While growing up in Tulkarem in the West Bank in the midst of conflict, Reem Ghunaim’s question became, “How can I fix this? How can I contribute to change?” she told students at Boston University.
Ghunaim, a Palestinian woman, spoke alongside Israeli Ella Kraus in a conversation hosted by BU’s Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at the College of Arts and Sciences Thursday night. The two shared their experiences of living through and working to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“As a young woman in the West Bank, I became more aware of the complexity of solutions, and I faced the struggle of moving on with your daily life,” Ghunaim said to the group of 20 students.
Both women are activists from OneVoice, an international grassroots movement working toward a two-state solution and a peaceful end to the occupation, said CEO Howard Sumka.
“Our mantra is two states, our guiding value is nonviolence and our operating mode is building up grassroots to create a constituency for two states,” Sumka said to the audience.
Sumka said both Ghunaim and Kraus are leaders in their respective communities.
Kraus, from the city of Sderot, near the Gaza strip, said she was born in a Kibbutz, a small socialist community, and was always interested in politics and peace activism.
“I saw a beautiful dream of peace, but with the Oslo Agreement, Baruch, etc., these dreams faded away when we didn’t see any progress,” Kraus said. “It was always talking, talking, talking.”
Kraus said living in Sderot, a city facing rocket attacks from Palestine, gave her a new life-changing familiarity with the situation.
“For me, it was important to experience that different perspective, and that experience changed my life,” she said. “It was a reality I hope none of you are familiar with.”
With OneVoice, Kraus said she aimed fulfill her desire to change her future.
“OneVoice gave me a different approach to peace, one that was much more achievable and much more practical, to put pressure on the public to become more active, and put pressure on our politicians,” Kraus said.
Michael Zank, professor of religion and acting director of the Elie Wiesel Center, said the rhetoric of the Israel-Palestine conflict is changing.
“People no longer think of a solution, we think of conflict management,” Zank said to the audience. “The situation is unbelievably absurd, that it can only be managed but not resolved.”
Ghunaim said she wants to speak to the “American youth” in hope that they will become activists both at home and abroad.
“I came here because I believe that the American youth can relate to freedom and human rights, and I came here to activate the youth towards peace in their communities and the world,” she said in an interview with The Daily Free Press.
Theresa Cooney, graduate assistant at the Elie Wiesel Center, said it was interesting to hear individuals who are so close to the center of it all.
“Their projects are so close in proximity to one another, and it’s a small land frame,” Cooney, a School of Theology doctoral candidate, said. “These kinds of things are useful to organize and learn more about what’s going on.”
College of Arts and Sciences junior Elizabeth Grillo said it was wonderful to hear of not only the conflict but also possible solutions firsthand from people who have lived through it.
“It’s not like politicians or historians,” Grillo said. “They lived it. They’re young and they’re doing something, and it’s great . . . I love that we got to hear the Israeli and the Palestinian perspectives side by side, and this helps in conflict resolution and moving towards a two-state solution.”
However, CAS freshman Jake Brintzenhofe said conflict resolution is not realistic, as each side may focus on its own sovereignty than a compromise.
“I personally think they were biased towards the solution, that it is possible,” Brintzenhofe said. “I think it’s a good idea on paper, but perhaps very idealistic.”
Yasmina Tawil, a CAS freshman, said Ghunaim and Kraus were informative, especially for students who are less aware of the issue than she is.
“My mom is from Lebanon, and my dad is from Syria,” Tawil said. “They’re very pro-Palestine, but we all understand that you can’t go back to the way it was. There are many Israelis that feel the same way.”
While the panelists spoke of compromise between both sides, members from Students for Justice in Palestine did not attend. Ian Chinich, president of SJP, noted this and said the presentation was “whitewashing the apartheid conditions.”
“It is in Israel’s best interest to present the situation as if there are two equal parties, and both just need to seek peace,” Chinich said in an email interview. “In reality, Israel needs to not only end the occupation, but give equal rights to Israeli Palestinians and allow the right of return or compensation to all refugees.”