Making a change on campus, one step at a time

As a first-year student at university, I never thought that I would be speaking to the Palestinian Society on campus or find myself in those challenging situations you hear about on the internet or from friends who recently graduated from university; I thought that I would just stay out of their way and keep my views to myself and enjoy the campus life. After all, I came to university to study for a degree and to make the most of the university life, making friends and going to different events.

One Thursday afternoon I saw the Palestinian society advocating for the BDS movement outside the library. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement attempts to pressure Israel by boycotting Israeli products, academic relationships, cultural events, etc. in Israel or connected to Israel around the world.

I immediately approached The Palestinian society and started asking the advocates questions on what they were promoting and if they had any evidence to back up their statements. They responded that they were boycotting HP computers as they give proceeds to Israel. I began by asking them whether or not they use WhatsApp, Waze, Facebook, and other technological applications. Their obvious response was that they certainly do use those applications.

This got me eager to explain to them that these applications also work within Israel, and some of them were invented in Israel, or by Israelis, so how can they choose what to boycott?  If the Palestinian society wants to boycott Israeli products then boycott all Israeli products, not just those that are convenient.

Sharing these facts in a rationale way made them take a step back and understand that they actually need to respond in an intellectual and informative manner, which they weren’t prepared to do.

My calm tone of voice implied that I was not looking for a fight, rather just to educate those around with correct information. The Palestinians responded to the way I was speaking and were not getting aggressive as a response.

I wasn’t standing there to waste my energy on those who disagreed with me, but to portray the Israel’s side of the argument to those who were passionately sharing misleading ‘facts’ to the large crowd that was quickly gathering around us. Before I noticed, a large group of 30 students were gathering around us, listening to every sentence, examining us and passively gaining insights and knowledge from our conversation. I felt that this was my chance to make a change. I felt like I was educating those who have never come to hear about Israel before. This made me feel more determined to stand up and portray Israel in the best way possible; a view which many of the members of the Palestinian society had not yet been educated about.

The conversation concluded with the Palestinian Society members accepting the statement that all Israel is seeking for is peace but more importantly, the audience were able to understand that Israel is not that evil or a racist state those at the stall were trying to convey. That by boycotting and bashing Israel, peace won’t be achieved. That there is more there and the Palestinian leadership is also accountable for the situation.

Once the conversation came to an end, I understood that I successfully passed my first real challenge on campus, and that it was not as bad as I had envisaged. I realised that I should not be afraid to speak up for Israel and that conflicting debates can occur without ending on bad terms. I realised that if one has the passion and the knowledge to back his arguments, change can be made.

In a few weeks’ time we are having an inspiring speaker come from Israel to give the Israel societies participants the tools of how to approach difficult questions when put in challenging, uncomfortable positions. We are answering to the challenge by positively showing what Israel is all about, through sessions, dialogue workshops and strive towards a safer environment to all students on campus, no matter their political opinion.

I would like to leave you with a last piece of advice — Read up about the history of Israel and don’t shy away from the facts. In many cases, those who debate you are not educated about Israel and it is our responsibility to convey the information to them and portray Israel as it is, calmly and rationally.

I definitely hope the upcoming year will end in the same informative and positive note as my conversation at the BDS stall.

About the Author
Eliana is a sociology student and President of the City university Israel Society. A Stand with Us activist, currently taking part in the Stand with Us UK leadership programme.
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