Confronting Conflict Through Dialogue

Israel/Palestine in the Classroom

By Josh Frank


“Stonewalled in Jerusalem” art display at the Cowell Provost House

“Stonewalled in Jerusalem” art display at the Cowell Provost House

How do we find compassion in the heat of conflict? Here at UC Santa Cruz, a course titled “Conflict & Compassion”

took on this challenge. The class, offered through Cowell College, had another component: A weekly lecture series open to students and the public alike.

Cowell Provost, Faye Crosby, sponsored the speakers and funded the food provided. Given that the focus was on how to communicate about Israel/ Palestine compassionately, what better way to host a discussion than with falafel and hummus afterwards?

UCSC lecturer Christine King was the first guest in the round of speakers. She spoke about methods of active listening for constructive dialogue, which she teaches in her class “Non-Violent Communication,” or NVC. Conflict & Compassion and NVC promote strategies to communicate without hostility and emphasize reflecting another person’s emotions in conversation.

Psychology graduate student Ella Ben-Hagai, originally from Israel, hosted these weekly speakers, introducing them and facilitating Q&A afterwards. In her experience, we don’t always hear the other individual; we often only hear what we want to hear.

That this course exists speaks to the fact that so many of us are emotionally invested in the conflict. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict raises questions of human rights, particularly the right of an ethnic group to have self- determination, or a state of their own.

This issue struck a chord with UCSC

“Stonewalled in Jerusalem” art display at the Cowell Provost House

Professor Jennifer Derr. Largely inspired by her experience attending university in Cairo, she explained the history of Palestinian identity and the events surrounding Arab-Israeli tensions.

Although her presentation primarily focused on the Palestinian narrative, Professor Derr did touch on the Zionist movement. She reminded the audience that Jews were refugees without a home during the first half of the 20th century. Consequently, they settled in Palestine, a place where there has been a Jewish presence since biblical times.

Palestine was not an official state outside of the Ottoman Empire. Following World War I, the land was put on the real estate market for the nations of England and France; yet even in the years prior, Jews were making purchases.

But while Jews bought the majority of the land legally, it was purchased from the hands of wealthy Arab landowners who did not necessarily represent the Palestinian people as a whole.

Bruce Thompson, a lecturer of History and Jewish Studies at UCSC, marked this distinction. Communicating to a group may be easier, but it is more harmful in the long run. We should strive to view conflict through the perspective of individuals, and not the larger ethnic group we believe that individual represents.

Thompson expounded upon the emotional aspect of the Jewish movement. Especially after witnessing the death of six million of their own people during World War II, Jews all over the

world adopted a Zionist viewpoint: We need our own state where we can protect ourselves. This is a view many Palestinians can identify with as well; both groups find themselves embroiled in the pursuit of nationhood. Dr. Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley elaborated on the notion of a Palestinian state in Week Four of the series. Dr. Bazian characterized the establishment of Israel as a colonial operation, stressing deep concern for the Palestinians who were displaced from their homes. Dr. Bazian declared that we must discuss the Israeli/Palestinian conflict inside of a “Colonial Discourse”—interpreting Zionism as a Western- influenced movement, rather than a crisis of refugees. On the flip side of the coin, lawyer and speaker J.J. Surbeck insisted that the change in discourse must involve treating Israel more fairly. The international community often holds Israel to a double-standard; the United Nations Human Rights Council puts Israel as a standing item on their agenda, making condemnations far more likely. Under this microscope, Israel is slapped with unwarranted human rights violations, damaging the international community’s credibility, and shutting off dialogue. The speakers raised heavy concerns, carrying over into heated Q&A sessions. Staff, students, and community members alike became enthralled in the discussions; in some cases there was a desperate need for debrief. Cowell Provost, Faye Crosby, one of the backers of the program, decided to expand the conversation into her own home. Yet she chose a different medium for introducing the conflict: Art.

Sarah Friedlander set-up a creative display inside the Cowell Provost House on campus. Titled “Stonewalled in Jerusalem,” the art installation fills a room with a collage of digitally-designed photos of scenes in Jerusalem, connected to form what looks like the Western Wall.

Viewers were encouraged to tear off a piece of paper so they could write down some of their thoughts, emotions, or hopes for peace. By slipping the notes into the cracks of the wall, participants emulated the same practice done at the real Western Wall in Jerusalem.

After thanking Sara Friedlander for her hard work and dedication to the question, “Can art have a positive influence on the conflict?”, Faye concluded with heartfelt and inspiring words.

She explained why she is so committed to the Conflict & Compassion course: “My mission as Provost is to engage intergenerational learning.” This attitude can serve as a model through which we can engage in constructive dialogue here at UCSC and the greater community.

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