Olive Tree Initiates Share Experiences Abroad

Students attended the second presentation by members of the Olive Tree Initiative, who shared personal anecdotes of the turbulent, but culturally vibrant Israeli-Palestinian region.
The Department of International Studies in the School of Social Sciences hosted “Students Making Peace? Report from UC Irvine’s Olive Tree Initiative” in Social Science Plaza A, Room 1100 on Thursday, Oct. 30. The event featured five members of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), who journeyed to the Middle East this past September to investigate the conflicts in the region.
The presentation specifically highlighted the hostilities between Israel and Palestine as OTI members explored the difficulties of conflict resolution. OTI members further used the event as an outlet for students to transform the dialogue that has been ineffective in healing bonds between Jewish and Muslim students at UCI.
“Different viewpoints teach you a lot about your own viewpoints … the people on both sides want a solution,” said Sameera Ali, a fourth-year biological science major and OTI member.
Ali described the unique perspectives that different individuals in Israel and Palestine have by recalling the experiences of one of the Palestinian women she met. Although living in a refugee camp, the woman was only a short distance away from her grandmother’s mansion; the home could be spotted from the refugee camp. However, a wall divided the two locations, making the mansion nothing more than a visual to the Palestinian woman.
Despite such hardships in the Middle East, Sepi Termechi, a third-year psychology major and OTI member, explained that the experience showed that there is hope in the face of conflict. She elaborated by describing the group’s visit to Maxim, a restaurant in Haifa, Israel, the country’s third largest city, which has a population of both Jews and Arabs. Representative of the city, one Jewish family jointly owned the restaurant with one Arab family.
However, this angered a female suicide bomber, who came into the restaurant with a bomb concealed in her shirt to give the impression that she was pregnant. In one moment, three generations of the two families were killed. However, according to Termechi, for those who survived the bombings, the ability to rebuild Maxim was a testament to the will of both Jews and Arabs to unite.
In addressing the audience, Isaac Yerushalmi, a fourth-year political science major and OTI member, explained that actions such as suicide bombing stand in the way of moderates reaching a peaceful solution.
“The true enemy is extremism, It’s really extremism that’s bringing down the people,” Yerushalmi said.
Yerushalmi was not the only OTI member who expressed this viewpoint. Omar Bustami, a fourth-year political science and civil engineering double-major, shared similar sentiments, commenting on how moderates must come to a solution and not let extremists influence them.
“Motivation … cannot come from an [outside] factor … it has to come from the heart, it has to come from the soul,” Bustami said.
Yet, OTI did not take away the individuality of the presenters. Yerushalmi and Bustami hold differing views toward Palestinian rule, as demonstrated in their opinions of Shaul Goldstein, the mayor of Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement.
“The mayor of Gush Etzion … had no fear at all sharing his downright positive thinking about what he thought about Palestinians and Arabs, but he had begun his talk with us by telling us that ‘oh yes, we are cooperating with Palestinians’ … so then I kind of look and I was like ‘oh this guy’s progressive’ so then I asked him, ‘so if this area ever became a part of a Palestinian state what are you going to do?’ And that’s when he looked back at us and said, ‘I will never live in a Palestinian state,’ ” Bustami said.
While Goldstein’s reaction conflicted with Bustami’s opinion, Yerushalmi sympathized with the mayor, telling the New University that Goldstein had relatives who died in the Holocaust and that Goldstein is protective of the Jewish people.
“The mayor is concerned and I think I would share that concern,” Yerushalmi said.
Although Bustami stated that he respected Yerushalmi’s views, he said that he does not share Goldstein’s opinion. Bustami expressed that logic does not always lead to the best results and that emotion must be taken into account.
“I totally understand … why Isaac was defending the mayor of Gush Etzion … but that kind of contributes to my initial point … people are not thinking with their heart, they’re thinking with their brain,” Bustami said.
On a broader scale how perspectives are perceived and arguably misconstrued has long played a part in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Paul Maguire, a fourth-year international studies major and OTI member, addressed this during the question and answer session of the presentation in response to a question asked about America’s involvement in the situation.
“We have very strong cultural ties with Israel; it’s kind of a natural alliance … we cannot overlook how much hatred comes from this perception that we are very biased when it comes to the Middle East,” Maguire said.
OTI members stated numerous times that they did not set out to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. However, what they were able to exhibit in the presentation is the array of perspectives pertaining to the matter, as was commented on by Asiya Daud, a political science professor at UCI and attendee.
“I liked how they really illustrated the diversity of opinions … there’s a multiplicity of ideologies,” Daud said.

Monica Luhar and Ben Ndugga-Kabuye contributed to this article.