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Student associations gather for dialogue

by Archives November 23, 2005

The Arab Students’ Association (ASA) and Hillel came together for the first time in Concordia University’s history to co-sponsor a program aimed at dialogue and understanding.

Approximately 45 people attended this first meeting of the Israel-Palestine Dialogue Group at the Hall Building on Concordia’s Sir George Williams Campus, Friday.

A “Guidelines for Dialogue,” pamphlet placed on each seat provided an outline for participants, explaining that dialogue is for “two or more [opposing] sides to work together to come to a common understanding.” This pamphlet also highlighted the differences between dialogue and argument, and the ways to listen and speak in dialogue, all towards the purpose of getting people to focus on “learning rather than being right.”

The group consisted of students from both McGill and Concordia universities. The group was diverse and included people from many different backgrounds not only Palestinian or Israeli. Present at the meeting were the organizers, Hillel’s Chair of Israel Affairs, Danny Iny, and the ASA’s president, Bara Bseiso. Executives of the ASA attended the meeting as well as a member of the Montreal Dialogue Group.

Iny opened the meeting by saying that “the point of the project is for people to speak on how they feel.”

Two speakers started the meeting by presenting two opposing narratives on the subject of the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The speakers were each given approximately 15 minutes to present their narratives. Following the presentations, the room was divided into smaller groups for discussion, with mediators assigned to each one.

One participant presented an “agreement on basis for dialogue,” which stated that all members of the dialogue would agree to laws defined in the 4th Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be signed by all participants before dialogue continued. Many of the people there voiced the feeling that their presence at the meeting proved their respect for everyone’s rights as humans and as equals, and that a document does not need to be signed to show that. A compromise was met by a show of hands of all participants to agree to respect one another.

The first speaker, Rachad Antonius Ph.D., focused on three main points; what a narrative is, the establishment of the State of Israel and being an Arab or a Jew working against land occupation. Through his narrative, Professor Antonius presented his view that “the root of the [Israeli-Palestinian] problem is the destruction of a society and a country.”

He acknowledged that the problem is not an easy one to solve.

“My position is one of critical empathy,” he said. “The opposing sides need to understand the logic of the other.”

Antonius said that a dialogue is not the same as a negotiation, and in dialogue one should “make oneself vulnerable to try to understand and compromise without sacrificing essential things.”

Professor Antonius holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from UQAM, where he is now a professor specializing in the areas of ethnicity and racism, Arab societies and the Arab communities of Quebec and Canada.

Professor Neil Caplan Ph.D. presented the second narrative. He focused on the history of the on-going conflict. He believes that in a situation as controversial as this that each side would “constantly be a victim of the other [side].”

“This is a conflict for which there is no rational solution,” he said. “Can they share [the land], can they divide it?”

According to Caplan, history has proven that the answer is no.

He closed his presentation with the idea that there is no “clear and easy solution,” but that there could be three possible outcomes if the conflict does end; one side winning completely and the opposition losing, splitting the land in half, or the two cultures living together in one state. He stressed the fact that dialogue is significant in working towards a solution, and it is important to build on it.

Caplan received his Ph.D. in politics from the University of London. He is a professor in the humanities department at Vanier College and is a co-ordinator of the college’s Jewish Studies Program. He will be teaching a special subject history course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict at Concordia next semester.

Both Iny and Bseiso said that they did not know what to expect when organizing the first meeting, but they feel that it went well.

“It was a bit of a rocky start,” said Iny, “but overall it went well. A dialogue is not an event, it’s a process.”

The next meeting will be held Dec. 4 at 4 P.M. in room H521 of the Hall Building.

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