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Lebanese, Israeli Students Should Aim for Understanding

Column by Orli G. Bahcall
Associate News Editor

In the past week, this campus has been exposed to some of the conflicts in the Middle East, stemming from Israel's retaliation against Hizbollah forces in Lebanon.

The Lebanese Club quickly mobilized a demonstration last Friday in Lobby 7 with signs, flyers, and posters calling for an end to Israeli terror.

MIT Students for Israel responded to the anti-Israeli sentiments being postered all over campus by explaining the long history of the conflict and clearing up misconceptions that were presented ["Israel Has Right to Defend Itself," April 21].

It is important for me, as an Israeli, to understand the pain the Lebanese students must feel when citizens of their country are injured or killed. By the same token, it is important for the Lebanese students to understand that this strike was a preventative operation, to neutralize Hizbollah terrorist forces. The intent was to end a long stream of violence against Israel.

I spent last year volunteering in Israel, and have become all too acquainted with the hardships that the ongoing state of war has on every day life. Whether I was serving on an army base on the border with Lebanon, building cement foundations to protect the border, or walking to a disco in Jerusalem when a terrorist happened to open fire in a cafe, I felt the tension of the ongoing state of violence.

A goal of mine and many in my youth movement was to turn our fear, and for some their hatred, into constructive action - by repairing communication and resolving deep-rooted conflicts.

While we spent one night in a bomb shelter as Katyushas from Hizbollah came close to our development town, we spent the next day visiting the neighboring Arab school and talking about the politics of the peace process. All of us were affected by the attacks. Even in a bomb shelter, none of us felt safe.

Each time a development in the Arab-Israeli conflict happens - a suicide bomber blows up a bus filled with civilians, or a bomb is left on a beach full of tourists, or a retaliation missile misses its target and hits innocent civilians - I am very hurt. Everyone involved with this inner wrenching conflict has felt this- the question is how we choose to deal with the pain.

The easiest action to take after a tragedy is to condemn your opposition, and cry aloud for the world to recognize your suffering. A harder approach is to consider what provoked the event and how to resolve these conflicts.

I recall that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's last words were a song of peace. His actions and commitment inspire me to continue, despite all hardships, to help come to understanding and resolution.

While it is very heartening to see MIT students actively support their political beliefs, it would be a shame to bring the conflict that arises from misunderstanding to this campus.

If students are serious about understanding the Middle East, I would hope that they focus the strong motivation and energy that they have shown into initiating more year-round discussions. Perhaps we can set a model for how two groups can come to understand each other.