Nearly 2 years ago, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security to give youth around the world a stronger voice in peace building. For the first time in history, UN Member States encouraged strategies that would address the underlying roots of conflict and "counter the violent extremist narrative that can incite terrorist acts" through youth empowerment, among other things.
Israel presents a noteworthy case, given its segregated living conditions and school systems. Universities and colleges serve as the first and primary platform for Jewish and Palestinian youth to interact with one another.
On one hand, there are fortunate examples such as Palestinian-Israeli Nuseir Yassin. His first encounter with a Jew was when he left Israel to study Economics at Harvard University. Nas Daily now has a following of 1.8 Million on Facebook and illustrates the capacity of young people to transcend geographical boundaries and build bridges between cultures: "I sincerely hope our names did not have to reveal where we are from, what language we speak, and what we believe in."
On the other hand, the threat of radicalism is on the rise all over the world. Recent tensions over the Temple Mount or Haram As-sharif in Jerusalem were sparked by 3 assailants who were not only Palestinian-Israelis, but two of whom aged 19, and one 29. The succeeding stabbing of a Jewish family in the West Bank involved a 20-year-old terrorist.
We hear it time and again that education is a crucial tool for the youth, to not only discover themselves but to learn how and why they need to coexist with the other. According to Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, Chairman of the CHE’s Planning and Budgeting Committee: “If there is a single place where the fragmented Israeli society can become a shared society, I think this place is a university campus."
Unfortunately, on average, Arabs only complete 11 years of study, compared to 14 years for their Jewish counterparts. The trend is also to go into pharmacy, nursing, and engineering – courses that are thought of as more financially-rewarding, compared to the humanities and social sciences. One of the staunch advocates in the field is The Abraham Fund Initiatives (TAFI) which piloted “Academia as a Shared Space for Learning” to support Arab youth with inclusive opportunities to higher education.
Currently, the Hebrew University, one of TAFI’s key partners, is home to a 12% Arab student population - a marginal increase from the past few years, but still far from the 20% ratio of Arabs in the country. Arabs undergo the same application process as everyone else, but once admitted, they are supported with programs to address their “special needs.” These include summer language classes in Hebrew and English and a pre-enrollment orientation that can assist in adjustments of lifestyle changes, especially for those who came straight from the suburbs. Arab holidays and signage have also become more visible around campus.
Although Hebrew University’s post-conflict dynamics are unique to its own, it shares a comparable historical narrative in the struggle against anti-Semitism with Brandeis University right outside Boston. Founded by the American-Jewish community at a time when public universities limited the enrollment of Jewish students, the university is now home to students from 62 countries. To quote its website, “Our Jewish roots and values not only ground us, but also help expand our view on diversity and social justice.” Brandeis continues to face wider social justice challenges that confront other American university – race, color, gender, class, disability, etc. Apart from offering scholarships for needs-based and merit-based students, student and faculty quotas, at the Heller School, an annual Community Day holds space for students to talk about how they experience power and privilege to fellow students, faculty and staff who all attend on equal footing for a single day.
The so-called commitment to social justice, which is loosely translated in Hebrew as “tikkun olam,” translates from lifting those who were once in the periphery, to reaching out to more and more peripheries within a shared society – be it the black or native Americans, Palestinian-Israelis, refugees, and so on, not to mention, the lack of representation of Sephardi, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, and even Asian voices in Jewish scholarship.
When asked about his views on peace in Israel, the famed playwright-activist Joshua Sobol said, "we need to create a new narrative, a common narrative that speaks to both." Freedom and occupation, terrorism and liberation mean different things for different people. To what extent colleges and Universities simply integrate the minority voice to the majority, rather than truly empowering youth is the next task at hand. It does not end at providing equal opportunities for education, but goes as far as how they are able to meaningfully participate in "the real world," where the ideal needs to meet the real, where not only their own meanings and issues matter, where the next generation of scholars, and leaders, are able to acknowledge the privileges they inherited and reconstruct a shared society together.
In a conversation with Oudaye Jawad, a Palestinian who was afforded a Fulbright scholarship at Brandeis (the first from Gaza), he stressed on the role that education plays for youth to find purpose beyond the promise of religious terrorism: “Education broadens our world of thinking that there is a lot of things we can do not only for ourselves, and our families, but also for our people in a more productive way.”
But all this does not happen in a day or two of special workshops and holidays. Re-engaging mainstream pedagogy to develop the very peripheries of classroom discussions, research papers and academic exercises, is pivotal to see how diverse the historical, political and socio-cultural narratives that each student brings are all interwoven together. Education is crucial in building a peaceful society that not only the future generation will inherit, but they are actually capable of inheriting.
Source: Inter-agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, 2012. Higher Education for Arab Citizens of Israel Realities, Challenges and New Opportunities
Regine Guevara is a peace activist from the Philippines. Raised Christian, with Jewish ancestry, and a student of Islam, she is currently a fellow for the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network's Local Pathways Fellowship Program and the Volunteers Head of the Committee for ASEAN Youth Cooperation. She completed an MA in Conflict Resolution from Brandeis University, and the Program on Negotiation of Harvard Law School.