Jewish campus organization UCI Hillel invited Arab-Muslim peace activist Mohammed S. Dajani to the Cross Cultural Center last Friday to lead a discussion on ending hostilities in Israel and Palestine, as well as between Jewish and Muslim students on campus.
Dajani is the founder of Wasatia (“moderation” in Arabic), an organization based in Washington, D.C. which promotes compromise and nonviolence. He is known for his transition from initially pursuing armed struggle against the Israelis to later becoming an active proponent of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
“It was nice to get a viewpoint from someone from the region itself who is dedicated to spreading peace,” said Drew Alyeshmerni, Director of Programs of UCI Hillel. “We need to figure out how we can be stewards and spread that message here at UCI.”
Dajani is also known for leading the first group of students from the Palestinian territories to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, to teach them about the Holocaust. He believes that teaching students the history of the Holocaust can help them prevent injustices around the world today.
“In speaking up for an injustice today, it is as if you are there in Germany and you are speaking for a Jew who is in a concentration camp,” said Dajani. “Whenever you see that there is an injustice, whenever you see that there is anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism or discrimination, you should stand up and speak against it.”
Dajani encouraged all attendees to be hopeful that the ongoing hostilities in the region can be resolved through moderation and compromise. He discussed that although this may require accepting the current two-state system, there are still important changes that must be made to improve the living conditions of Palestinians and to encourage peace and coexistence among both sides.
Dajani highlighted that the current system is ineffective, not only because it has failed to dispel hostilities between both sides, but because it has not even protected one side from the other, which was the agenda of recent leaders.
“Walls do not stop people from crossing, as people are crossing to Gaza through tunnels so wide that even cars can go through,” said Dajani. “Israel spent more than $3-4 billion building a wall, but what if they had used that money to build schools, hospitals and joint ventures; can you just imagine what that $3-4 billion could do?”
Moreover, Dajani discussed that hostilities are usually either religious or political. To tackle religious hostilities, he promoted that members of all faiths should have access to places of worship, and to tackle political hostilities, he encouraged that both states should recognize the existence of the other.
According to Dajani, Jerusalem can be divided into two parts: the older part of the city with the holy sites and the newer municipal part of the city.
“When Jews, Christians, and Muslims talk about the holy places, they are talking about the old city, and so we can take this old city and have a Christian-Muslim-Jewish custodianship,” said Dajani.
Dajani explained that since Palestinians and Israelis both aspire to have their own state, recognizing the existence of the other will encourage reconciliation between both states.
“Once the two states are recognized, we can create permeable borders that don’t need to have checkpoints and visas and create solutions without many problems,” said Dajani.
Ultimately, these hostilities remain because of a lack of trust. Dajani believes this trust can be reestablished through proper dialogue between both groups, and with the rise of good leaders who encourage peace.
On campus, Dajani encouraged that students should not label themselves pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, but instead, they should be pro-peace and should encourage reconciliation.
“The United States is a multicultural and multi-religious human public system,” said Dajani. “The first thing they teach you in school is dialogue, but when you are not practicing this dialogue, then where is this democracy?”
Just as his organization stresses, Dajani encouraged all students to be moderates on this issue, and to empower the majority who fall in the middle.
“If you remain a silent bystander, you are allowing the outspoken minority to speak on your behalf, but if you stand up and speak on your own behalf, then you can empower the middle,” said Dajani.
Several Jewish and Muslim attendees expressed hope to continue this dialogue between both communities on campus, and for it to serve as an example for other campuses.
“I hope this event is the start of many more conversations between Muslim and Jewish students. We should look at what brings us together, instead of what tears us apart,” said Malak Kudaimi, a second-year international studies major and member of UCI’s Muslim Student Union.