On the first day of my Safety Lecture at the Tel Aviv University, a gruff older Biology professor was telling us about the importance of safety in a way that only an Israeli would: “you are Israelis, so you know war, and in war, you all know that you must know your enemy.” The Americans and I looked at each other with shock in our eyes. That’s because 10-20% of the hall was clearly Arab who in 1948 was the “enemy” and would take his quote in a very different way.
In the US, this professor would have been fired. But in Israel, there are more important things than political correctness, which certainly has its merits.
One year later, I would be attending the Kellogg-Recanati Executive MBA. This program is a jewel in the Coller Business School not just because it is a joint program with the top-ranked Northwestern University, but because it is one of the main programs that create dialogue and coexistence in the region.
This program is not just open to Israelis, it is open to everyone. This means anyone can apply, from anywhere. As a result, we have Arab and Jewish Israelis. We had Americans like me, Italians, and Japanese students. But that wasn’t all, we also had a Jordanian student, who would drive from Aman for classes almost every week. Our class also included three Palestinians, one from East Jerusalem and two from Ramallah. That means nearly 10% of the class was from what could be deemed as the “enemy”.
The connection created in a 34-person class with each student is unique and long-lasting. Between classes, we had coffee and meals and we shared those meals together. We went to weddings together and weekend trips.
This dynamic would normally be no different than a Palestinian and Jew at the Northwestern campus, but the dynamic was completely different in Israel. That’s because, in Israel, conflict is never-ending. Every year Hamas would send rockets at Israel and Israel would respond (sometimes even when we were in class or heading out of class, and all of us would have to rush for a bomb shelter). Sometimes there would be riots and Palestinian friends would not be able to come through the checkpoint.
War is a stressful event in any country. There is a sudden feeling that everyone on the other side wants you dead and you must bind to your side because they are who will keep you alive. But becoming friends with the “enemy” means that we deeply care for each other as we know that we are all good people, working hard to create a better world for ourselves, our kids, and our countries. Our friends were not Hamas or Islamic Jihad, they are managers, consultants, entrepreneurs, and investors. War would threaten their lives, their businesses, and their families just as it would ours.
So whenever unrest would begin, we would see in the WhatsApp group concern from our Palestinian classmates for the friends who live near Sderot, and likewise from the class for the Palestinian friends and hopes that they are safe and well, even if they live in the lands of the “enemy”.
It is hard to have war with friends, this is why there are boycotts. Boycotts isolate people, cultural and academic boycotts prevent people from interacting and talking and they make violence more likely because then we are more likely to think of one another as an “other” and an enemy. War and eradication of the boycotts in 1930ies Germany and are at the root of the current BDS boycott, which calls for a Boycott until all lands of Israel are ethnically cleansed of Jews. But if we resist and instead create an anti-boycott, a way to see each other, and our desires for peace and co-existence and dignity and self-determination, then negotiation and peace are the only possible results.