Dialogue Without Delegitimization

The period following the UN Declaration of partition was indeed a time of great upheaval in the Middle East. The UN declared a Jewish State in one portion of the British Mandate, and an Arab State in the other. The Jews accepted partition, and five armies attacked the nascent Jewish State. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled the Jewish side of partition, but many stayed. Equal numbers of Jews fled Arab lands, crowding into refugee camps in the tiny Jewish state.

I want to recognize the pain of all those living in the aftermath of the events of 1948. The pain of both sides is valid, and cannot be trivialized. But I feel that healing also requires both sides to work from a common fact set. One sentence in the recent article, “An Overabundance of Silence; On Israel and Protest,” caught my attention and requires correction, as it feeds misconceptions:

“Most importantly, it symbolizes a day of injustice and the beginning of the illegal occupation.”

In fact, the armistice that followed the War of 1948 did not lead to an illegal occupation. It lead to the Jews having a state in part of the Mandate, and the Arabs controlling the remaining territory. The Arab portion was incorporated into the state of Jordan, and at no time did anyone characterize Jordanian rule over that territory as an “illegal occupation.”

We have a unique opportunity during our four years here in this idyll, far removed from the all too real physical threats of the conflict zone. We have an opportunity to seek out those whose views are diametrically opposed to our own and attempt to establish a dialogue based upon common human values and mutual respect. We have an opportunity to create a safe space in which brainstorming and creative thinking can be applied to some of history’s most intractable problems. Once we leave this idyll, that opportunity vanishes. We all return to our own sides, and opportunity for true dialogue vanishes. I hope that we are able to make something of our time together here by reaching out to fellow students with contrarian beliefs. To do that, we need to avoid inflammatory rhetoric and give the other side the benefit of the doubt: we may not agree, but we are all exercising critical thought. Let’s see what we can teach each other.