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Echoes of Conflict: Views of College Students

April 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY KAYE: The University of California at Los Angeles may be half a world away from the Middle East, but that region’s tensions resonate here. This week at UCLA, Jewish students celebrated Israel’s 54th year of independence. The celebration was accompanied by messages about solidarity with the Jewish state.

SPOKESMAN: Let’s remember to stay strong. Remember to support Israel. Write letters, stand out, stay strong and be activists.

JEFFREY KAYE: Only steps away from the pro-Zionist demonstrators, an equal number of students came out for a silent counter protest to show their support for an independent Palestine and to call for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza. Signs and banners competed for attention. Muslims said a celebration was wrong during a time of conflict.

STUDENT: I can’t celebrate that while, you know, they’re massacring people. When torture is happening, there is nothing to celebrate.

JEFFREY KAYE: Relations between the two sides have been non- violent and civil, but marked by occasional shouting matches.

MAN: There’s no doubt people are suffering but you don’t put children into the conflict

WOMAN: My family is in Bethlehem. They’re suffering. So it’s on both sides.

JEFFREY KAYE: Beyond the shouting and the rallies, each side maintains literature tables on the campus walk to influence student opinion. Yesterday, we brought together UCLA students from the Arab American and Jewish communities to discuss their views of the Middle East conflict. Palestinian Yara Dahud, a political science major, was born in Jerusalem. Fadi Amir, a sociology student, was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. Panthea Haverim was studying in Israel until last week, when the University of California canceled her program for safety reasons. Mickey Bergman is a former captain in the Israeli defense force, the IDF. He’s studying political science. Ghaith Mahmoud is an Iraqi-American active with the Muslim students association. He is studying international development. And Nicole Guzik is a Jewish studies major who plans to become a rabbi.

JEFFREY KAYE: Thank you all very much for being here. How have you been affected by what’s been going on in Israel and the territories?

YARA DAHUD: I was born in Jerusalem, and my family lives in Bethlehem. And for the last two weeks, our family home in Bethlehem has been under siege. It’s been occupied by the IDF. They’ve been using it as a base to fire from because it’s very close to the Church of the Nativity, and my family has been confined to one single downstairs room for the last two weeks, locked in, no electricity, no power, absolutely nothing.

MICKEY BERGMAN: I am an officer in the IDF.

JEFFREY KAYE: Israeli Defense Forces.

MICKEY BERGMAN: And I am a reserve officer, an officer in the reserves. Obviously, a major effect of it is the option that might be called back every day, every moment. I have an emergency phone number that I can be called and in matters of hours go on the plane and leave everything that I have here in order to go back.

FADI AMER: I’ve been in a constant state of depression you can say from ever since the Intifada started. My grades have gone down. I’m glued to the TV. I read three or four newspapers every day. It’s very depressing. It’s a very depressing situation. It’s affected me in so many ways. I don’t go out. I don’t have as many friends. You can say I’m a lot more isolated and a lot more depressed about this whole conflict.

JEFFREY KAYE: Have your perspectives about what’s been going on, your political ideas, have they changed in the last few weeks? Nicole?

NICOLE GUZIK: I think, definitely. I always considered myself a very right wing person. And when I just look at the atrocities that have gone on on both sides, it makes me really realize how much there is a need for more respect and to understand the preciousness of humanity, and for me, that’s completely changed the way I’ve looked. I’ve always seen myself as a Zionist, a Jew. And now I’m seeing myself as a human. And that’s a completely new thing in my life.

PANTHEA HAVERIM: Watching the news and knowing that Sharon entered or the IDF entered the West Bank, the cities, there was a sense of fear from… that more damage was going to be created, but also this sense of relief that, okay, at least we’re doing something. And then again questioning myself, is that sick that I’m relieved at this, but at the same time I was scared to leave the house. So when you fear for your own life, it’s hard to let your ideals, your dream for peace, to ease that.

GHAITH MAHMOOD: We can’t just look at it and say, “Oh, my people were killed. My people are being slaughtered. I can’t believe this is happening.” Because on the same respect, without humanizing the other side, whatever the other side may be, without taking that time to look at how do my actions affect the people, how are the actions of the IDF in terms of occupying another country, in terms of entering cities and villages setting up checkpoints to prevent people from moving one area to another. How have these, in essence, escalated the conflict?

JEFFREY KAYE: Both sides have been accused of acts of brutality. Does one side enjoy a moral advantage?

YARA DAHUD: I’ve seen all sorts of things about… of course, it’s terrible. Anyone’s loss of life is terrible. But when I see human interest stories on the news about Israeli soldiers and their families and their funerals and then “A hundred Palestinians died today in Jenin, most of them militants,” you know, it’s very depressing. It’s very depressing. It leaves me feeling really helpless knowing that people buy into what they’re told and buy into the media spin.

MICKEY BERGMAN: From the flip side of the same thing with the media, and I’ll give an example, the fact that in the last two weeks, Israel has been attacked from the northern border by Hezbollah, shooting over 100 Katyusha missiles into Israeli cities is not mentioned anywhere. My point is that every side seems to think that the media is not representing his side correctly. And we need to understand that the way is somewhere in the middle.

JEFFREY KAYE: Nicole, a lot of this is about land and who is entitled to that land. From where you sit, as a religious person, do you see Jews as having entitlement to that land?

NICOLE GUZIK: Well, Jews have had a very strong presence throughout the land for thousands of years, but I’m also a realist. And I understand that co-existence needs to happen. And I think any biblicist would agree that in order to achieve peace, different measures need to be undertaken.

YARA DAHUD: There’s a very simple solution to achieving security, and that is the establishment of a Palestinian state, the right of return or compensation for refugee…

NICOLE GUZIK: I don’t agree.

YARA DAHUD: Well, I know you don’t agree on that. But the right of return, the compensation for refugees and the right of self-determination.

JEFFREY KAYE: We come back to the question I asked before about who is entitled to the land.

YARA DAHUD: I think this issue of entitlement is ridiculous and it has no basis for what’s going on here.

JEFFREY KAYE: You just talked about the right of return.

YARA DAHUD: Entitlement as in like, there’s no, like, Jews are entitled or Palestinians are entitled. Whoever was living there, whoever feels like living there is entitled to live there. That’s just plain fact. But the Palestinians are entitled just as the Jews are entitled to the right to self- determination.

FADI AMER: Personally I have a problem with, you know, it’s very painful for me as someone who, is from Haifa whose families and great-grandparents were from Haifa and I know I could never be able to return, while someone from Russia or Brooklyn can go back, get citizenship, and get land. It’s a very painful thing. The sad reality is that might makes right. Israel is more powerful and it can dictate. To do that and then to claim that it’s a democracy and claim it’s a great country I think there’s fundamental flaws with that, to say that my grandparents can go back, but you’re from Russia you can go back and this is a great country. I’m not saying it exists. I’m saying there’s something we should look at, at least.

JEFFREY KAYE: Nicole.

NICOLE GUZIK: The difference between having the co-existence of two states and allowing the right of return which would then eliminate one state altogether.

JEFFREY KAYE: Do you think your generation is going to do a better job than the previous generation in resolving all of this?

YARA DAHUD: No, not necessarily.

NICOLE GUZIK: It’s hard for me to see a clear solution. I can’t accept the right of return. To me, then, my homeland doesn’t exist any longer. But I don’t know. I need to hear a proposal, a solution. I don’t know what another solution is.

PANTHEA HAVERIM: I think that the solution comes from education, and people focusing towards teaching compromise and teaching peace. I mean, teaching their ideals, not compromising your ideals, but understanding that in the end in order to live together, we’re going to have to do this together.

FADI AMER: I totally agree with that. I think education has to be part of the… I really do hope that our generation will be better able to educate both our kids and hopefully each other, but there is fundamentals that we have to keep in part. I don’t think it’s realistic for any Israeli to expect the Palestinians to educate their kids and get along with the Israelis when their houses are being seized, when there’s settlements, when there’s occupation.

JEFFREY KAYE: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the chance?

GHAITH MAHMOOD: When we talked about an end to apartheid, did we say how can the Afrikaners and the African people who are in South Africa… no, we said how can the world end it? Until we take this vision of how to end this conflict, I don’t really think it’s going to end.

JEFFREY KAYE: To what extent do you think your vision of the future, your hope or lack of hope has been influenced by living here?

YARA DAHUD: Oh, it’s given me a lot more hope, and it’s definitely allowed me… I’ve had the luxury of being able to see the American perspective, the Jewish perspective, just going to this school, and you know, then you have the Palestinian perspective obviously. And it’s allowed me to see that there are a lot of doors. There are a lot of doors that are just waiting to be opened. I can imagine if I was living in Gaza, you know, I might think there’s maybe only one door I can take, and that’s to resist violently.

MICKEY BERGMAN: We can sit here and talk. The rallies that are going outside are peaceful. Yes, there is screaming, there are lots of emotions, but they’re talking. It doesn’t happen in Israel and between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

JEFFREY KAYE: This kind of dialogue.

MICKEY BERGMAN: This kind of dialogue.

JEFFREY KAYE: Do you have hope?

MICKEY BERGMAN: I really have hope. That is the first generation who will bring peace.

FADI AMER: Ultimately, there’s no choice but to really solve it. We really have to solve it in a peaceful light.

JEFFREY KAYE: We’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you all very much indeed.