Updated: April 12, 2017 at 11:57 p.m.
Ari Massefski is a 2015 graduate of the School of Media and Public Affairs.
I am writing in response to the article, “Students call for divestment from companies that support Palestinian occupation” by Meredith Roaten (April 6th).
As a recent alumnus working in the field of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, I’ve seen that supporting meaningful opportunities for dialogue is the most effective way to achieve peace in the region.
While I grew up in Boston, my post-GW career has taken me to Palestine and Israel, where I currently manage U.S. university relations on behalf of a non-profit, apolitical environmental research institute. The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies was founded on the notion that environmental issues in the region – clean air, clean water, renewable energy and the like – transcend politics and must be addressed through transboundary environmental cooperation.
Saying that the region’s history is “complex” may be the understatement of the year. From the Holocaust to the Naqba – and in many ways since – the populations in this region have known pain and suffering in ways that few Americans have experienced. But today, in a world often filled with too much resentment and animosity, it’s essential to come together to understand the past, learn from each others’ stories and histories and work collaboratively toward a more sustainable and just future.
Refusing to engage, as some students at GW are proposing, only serves to embolden hard-liners on both sides of the spectrum and makes solving the serious issues facing the Middle East even more difficult. Rather, change should be brought about through cross-cultural opportunities for people from opposing viewpoints to listen, learn and understand – opportunities that are often thought impossible, but that organizations like the Arava Institute and others prove really can exist.
Students are calling for action. But action that builds relationships and trust will bring about positive change and the possibility of peace. Action should not eliminate opportunities for dialogue between well-meaning people who are willing to put their differences aside to work toward a more peaceful future for the region. I have seen evidence that these conversations really can make difference and that the work of organizations like mine pay major dividends in the quest for cooperation.
At the Arava Institute, we bring together people from all walks of life – Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and from other places around the world – to understand where each comes from and how to move forward together. Our students are former Israeli soldiers and residents of the West Bank. Our Academic Director is a Palestinian Muslim man, while our Program Director is a Jewish Israeli woman. Every semester, approximately one-third of our student body comes from Jewish Israeli backgrounds, one-third comes from Arab backgrounds in the region – including Jordanians, Palestinians, and Palestinian citizens of Israel –and one-third comes from outside the region entirely.
By bringing together this diverse group of people, we facilitate cross-cultural dialogue and educational opportunities that set the stage for our generation to lead tomorrow’s world justly and with compassion. It’s imperative that young people from around the region experience settings that value mutual respect and understanding – not isolationism. This dialogue provides people from Israel, Palestine and around the region with a forum to share their passions and concerns, to understand each other and to feel the collective responsibility to make a positive difference in the world.
Many people doubt the feasibility of sustaining a community like this, to which I say, join us. Avoiding the issues that divide us is easy – but the only way to achieve lasting peace is by working side by side with anyone willing to talk. I personally invite any GW student – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or from a different background altogether – to spend time with us in Israel and in Palestine to see how meaningful this kind of dialogue can be.