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Cambridge hosts Jewish-Palestinian dialogue event

King’s College, Cambridge, UK, played host Feb. 8 to a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue, attracting students, university staff and members of the public alike.

The event, attended by almost 50 people, was jointly organized by the Cambridge-based group Kolot Shalom (Voices of Peace) and the Cambridge University Palestine Society (CUPal), and chaired by Kolot Shalom’s David Bilchitz and Samira Barakat, president of CUPal.

After introductory remarks by Bilchitz and Barakat, four scheduled speakers spoke briefly on what Israel/Palestine means to them. From the Jewish perspective, the group heard from Cambridge student Miriam Feldmann and Amir Paz-Fuchs, an Israeli currently working on a D.Phil. in law at Oxford University.

The first Palestinian speaker was Anas Al-Hroub, who is from the Bethlehem area, and currently studying for a Ph.D. in special education. The other speaker was Barakat herself, who, being half-Palestinian, has strong family ties with the occupied territories. She is earning a Ph.D. in physics.

After the panelists finished speaking, the participants broke into four smaller groups, each with a facilitator present to provide some shape to the discussion and to ensure exchanges remained respectful. The groups covered a wide range of issues, from each person’s particular interest in the conflict, to specific issues like the Wall, and what a future solution should look like.

After more than an hour of discussions, the participants reassembled for closing remarks. A representative of each of the four small groups summarized that group’s discussion, what kind of consensus, if any, had been reached, and what participants felt they had gained from attending.

The purpose of the event, said Bilchitz, was “to engage with each other, to try to understand the perspectives and histories of the other side, and, maybe, to modify our positions through this engagement.

“We hope that by arranging similar events,” he added, “we can contribute to creating a better future for both our peoples.”

The overall feeling of those in attendance was that the event was an extremely positive one, and that similar dialogues should take place in the near future. Suggestions included narrowing down discussions to issues such as refugees and Jerusalem.

Many expressed how glad they were to hear the perspectives of the “other side.” Laila, a Palestinian participant, said, “I’ve never really had a chance to listen to a Jewish person explain how they felt, and have heard things which surprised me, but in a positive way. I have learned a lot today.”

The event was held at the start of the University’s One World Week activities, an internationally observed event which seeks to be, in the words of the official Web site, “an annual opportunity to join a worldwide movement of people taking action for justice locally and globally,” with an emphasis on awareness raising, activism, and dialogue.

Published in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

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