Event moderator and panelists (left to right): Gideon Epstein, Youval Yadlin, Yousef Bashir, Dr. Sahar Khamis and Bar Galin. Lilly Sibel/Mitzpeh.

By Lilly Sibel
For Mitzpeh

Maryland Hillel hosted a special Shabbat dinner on Friday, Mar. 8 that included a panel discussion of several different opinions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The event was part of Hillel’s Israel Week programming.

The event began with the recitation of three blessings from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths to establish a sense of unity between all religions. Panelists took the initiative to set a tone of respect at the event by listening attentively to each other’s ideas and experiences.

Gideon Epstein, who moderated the panel, introduced the four panelists whose nationalities ranged from American to Palestinian, Egyptian and Israeli. The four national identities brought a diversity of opinions for audience members to listen to, helping to broaden their understanding of the conflict. Epstein set the tone in his first question to the panelists about what a shared society looks like.

Youval Yadlin, former camp coordinator of the leadership development organization Seeds of Peace, spoke first. She said, “In a shared society, diversity should be celebrated as a main priority”.

Yadlin continued that although the U.S. has made strides in the past years regarding diversity, the nation is still struggling to reduce strains on many racial, gender and sexuality issues.

Author and congressional staffer Yousef Bashir, who grew up in the Gaza strip, followed after her.

“We live in a shared society, whether you like it or not,” Bashir said.

He shared a story about how when he was growing up, Israeli soldiers occupied his house and he was forced to live in unity with Israelis even though it was against his will.

Following this panel question, Abe Browne, a freshman business major at this university, was asked what a shared society looks like. Browne said that in order for a society to be shared, everyone who lives in it needs to play an equal role and have the freedom to reach their own potential. He also stated that people in society need to respect one another’s beliefs and practices for a society to be the best it can be.

Browne went on to explain how a shared society plays a role in his life. He said that he tries his hardest to live his life with the goal of treating everyone equally. By doing this, he believes that he can create a sense of a shared society.

“In the back of my mind I am constantly thinking about how to better our chances of reaching the point of a shared society and what ways we can achieve this,” Browne said.

The audience at the event sitting down for Shabbat dinner. Lilly Sibel/Mitzpeh.

In the next section of the panel, Epstein turned the topic to the idea of a grassroots discussion. He asked panelists what good grassroots dialogue looks like. Dr. Sahar Khamis, an associate professor in the Department of Communication at this university, discussed a “golden triangle.” In this “golden triangle,” there are three different types of actions that can contribute to a civilized discussion of the conflict.

Grassroots activism is the first part of this triangle. This idea states that people have lost faith in politicians, on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian controversy. Dr. Khamis said that citizens of Israel and Palestine are not happy with the way the conflict has been handled, and therefore politicians need to work from the bottom up to better the way they handle this conflict.

The next part of the triangle is social media. In the 21st century, Khamis said, social media plays a large role in almost everyone’s life, and students should use that to their advantage.

The third part of the triangle Khamis talked about is youth mobilization. She said that the youth are our future, so we should invest as much as possible into young people.

Bar Galin, an Israeli native who works as the Israel fellow at American University, said that politicians should be “directly seeking out what the citizens of Israel and Palestine want and need, because this conflict that affects them directly”. He added, “Change needs to come from within Palestine and Israel in order for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be resolved”.

For the final part of the panel, Epstein asked panelists how students and anyone invested in the conflict can take action.

Bashir said that students at this university have so much at their disposal, so it is an ideal time for a student to take part in creating a solution for this issue.

Khamis said that students need to connect with people outside of their own bubble so they can understand all opinions regarding the conflict. She added, “For peace to happen, people have to believe in peace.”

Yadlin spoke next, and she emphasized becoming educated on the subject by reading. She said that reading about people who have different opinions and becoming more comfortable with those ideas can teach patience and understanding.

Galin explained that people in this conflict should not be fighting against something, rather fighting for something. “The importance of peace, as well as brotherhood and sisterhood, should be a priority in coming up with a solution to this issue,” he said.

Following the final topic of the panel, freshman biology major Sari Brusso was asked if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was an important issue for her, and if so, how she would implement taking action into her own life.

Brusso explained that before attending college, she went to a Jewish private school where she learned about Israeli advocacy. Israeli advocacy is important regarding this matter as many are uneducated on the Israeli side of this conflict. This topic prepared her and her classmates to fight for Israel on this matter.

Brusso said she tries her hardest to take action by “consistently learning more about this conflict in my everyday life and trying to seek perspectives from all sides.”


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