Students and professors attend an Atidna International joint vigil at...

Students and professors attend an Atidna International joint vigil at the University of Texas at Austin on Nov. 7, 2023. Credit: Elijah Kahlenberg

For the past three months, college campuses have been an ideological battleground. The carnage in southern Israel and Gaza has produced reverberations among student bodies across the country, including on Long Island. Coverage of student responses has overwhelmingly centered on campus hostilities between Jewish/Israeli and Arab/Palestinian students. Antipathy, however, is not inevitable. The raging discord defining our current relationship can be reversed if Jewish/Israeli and Arab/Palestinian students take the integral yet uncomfortable first step toward creating joint spaces for civil interaction.

Ordinarily, interactions between our two peoples on university campuses occur in less than hospitable environments, if at all. Beyond protests and counter-demonstrations, milieus which inherently produce animosity, most Arab/Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli students are unlikely to ever interact, let alone in a civil environment. Recognizing this, students across the country have attempted to overcome decades of entrenched social boundaries through Atidna International, the first joint, university-based peace and dialogue organization for Jewish/Israeli and Arab/Palestinian students.

We are among the leaders of Atidna International. One of us is Jewish, one is Palestinian-American. We believe that campus unity is both possible and necessary amid ever-growing polarization. Atidna — a name which combines the Hebrew word for “future” with the Arabic suffix for “our” — was founded two years ago to bring together Arab/Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli students to achieve two basic goals. The first is to solidify, through joint peace events, the idea that Jews and Arabs are cousins — one unified family — rather than inherent enemies. Our second goal is to establish a joint platform for Jewish/Israeli and Arab/Palestinian students to freely discuss anything and everything pertaining to Israel and Palestine.

Atidna’s peace events and dialogue sessions have reached hundreds of Arab and Jewish students through multiple university chapters, creating the first spaces on those campuses for respectful interaction between our two peoples. While partly meant to generate healthy disagreements, Atidna’s initiatives have also allowed Arab/Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli students to begin to realize that our identities, cultures, and aspirations do not have to conflict. From joint, student-led conversations about our shared ancestral roots to Middle East disaster fundraisers, Atidna has tried to foster familial nexuses between Jewish/Israeli and Arab/Palestinian students. Since Oct. 7, Atidna chapters from Texas to Pennsylvania have hosted joint campus dialogues concerning the situation in southern Israel and Gaza alongside joint vigils for Jewish and Arab students to honor all innocents, Israelis and Palestinians, taken since the conflict started.

Nowhere are these intercommunal initiatives more needed than on Long Island, home to a large established Jewish community and a sizable and growing Arab-Muslim community, both of which are heavily represented on local campuses. As Long Island’s universities are sadly not exempt from the malice plaguing other American campuses, the Atidna team has begun to reach out to local students to expand our dialogue and reconciliation efforts.

The aptitude for decades of interfaith bridge-building in Nassau and Suffolk counties proves that Long Island’s universities have the capability to become national leaders in our peoples’ joint struggle to unify; however, that requires students to first extend the olive branch. Only by Jews/Israelis and Arabs/Palestinians civilly engaging one another can we begin to comprehend the “other” as part of our family, hence breaking down decades of ingrained misconceptions and enmity. We urge our Long Island university peers to take the first step toward grassroots reconciliation by joining our unifying mission.

This guest essay reflects the views of Elijah Kahlenberg and Jadd Hashem, students at the University of Texas at Austin and president and vice president, respectively, of Atidna International.

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