Junior Adi Timor grew up living very close to Palestinians, but it wasn’t until she came to study in Washington that she actually met one.
Timor, who was born and raised in Israel, met Rawhi Afaghani, a Palestinian who grew up in the West Bank, at a conflict resolution workshop at George Mason University. At that event, she heard him turn to some friends and say, “I just came back from Palestine.”
Timor said when she overheard Afaghani’s remarks she said to her Israeli friend, “Did you hear what he said? He said Palestine! I’m going to throw the table! I’m going to get up and leave!”
Now, Timor said she and Afaghani are best friends.
Timor founded the Middle East Peace Group at GW, a student organization with the goal of sustaining meaningful dialogue about conflicts in the Middle East.
Adina Friedman, a full-time professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs, and Afaghani, who is a graduate student at George Mason University, is a professional in the field of conflict resolution and volunteers as facilitators of MEPG discussions.
In addition to leading the meetings, Friedman and Afaghani use their knowledge and skills to gear the discussions in the right direction and maintain stability during conversations.
“The purpose of the group is to create a meaningful encounter between people and make people think differently about their own issues,” said Rawhi, who is getting his Ph.D in conflict analysis and resolution.
Timor said she wanted MEPG to create a place that anyone from any background could come and speak their minds without being afraid.
“Bring everyone. Muslim groups, Arab groups, Jewish groups, Christian groups, anyone. Bring them together. This is the place to do it,” Timor said. “What we’re building here is grassroots. We’re building roots into the ground.”
MEPG has 350 people on their e-mail listserv, a number that increased by 200 people in this month alone, Timor said. The group now meets once a week, although in the past, meetings were only held every two weeks.
While MEPG hosts many events, activities, retreats and workshops, their most important aspect is the weekly meeting for members to come and talk with one another.
“That’s what is so important. We can come into the group and see that these are the people that have families over there and these are the people who are really dealing with it,” said senior Eva Butzke, an executive board member of MEPG.
“And if they can sit here and they can shake hands with each other, then you know what, I can do that too,” Butzke said.
Despite the group’s open invitation and on-going encouragement for all people from different backgrounds to come, many people are still hesitant, said executive board member Abrahim Elias Abu-Ghannam, a senior originally from the West Bank, but raised in Virginia.
“Especially on this campus you have people who feel very passionate. They feel like if they attend a group like this, they’re going to have to censor themselves or they’ll be censored by the group itself,” Abu-Ghannam said.
“That’s a misconception of this group because there’s really no censorship involved. People can say whatever they want and it actually makes everything more interesting,” he said.
Senior Jehred Reyes, who regularly attends the MPEG meetings, said the group has helped him to understand the human element and the complications of the conflicts in the Middle East.
Reyes said, “So that way it’s not just something you learn in a textbook, but you’re also understanding the human, personal connection.”