As Williams students, an influx of new information and ideas hits us daily. However, there are few places (and even less time) to take a step back and process everything we learn, considering our positionality and the perspectives of others. In that sense, campus is missing a space to patiently engage in hard conversations – to openly think through, ask about and work through issues important to us and the world. We realized that this issue is exemplified with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and occupation. Williams needs a space for students to learn and share their thoughts about Israel and Palestine and converse with compassion. We planned to launch this space – Students for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue (SIPD) – this upcoming fall. However, with the wall erected last week, we realized there was a unique potential to begin furthering conversations. With the momentum of wall-related programming, we hope to extend conversations beyond the wall itself, creating a variety of entry points with an emphasis on welcoming those of all backgrounds and perspectives to contribute to the conversation.
SIPD is not an advocacy group. We are neither Anti-Palestine nor Anti-Israel. Instead, our goal is to foster a welcoming community space where different opinions can be shared on the basis of patience and compassion, but also logic and truth. SIPD is about finding common ground among people who disagree. We aren’t about destruction and erasure; we are about inclusion and respect.
Many students feel as though they don’t know enough to engage in conversations around Israel and Palestine, so they simply don’t. They see some students stand up with certainty and – worried about their own confusion, dissonance or lack of education – leave the talking to others. Doubt and uncertainty are natural, especially in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, where various histories and narratives seem impossible to reconcile. But the best path to engaging those who might steer clear of discussions of Israel/Palestine is to acknowledge the inevitable mistakes, confusion and questions that will arise in conversation. We’d like to represent as many voices and facilitate as many perspectives as possible in order to let members of the Williams community learn more and develop their own opinions. These issues have been at the root of vigorous debate for decades, so we know we aren’t going to develop a solution tomorrow. Instead, let’s recognize that just as important as finding the answers is asking the questions that develop relationships – relationships that can foster empathy, understanding and conversations to build community across divides and work towards a world where answers seem a little more within reach.
We realize there are many nuances to the conflict/occupation and that it is impossible to have a conversation without bias. With that in mind, our goal is to be as open and understanding as possible about these biases and how they impact understanding, bringing in as much empathy as possible. A challenge we are facing as a group is learning how to create this space, particularly because we are a team composed of individuals coming from different viewpoints and understandings. Along with important attention devoted to recognizing our own positionality when creating this space, it is also important to us that those participating in this conversation consider their own positionalities and biases with the intention to respect other opinions. We believe it is possible to disagree compassionately and respect those who may have differing – and very valid – opinions.
Our work is just beginning; to increase membership and awareness, we’ve dropped a banner in Baxter Hall and hosted an initial organizational meeting. While we support all forms of dialogue, we want to clarify that the petition published in the Record last week is independent of SIPD. Looking to the future, we plan to invite scholars and advocates of all backgrounds to engage in panels and debates and spur conversation beyond our group. Additionally, we are hoping to bring in expert facilitators and learn from established organizations about what it means to host this kind of dialogue in the most productive way. We write to welcome any and all to come to future meetings – not just to contribute to conversations, but also to help to guide the structure and format of discussions and our group. We only ask that those participating in conversation respect not only where people are coming from and what they say, but also who they are as individuals. As we prepare to become a registered student organization, we’re beginning to work with our club advisors, Assistant Director of the Davis Center Bilal Ansari and Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Seth Wax. We’re all working to promote more information, education and empathy. For those who would like to join the conversation, please visit bit.ly/SIPDbanner.
Hannah Goldstein ’20 is an environmental studies major from Brookline, Mass.