The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a controversial topic both at Haverford and across the world.
J Street U, a pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace organization, is one of the newest groups on campus that focuses on this conflict. Brought to campus last year by Matan Arad-Neeman ‘21, the group focuses on advocacy work and the goal of a two-state solution.
Arad-Neeman, who had been working with the organisation throughout high school, saw the lack of discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict upon coming to Haverford, and decided to bring J Street U to campus. Since J Street U is both pro-Palestine and pro-Israel, Arad-Neeman hopes the organisation can bring about “more balanced discourse.”
The group’s most recent initiative, which has been in the works for the past year and a half, is the Stop Demolitions, Build Peace campaign. This initiative concerns the ongoing demolition of Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank.
“Because of their strategic locations, if these communities are demolished and annexed, it precludes the possibility of future two-state solutions to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, which is bad for both Palestinians and Israelis,” Arad-Neeman said.
Arad-Neeman continued: “J Street U is about creating meaningful change both in our communities, on our campuses, and in the broader political realm.” As part of the efforts, the organisation “got 76 members of Congress to sign a letter that they then sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing the demolition and annexation of two communities in Area C.”
When asked to what extent advocacy in the United States could impact such a complex situation in the Middle-East, Arad-Neeman mentioned that the U.S. has been a broker in these talks and has had a lot of sway since it provides a large amount of funding to Israel.
J Street U’s last event brought Merphie Bubis, a former IDF soldier who was a sergeant in the Civil Administration in the West Bank, to campus. Bubis is now part of a non-profit known as Breaking the Silence, which is composed of veterans of the Israeli military whose aim is to expose the Israeli public to the realities in the West Bank.
Breaking the Silence has a similar mission to that of J Street U: they are both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. “A thing that’s interesting about Breaking the Silence is that they’re explicitly pro-Israel,” Arad-Neeman said. “They all served in the army, they weren’t conscientious objectors, they want to improve the system. They are not anti-Israel, they love their country, they want it to be the best it can be.”
Through events like these, J Street U places a strong emphasis on two-sided discourse. Discussing the presence of the conflict in the U.S., Arad-Neeman said, “One thing I’ve seen in the American Jewish community is the complete omission and erasure of Palestinian narratives from our discourse. When that happens, it’s much easier to dehumanise Palestinians.”
To solve this, J Street U brings Palestinian stories to the forefront, which can include discussing personal experiences relating to the demolitions. Arad-Neeman stressed the equal importance of the flip side, which is that Palestinians can hear from Israelis like those who live in Southern Israel and are scared of rocket attacks from Gaza. “You’re more able to humanise the other side and it creates greater possibility for future peace.”
The Haverford group’s most recent project is a petition, the goal of which is to ensure the presence of a Palestinian speaker on the Liberal Arts Birthright trip, an excursion to Israel created for Jewish students at liberal arts colleges. Specifically, the petition asks that the trip “meet with Palestinians who have lived the realities of the occupation.”
Since this is the primary Birthright trip that Haverford students go on, the petition emphasizes that “[the Haverford] community values complexity, nuance, and the inclusion of multiple experiences and narratives” as reasons for bringing in a Palestinian speaker. Discussion about the petition is ongoing.
Other organisations on campus that touch on this issue are Bi-Co Friends of Israel, Bi-Co Jews for Inclusion, Bi-Co Chabad, and Jewish Student Union.