For some students, the escalating violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip is not just a political issue, but also a personal one.
The Israel Sector of Penn Hillel hosted an hour-long discussion Monday night for students to reflect on what they thought was the appropriate way to respond as Penn students.
While open to the entire Penn community, the event was created so that pro-Israel students could have a safe space to air their worries, frustrations and general opinions on the conflict.
Student facilitators split the roughly 30 participants into smaller discussion groups. One team, led by College senior Leanne Gale and College sophomore Jacob Ruden, began the conversation by sharing how the past few days have been like for them.
College sophomore Elliot Comite shared the personal connection he felt to the issue, citing the gap year he spent in Israel as well as his extended family still living in Jerusalem.
“The one feeling I’ve been grappling with this entire week has been guilt,” Comite said. “At Penn we struggle a lot about this next paper or assignment we have, when there are people who are 18, 19 years old that are putting their lives on the line for something they believe in.”
More than one student cited the way social media, in particular Facebook, has played a role in their perception of the conflict.
“I have a lot of pro-Israel, pro-Palestine friends, and so on my Facebook News Feed I get both ends of the spectrum,” said Gale, co-president of J Street. “I feel like both sides have been so counterproductive. It’s really been troubling to see people polarize into two separate groups and not see how this doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”
The group agreed that the conflict was not only military in nature, but also a “PR war,” citing the differing ways international and American media have covered the conflict.
Wharton freshman Sarah Baldinger said, “It’s hard to see the double standard that the media has been holding Israel to and the way what’s going on is so easily misconstrued.” She added, “If this were happening to any other country on the globe, there wouldn’t be the same questions being raised.”
Baldinger was adamant that students should do more to promote Israel through even small acts such as “liking” Facebook posts or putting up posters. “I think that it’s good to engage in dialogue [with pro-Palestine student groups], but I think it may even be better to get our voice out independently and not engage in that head-on debate,” Baldinger said. “I just don’t think it would be constructive because you’re going to have people from polar opposite ends.”
Other students, however, felt that it was equally if not more important to have open, intellectual discussions with pro-Palestine student groups.
Engineering sophomore Ben Gitles expressed his wish that there be more of a debate than one-sided conversations like the one present. “The problem is it turns into an echo chamber. I don’t know what it’s like for the other side. I feel very much like all I’m seeing on my News Feed is people sharing AIPAC videos,” Gitles said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Nave Dromi, the current Israel Fellow at Penn Hillel, dropped by many of the small group discussions and was happy that students were talking about the issue in a productive way. “I feel that people felt they needed a place to speak. I saw faces here I’ve never seen before,” Dromi said.
Gale and Ruden both expressed that they would be open to hosting a discussion with Penn for Palestine, perhaps after Thanksgiving break, if students felt like such a discussion would be productive and necessary.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.