Israelis and Palestinians are living between blurred lines.
Since the formal recognition of the Jewish state of Israel by the United Nations in 1948, the area has been embroiled in a conflict of shifting borders and ancestral claims on the "holy land" of three different religions.Hoping to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into perspective for the campus population, UT's Hillel/Jewish Student Organization is partnering with the Muslim Student Association to host an open forum discussing the topic on Tuesday beginning at 8 p.m.
"The idea for the event really grew organically by the speakers in an attempt to share personal stories rather than political rhetoric," said Deborah Oleshansky, director of Hillel. "They are all aware that most UTK students do not have a direct tie to the Middle East and they wanted to share information/experience and tolerance."
The forum, to be held in the Hodges Library Auditorium, will feature four speakers, sharing first-hand experiences. Arik Kershenbaum and Amiyaal Ilany will represent the Israeli perspective while Wala Habiby and Abdelrahman Murphy join the table as representatives of Palestinian sentiment.
Oleshansky said she hopes the event facilitates the kind of discussion student groups feel is needed on campus. "Students are optimistic that the program will be received in the spirit it is intended – open sharing of personal experience and feelings," Oleshansky said. "The program is intended for personal reflection and sharing – not as a political debate. If anyone begins to turn the program, they will be asked to stop and be respectful."
Olivia Jones, a senior in middle eastern studies and acting president of Students for Justice in Palestine, spent two summers and the past academic year studying in the Middle East. During her time abroad, Jones traveled to Jordan where she worked in Palestinian refugee camps.
"The people are suffering from lack of services and proper shelters," Jones said. "The living conditions of the camps have political and social implications and inform of the Palestinian refugees lack of mobility both physically and socially. The right to return is now largely dismissed altogether, but hope and belief in returning to Palestine is very much alive in these camps."
Despite the politically charged environment surrounding discussion of Israeli-Palestinian relations, Oleshansky said she is confident UT's students will represent approach the topic diplomatically.
"On many campuses in the country there is discord between these groups, and here at UTK, Hillel, MSA and other Middle East Students groups have always been respectful and have partnered many times to bring positive, healing and progressive attention to the Middle East," Oleshansky said.
Jones echoed this sentiment, and said those affected by a conflict on distant shores are sitting in UT's classrooms.
"I hope that a forum discussing Israeli-Palestinian relations will be an impetus for people to question the current state of affairs in the region," Jones said. "All people should have the right to live with peace of mind, the freedom of movement, and security – Israelis and Palestinians alike."