In an ongoing effort to foster a greater understanding between Jewish and Palestinian students on campus, the administration in collaboration with the Concordia Student Union (CSU), Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and Hillel is trying to find a way to send two groups of students to the Middle East.
In a meeting held Sept. 27, the groups spoke about organizing a trip that would allow Palestinian students to tour and stay in Jerusalem while Jewish students would visit Gaza.
“We would like to organize a delegation from Concordia to the Middle East,” said CSU President Sabine Friesinger. “Students chosen from Hillel and SPHR would go to Israel and Palestine and see both sides of the story.”
In the past, groups from around the world have participated in such exchanges. Often the experience has helped participants understand the conflict from another point of view.
Friesinger, who visited Israel and the occupied territories herself last summer, suggested Jewish students could visit military checkpoints and experience firsthand the poverty of the refugee camps. Meanwhile, Palestinian students might accompany the workers who clean up after suicide bombings and discuss the conflict with Jewish students in Jerusalem.
Upon returning from the Middle East, organizers hope the students would help enlighten the entire university community.
“We hope that when they return they can hold a joint conference and tell us what they saw on both sides,” explained SPHR president Basel Al-Ken. “Everyone likes that idea: we have agreed that we should work on this together.”
Noah Joseph, Co-President of Hillel Concordia has some concerns about the possibility of sending students to the Middle East. “We are concerned that it could be a public relations ploy,” he said. “We don’t feel that it is necessary just as something for the press to pick up on. We are concerned with tangible solutions, not just our image.”
Joseph explained that more dialogue and planning is necessary: “We obviously have some security concerns about sending Jewish students into Gaza or Ramallah or Jenin or wherever they want to send us,” he said. “Obviously it is a very dangerous situation.”
“It [the trip] is not going to happen immediately; the rector would like to speak to the Jewish and Arab communities and see if maybe there could be a partnership,” said Chris Mota, a university public relations officer.
As organizers begin fundraising, many students are optimistic about the effect that such an ambitious activity could have on the quality of campus life and the content of debates and discussions.
“Everyone in this whole debate seems to be in their own bubble,” said Friesinger, “hopefully an activity like this will open their minds.”