain,” made him appreciate the “wonderful film.” He said he “cried through at least 80 percent of the film.”
Referring to Isaac and Ishmael from the Bible, Hendi said he hoped the students could work together as brothers who are family but were “kidnapped from one and other.” He also told the students, “Remember, we are up against fear. We are up against ignorance,” adding, “We need to see each other as fellow human beings.”
Rabbi Gartner, who also claimed to have cried during the film, said, “My prayer tonight is you continue to take these risks, to really come listen to each other. You need to take it to the next step.”