The university is a place, perhaps the only place, where students are free to learn and to expand their minds without any limitations or distractions. With this great privilege comes an equally great responsibility: to commit ourselves to this process of learning. During an event that I attended last Sunday night, I began to think about the ways in which we can use campus discourse to better uphold this responsibility.
On Sunday, Oct. 13, J Street U at Wesleyan invited a speaker from Breaking the Silence to discuss the moral issues that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) faces. The speaker, a former IDF soldier, read testimonies discussing the difficult moral situations that soldiers experience in their interactions with Palestinian civilians. As I listened to the speaker, my mind instinctively flashed back to other speeches from Israeli soldiers that I have heard in the past. I realized that this speaker represented a very different perspective than that of the IDF speakers that I had heard in high school when I was a member of a fellowship educating students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was, of course, understandable; discussion regarding the conflict is full of varying points of view.
What I couldn’t comprehend, however, was why I was hearing these varying points of view in isolation from one another. Why have I been learning about these perspectives as separate entities, instead of as what they really are: different facets of a complex, multi-layered issue?
As I listened to this IDF speaker discuss the moral compromises being made by the Israeli army, I thought of other conversations in which I’ve participated in the past. I’ve listened to Israeli soldiers discuss how difficult these moral compromises are for them and how they try to minimize them in whatever way that they can, although they don’t always have the power to do so. As I was worrying about college applications, I listened to friends my own age in Israel prepare to leave their homes and families and join the army. I’ve danced at the B’not Mitzvah of 12-year-old girls living in Sderot who, due to consistent rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, have learned how to run to shelter in under 15 seconds. I’ve seen their childhood playground, made of a large bomb shelter disguised as a colorful playhouse. I’ve spoken to Palestinian teenagers. I’ve heard their stories and their feelings, ranging from angry to content.
In short, I have been privileged to be a part of these conversations, and the single most important lesson I’ve learned through this is how truly complicated the situation is. On my journey to educate myself about the conflict, I’ve engaged in conversation with all sides, and I have seen just how many sides there are. Every perspective with which I engaged was different; every person that I met had hir own experience. True understanding of the conflict is the sum of these varying experiences and perspectives.
On a college campus, and in life, we have a tendency to break off into groups based on who we are, what we believe, and what we are interested in. We get together and educate ourselves about issues that matter to us. The problem with this is that we often get so caught up in what we believe, in our own perspective, that we forget to take the time to learn about an issue and all of its dimensions. There are complexities within all of the issues to which we as university students commit our intellect and interest. True education about these issues can only be achieved through the inclusion of all perspectives within campus dialogue, and these perspectives must be taught inclusively, not in isolation from one another.
We all want to change the world, but we are ill-equipped to do so if we do not begin with a basic understanding of the intricacies of the issues that we are committing ourselves to. Education must come before activism. The only way to really learn about an issue is to engage with all sides, regardless of what our own personal beliefs or political affiliations might be. As important as those levels of identity are, they must be briefly put aside in favor of the quest for understanding.
A college campus is the one place in which we can do this; it is the one “bubble” in which our differences in affiliation or in belief cannot interfere with our ultimate common goals of education and expansion of knowledge. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity and remember to learn in perhaps the only place and time in our lives where learning is our main priority. Only then will we truly be able to make a difference.
Fattal is a member of the class of 2017.