Letter to the Editor: Wrestling with realities, striving for a solution

J Street U Northwestern Executive Board

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At our event titled “Side by Side: Telling Two Narratives,” we at J Street U Northwestern tasked ourselves with presenting multiple narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in our effort to both celebrate and reflect on the coming Israeli Independence Day. Inspired by a book by Palestinian and Israeli educators, our goal for this event was to present the necessity of discussing Israeli independence alongside the narrative of the Nakba. We used a collection of videos that showed first-hand accounts and perspectives of the events in 1948 through the eyes of a range of individuals. In order to avoid speaking on behalf of Palestinians or Israelis, we chose to exclusively use video testimonies and direct quotes from the book.

Some NU students critiqued our event both in person and in an op-ed last week, challenging the premise of our event. Academics who study the conflict agree that two dominant narratives have crystallized around the events of 1948. These narratives can be plainly seen in the Israeli and Palestinian textbooks analyzed by the authors of “Side by Side.” This, more than anything, was the goal of the event: to understand the very different stories of 1948 that dominate Israeli and Palestinian cultures and to consider how differing memories of 1948 impact the way people think and act today — and as a result of this critical thinking, students then become ready to act. While the event would have benefitted from making this intention clearer, we stand by that goal.

The NU chapter of J Street U is part of a student movement dedicated to promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We stand for an end to the occupation and an end to settlement expansion. We take action by educating students on the issue and organizing them on a national scale to advance that two-state solution. We do not define ourselves in relation to other campus groups. We don’t seek some sort of middle ground for the sake of it. We seek change.

We define ourselves in terms of our goals and our national movement: to mobilize American college students to demand strong U.S. diplomatic and communal leadership for an end to the occupation and a two-state solution. We are dedicated to achieving a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians. We would be doing this work no matter who else was organizing on campus.

In order to take substantive action to achieve that peace, NU students have a responsibility to hear out the perspectives of all stakeholders in the conflict, and to understand the dominant narratives of Palestinians and Israelis alike. We have a responsibility to consider them in the same space — if not to put them in conversation, at least to see them side by side. After all, there are initiatives in the region that do similar things.

Our chapter felt a responsibility to ensure that celebration of Israeli Independence Day by the pro-Israel community would not take place without reflection on the truth of the Nakba. The students who attended our event learned more because of that outlook than they would have if they had attended an event with only one perspective — which the op-ed writers suggest that they should do.

Wrestling with the past deepens our commitment to working for a better future, one that must contain a free and independent Palestine alongside a Jewish and democratic state of Israel. On a national level, that means pushing the U.S. government to demonstrate strong leadership for two states. It means asking tough questions of pro-Israel groups in this country about whether they spend money and political capital to support the settlement enterprise in the West Bank, and holding them accountable to students and not donors. And on campus, it means agitating as many students as possible to learn about and get involved in that national action.

We call on the NU community to grapple with the many truths of this conflict and, further, act to resolve it. By engaging with the perspectives that make us uncomfortable, rather than pushing them aside, we can break the status quo and truly ensure change.

J Street U Northwestern Executive Board

Correction: A previous version of this letter misstated the writers of the Letter to the Editor that J Street U Northwestern was responding to. The Letter to the Editor writers were a group of NU students that attended the J Street U Northwestern event. The Daily regrets the error.