As tensions ripple between Israel and Hamas, Penn has become home to a polarizing discourse. Both pro-Palestine and pro-Israel groups have mobilized support in response to violent airstrikes that began in the region on Wednesday by taking markedly different stances to the escalating crisis.
We commend both sides for publicly voicing their concerns. Penn for Palestine’s silent protest and the Penn Israel Sector’s information booth brought the conflict to the forefront of the Penn community.
Both groups approached their demonstrations in a peaceful manner and set an example for activists on campus. But the two events — which coincided on Friday morning —took place on opposite ends of Locust Walk. The spatial divide separating the two groups speaks volumes about the gulf of understanding that has manifest itself on campus.
Students who are implicated by this conflict have every reason to feel impassioned by the violence and injustice that has affected their side of the conflict. But conversations dominated by strong emotions will do little to dissect this issue. We must adopt an objective lens in order for a productive discourse to take place.
The grating rhetoric that has emerged on campus over the last few days harks back to the campus climate during the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference in February. While pro-Israel and pro-Palestine students have condemned the killing of civilians on these very pages, they’ve also voiced seemingly irreconcilable views on the conflict. No resolution or coalition will be achieved unless students on both sides of the aisle are willing to listen to each other.
The freedom of speech that we see on campus is only one virtue among many that are needed to turn this conflict into an educational experience. The Penn community would benefit greatly from an open conversation on this crisis outside of the classroom.
For this, we look to our professors — particularly scholars in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department and professors associated with the Penn Middle East Center — to digest the situation in Gaza in an objective manner and lend their expertise to moderating a debate between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel groups.
This conversation would ideally attract students — who know little about the conflict and are confused by the rhetoric on campus — to learn more. It would also encourage students who adhere passionately to one side of the conflict to consider an opposing point of view. Penn may be thousands of miles away from the Gaza Strip, but we are a global institution with strong ties to the region that extend beyond students studying abroad, who are braving the situation in Israel.
An open discussion seems like a small, insignificant step to take amid an escalating conflict with real casualties. But an objective exploration of this issue is in great demand. It will inform future leaders and encourage them to find solutions for the future. A college community exists to test-drive ideas. If the Penn community succeeds in bringing students on both sides of the conflict together, this may serve as a model for deliberative discussions on a global scale.