On Tuesday afternoon, I addressed a group of students and faculty from the University of California, Irvine who are on a visit to Israel sponsored by “The Olive Tree Initiative”, the International Studies Program and the Center for Citizen Peace-building. They are representatives of student organizations including Anteaters for Israel, Hillel, Muslim Student Union, the Society of Arab Students, the Middle East Studies Student Initiative, Spiritual Alliance, Model United Nations as well as graduate students, faculty and others. Since March 2007 these groups have been meeting weekly to make these plans.
This university has a problematic reputation in that anti-Israel student activity is rampant. The Muslim Student Union on campus is perceived as among the most hateful and fanatic in the country with very hostile anti-Israel weeks on campus. On this trip the students will be meeting with politicians, religious figures, professors, businessmen, humanitarians, and citizens of both regions. Dialogue between the groups will take place following the various events planned for the trip.
The primary goal of The Olive Tree Initiative is “to hear perspectives from Israeli and Palestinian academics, community leaders, and activists who have first-hand knowledge of the conflict to gain knowledge beyond what we receive through second hand information and through our mainstream media. We want to speak to individuals living the life of an Israeli and Palestinian and not just to those who claim to represent them.”
Upon the return of the students, they will hold seminars for the UCI student body and local community to discuss and reflect upon their trip. Their events will include open dialogues, debates, and documentary showings of their actual trip and personal experiences.
Well, how could I not help them out. Consequently, I spoke for about 90 minutes, all of it in a question-and-answer format on topics ranging from why I don't use the term "settlements", what was Jabotinsky's real attitude to Arabs in the Jewish state, demography, security, terror, Arab "Palestinian" nationalism, the role of Jordan, etc.
A good time was had by all.
Photographs credit: Ilana B.