United Israeli-Palestinian club celebrates anniversary

This 2009 protest is the exact type of situation that NSA hopes to never see again. - Jad Yahgmour & Alex Pylyshin / Excalibur Archives

Rational discussion and respectful debate continue to pave the way

Mike Sholars

This 2009 protest is the exact type of situation that NSA hopes to never see again. - Jad Yahgmour & Alex Pylyshin / Excalibur Archives

The peaceful relationship between Israeli and Palestinian students on campus continues into its second year.

A year after every student club related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Hillel, Hasbara, Students Against Israeli Apartheid) united to form what they called the Next Step Alliance (NSA), the group has chosen its leadership and settled into new offices.

Fatmah Jabir and Miriam Steinberg, the co-heads of NSA, sat down with Low Calibre to discuss the group’s short, unremarkable history.

“Every year, the different clubs would spend huge amounts of time screaming at each other,” says Jabir. “We decided to stop screaming, and start listening.”

The NSA offices have no flags hanging on the wall, and the space is mostly used for respectful debate, listening exercises, and knitting circles. The space formerly served as the Hillel@York office, but Steinberg says there was “no point” in a single faith-based group having such a large office to itself.

The creation of NSA was the result of a marathon discussion between all parties following a particularly volatile Vari Hall protest in October 2010. Jabir and Steinberg shared a warm laugh when asked to recall the event.

“It was business as usual, you know?” says Steinberg. “I was calling Fatmah a terrorist, she was accusing me of genocide. I think at some point, I snatched off her keffiyeh. It was embarrassing, to be honest.”

“Everyone was screaming, and York security was about to intervene,” says Jabir. “For a brief moment, there was a break in all the chaos, and someone said ‘I respectfully disagree.’”

Neither of the NSA heads can remember who made the reasonable comment, but its effect was  instant.

“I remember being overcome with a sense of respect for intelligent discourse,” says Steinberg. “For the first time in my life, I was ready to truly communicate. I dropped my protest sign and apologized to Fatmah, and she did the same.”

The resulting discussion lasted the better part of a day. Students from both sides stood up and aired their grievances, and the collective provided emotional support and snacks for all in attendance.

“It turns out that a lot of my conclusions were based on one-sided evidence and generalizations,” says Jabir. “How can anyone hope to understand this conflict, if they’re not willing to understand human beings?”

Since they were appointed as heads of NSA following a decision, Jabir and Steinberg have faced their share of challenges.

“Our weekly movie nights have become really crowded,” says Steinberg. “We’re facing a seating crisis, and we’re currently fundraising for more chairs and couches.”

“My grades have suffered, to be honest,” confesses Jabir. “Almost every night I’m here, having amazing discussions and learning more about my new friends and about myself. It gets tiring!”

Steinberg admits that she is struggling to find new activities for NSA to do, but she welcomes the challenge. “When I was in Hillel, we’d spend all day looking for evidence of anti-Semitism, sending out press releases; that type of stuff,” says Steinberg. “Now, I’m much more laid back. After all, criticism of Israel’s political decisions isn’t racism, and it was kind of silly of me to end every argument by playing the race card.”

Jabir expresses similar sentiments: “I would spend maybe five or six hours a day researching atrocities to compare Palestine to. Apartheid, the Holocaust… I had no shame. Now, I have no desire to dilute my point with dramatic comparisons; at the end of the day, it makes both sides look cheap.”

In the coming months, NSA plans on producing a documentary about itself, to set an example for groups at other campuses. Jabir and Steinberg even hope to send a copy to Israeli and Palestinian politicians.

“It really wasn’t that hard, once we made ourselves open to rational discussion,” says Steinberg. “I think the biggest question is simply: why didn’t we do this earlier?”

“For years, we were just parroting the prejudice of the generation before us,” says Jabir. “We’re a new generation, and we’re all at York together. I have to ask: how can you call yourself a real student if you’re not open to new perspectives and ways of thinking?”

DISCLAIMER: This issue contains works of satire. All names used in this story are invented, except in cases where public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names or events is accidental and coincidental.

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