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Arab/Jewish Student Dialogue

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Retreat Participants

Middle East Retreat
February 20-23, 2001

From February 20-23, 2001, eight Brandeis students and three recent Brandeis alumni spent four days on retreat in western Massachusetts exploring the contemporary situation in the Middle East and planning on how they can act publicly to work towards peace and coexistence. The participants were principally Arab and Jewish students from Israel and Jordan, many of whom are at Brandeis on Slifka "coexistence" scholarships. The retreat, funded by Morton H. Meyerson Family Tzedakah Funds and organized as part of the Brandeis Initiative on Intercommunal Coexistence, exemplifies the ways that Brandeis students are combining personal experience, intellectual engagement, and reflective dialogue to make a public impact on issues of international importance.

Participating students and alumni included: Judah Ariel '04, Taher Baderkhan '03, Michael Bavly '00, Yoav Borowitz '00, Forsan Hussein '00, Maisa Khshaibon `03, Daniel Langenthal (Heller/Hornstein), Zein Nasif '03, Marina Pevzner '04, Munther Samawi '04, and Waseem Yahya '03. Retreat leaders were: Center staff members Cynthia Cohen and Dan Terris, Professor Gordie Fellman of sociology, and Palestinian-Israeli coexistence facilitator Farhat Agbaria, a 1998 Brandeis International Fellow.

Key elements and outcomes of the retreat included:

  • A greater degree of candor among participants about differences of opinion on key issues such as the identity of Israel and the “right of return” of Palestinians
  • The development of a shared conviction that more honesty about small differences would, paradoxically, strengthen their ability to work together towards the larger goal of peace and coexistence in the Middle East
  • The strengthening of personal relationships between Arab and Jewish students
  • Improved public presentation skills after feedback from retreat leaders and their peers
  • The creation of an innovative mode of public presentation on Middle East issues that involves students playing roles of their counterparts on different sides of the conflict
  • A plan for a presentation at Brandeis, including initial ideas for a more extended series of public conversations reaching audiences beyond Brandeis in 2001-02

The retreat suggests that Brandeis initiatives and programs can nurture strong intercommunal relationships and make possible productive conversations and work together among people who might be radically separated in their home communities. Students felt a sense of hopefulness and empowerment to act together in the face of the serious challenges to coexistence efforts that arise from current actions on the ground in their home region. The challenge for the future is to provide further opportunities for students to work intensively together on a variety of issues, in order to help nourish the qualities of candor and articulateness that will enable them to become leaders in their communities in the future.