“Settlers aren’t indigenous,” read the flyers in protest. Once I saw those flyers, my mentality on the way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be addressed on Columbia University’s campus completely changed.
At an event on December 6th sponsored by Students Supporting Israel- which brought together several individuals indigenous to their respective lands- members of Columbia University Apartheid Divest protested Israeli settlements in the West Bank of the Jordan River.
Normally, I would agree with the statement that people who settle a land are not indigenous to the land on which they settled. As a Zionist who adamantly believes in Israel’s right to self-determination and to existence as the Jewish state side-by-side a Palestinian one, I know that until the issue of settlements in the West Bank is resolved, peace is inconceivable.
In the few months since arriving on campus, I’ve witnessed that the rhetoric used by many students to address the Israeli-Palestinian issue is often argumentative and antagonistic, used to persuade individuals to blindly support one side.
At the SSI event, a Yazidi man indigenous to Iraq began talking about the genocide against his people. Seconds later, members of CUAD held up the flyers stating that “settlers aren’t indigenous.” I was in shock at the disrespect that I was witnessing from fellow Columbia students. I wanted to speak out and tell the protestors that there was little positivity in what they were doing, but I didn’t know what to do or how to say it.
The Yazidi man speaking when the protest began was not even vocalizing his opinion on the conflict. When disrespect of other people arises as a result of the rhetoric of students on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, a new problem surfaces. After witnessing that protest, my perception on the impact of rhetoric on the conflict was drastically altered.
Throughout my time here, I have encountered several anti-Israel demonstrations. I used to brush off the differing opinion that equated Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people to Apartheid South Africa. I now know that this was because I couldn’t conceptualize the magnitude of negative impact that rhetoric working to delegitimize Israel could have on our campus.
On the contrary, I’ve heard the claim from fellow pro-Israel students that “The Palestinians voted Hamas, a terrorist organization, into office and now they’re reaping the consequences of that election.” I used to brush that off as well; I was unable to comprehend the importance of not condemning people for their government’s actions – a result of not realizing the extent to which this rhetoric could affect the conversation on campus.
We must all stop blocking the voices of fellow students on campus and be open to differing opinions. Thus, I am calling on all who hold opinions on this topic to make their voices heard. Reach out to someone with an opinion different than your own, engage in discourse, and challenge your own sentiments and theirs. If you’re reading this and you held up one of the flyers, I ask that we sit down to have a conversation.
To my fellow pro-Israel students, I ask: condemn the violations that the Israeli government commits, but also talk about the great technological, medical and security advancements that have come out of Israel. To those on the other side, I ask: make the Palestinian cause and suffering known, but recognize that not all of the Palestinian suffering is a result of the Israeli government.
I understand students, like myself, who find it more comfortable to defend their own opinion rather than engage in discourse. However, until connections are formed, dialogues are had, relationships are established, and an understanding is created between people on all sides of the issue, our desire for any logical progress will be unsuccessful.
Imagine the integrated campus that Columbia could be if we stopped going on the offensive and instead listened to what others had to say. Only when we’re able to change (or, more importantly, start) the conversation on campus can we expect any advancement on the issue.