GVSU’s Israeli/Palestinian Group Offers Chance To Share
Palestinian American Victor Hasbany and I created a new student organization, Peace by Piece (Palestinian Israeli Effective Change through Education) at Grand Valley State University and, for our first event, co-hosted “Between the Lines: Voices of Israel, Stories Untold.”
Sponsored by StandWithUs, this annual tour features two reserve-duty Israeli soldiers who discuss their backgrounds, life in Israel and their military service. We want our club to focus on supporting and humanizing both sides and their right to exist, while still educating people and engaging in dialogue.
The soldiers, Ashager, an Ethiopian Jew, and Mohammed, a Muslim Bedouin, spoke to the diverse crowd. Student attendees ranged from zero knowledge on the conflict to asking important, relevant questions.
The “big questions” at first stressed Victor and me, but we soon realized they needed to be asked and answered for both sides to understand each other. For example, someone brought up the settlements and wondered how Israel can be a Jewish state and still a democracy? The soldiers answered these questions calmly to keep the event peaceful and educational.
Difficult situations are also beneficial to people uneducated about the conflict because it provides an opportunity to learn and see that although we may not agree on everything, we still support each other.
“It was refreshing and really eye-opening to hear the other side of the story rather than just what the media has to say,” Victor said. “The event didn’t go entirely as we had planned because we didn’t want it to become political, but, of course, it did. However, I really enjoyed that we were surrounded by people who had the same aspirations for peace in Palestine and Israel as we do. I look forward to seeing how far our organization will grow in our short time at Grand Valley, and I am very excited to make progress on our campus.”
Our last event, “Sweets for Syria,” was a bake sale in collaboration with the Muslim Student Association and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. The proceeds were split and donated to Ziv Hospital in Israel and Israel’s Amaliah Field Hospital — both are treating Syrian refugees. In two days of tabling, we raised more than $200.
This was another opportunity to showcase a positive aspect of Israel to our campus. Students who stopped had a positive experience about Israel, even if they were only there for a minute or two. We reached more than 100 students and got to engage in dialogue about what Israel is doing for Syrian refugees and even got to educate many about the conflict.
Collaborating with student groups from different backgrounds shows the potential for peace on campus. Not only did we show Jewish and Muslims students working together, we also got our fellow students to raise money and awareness for a crisis occurring across the world.
“Sweets for Syria” was a great end to a long and successful year, while also leaving me excited for my future at this school as well as how I will leave it.
Allison Egrin } jewish@edu writer
Allison Egrin is a sophomore and the 2016-2017 StandWithUs Emerson fellow at Grand Valley State University. For more about Peace by Piece, visit PeaceByPieceGVSU on Facebook.