Putting peace first: Israeli-Palestinian clubs on campus
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been occurring since the 20th century, has been making its way across the Atlantic and trickling down into the United States, affecting clubs and organizations across the country. However, here at Northern Arizona University (NAU), the American-Israeli Alliance (AIA) and the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) clubs have been changing the status quo and working toward peace.
For decades, the dispute between Israel and Palestine has been surging, and its effects have been seen not only in the Middle East, but through the world.
Zac Abrams, a junior secondary history and social studies education major, is president of the AIA at NAU. According to him, the conflict is “very complex.”
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) website provides a simple background of the issue, which stems from the tug-of-war argument of who should get the land: Israelis or the Palestinians.
According to Steven A. Cook, the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the CFR, the Israelis “want a secure home for the Jewish people on the site of their ancient homeland,” while the Palestinians “believe the Jews with western backing have usurped their homeland.”
The AIA and the SJP are two national clubs taking a stance on these issues.
According to Abrams, the AIA is “NAU’s premier pro-Israel activist group.”
The club promotes Israel and its relationship with America through “educational events and advocacy projects,” states another AIA member, Donald Hartwell, a criminology and criminal justice major.
The AIA constitution states the club “will always and at all times stand for the continuance of Israel as a Strong, Independent, Jewish State.”
On the other hand, Jack Sawyer, a sophomore international affairs and Spanish major, is a member of the SJP club, which, according to him, is designed to “bolster the knowledge of the conflict that is going on between Israel and Palestine.”
In Sawyer’s opinion, America’s awareness about the Palestinian side of the conflict is low due to the media’s focus on Israel, which is “publicized as the unconditional friend of the United States.” Sawyer believes it a good thing for the United States to have a good relationship with Israel, but the SJP club wants to inform people of the actions Israel has been taking which they believe to be “violating the human rights of the Palestinian population.”
Although opinions will continue to differ between the two clubs, the overall purpose of both groups is to educate people about the conflict and to create peace. With the inauguration of both clubs last year, NAU decided to eliminate the hostility that is common between the organizations at many universities.
“At ASU, the conflict renders both groups ineffective,” Sawyer says, and he believes wasting time to sabotage each other keeps them from focusing on the real goal: peace.
At the end of this past year, the clubs decided to team up for the first time. At their first event together, there was a viewing of the film Ajami, which was written and directed by a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli, and centers around people living in Ajami. Afterward, the two groups discussed the possibility of starting a Unity Campaign; soon after, they did.
Through the Unity Campaign, “any conflicts between the groups were eliminated,” Abrams says. “The Unity campaign was really about, how do we show, on a small scale, how [peace between the clubs] can work.”
The ongoing struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians has lasted for too long, and it all comes down to one difficult decision. As Abram states, “How do we judge who gets the land?”
Because of the complexity of the decision, the end result is hard to determine and will continue to be debated for some time.
“The real world issues are a tragedy,” Hartwell says.
In attempt to mend the rivalry, two groups that are normally at odds are teaming up to educate and advocate peace at NAU.