Al-Salem ’17: Young voices, old conflict

Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I entered Petteruti Lounge Monday Night an hour earlier than the anticipated student-run panel on the Gaza War was said to start. I had my dinner in hand and was prepared to be wildly disenchanted by the panel, which I thought would essentially normalize a complex conflict into idle chitchat. 

As the hour drew near, however, I took a seat in the second row and watched the room fill up with people from all different backgrounds. This helped bring into reality the footnote on the event’s Facebook posting that stated, “students of all ideological backgrounds are strongly encouraged to attend and participate.” It was obvious from the turnout that many people who might shy away from this issue out of fear that they weren’t informed felt comfortable enough to make an appearance, which gives me hope about the future of dialogue around this issue on campus.

When it comes to an issue like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the most helpful component in moving forward and seeing real progress exists in today’s generations’ willingness to shed the idea that a political stance must be static. An open mind is a conflict’s greatest enemy, and, if panelists and attendees come in with one, then an event can start real change.

The introduction from Tala Doumani ’17, one of the two moderators of the night, really impressed me. She had a strong, commanding voice that made you want to listen to what she had to say, and she gave the impression that she had the authority and maturity to moderate a discussion like this. Her short opening statement that detailed her stance on the Palestine-Israel issue shed a great deal of light on her perspectives without framing the discussion in any specific way, which is a difficult but admirable quality to master.

Due to Doumani’s emphasis on keeping the space neutral, she fell short as a moderator when it came to challenging the panelists. The panel also had some other flaws that, although understandable due to it being the group’s first attempt at an event like this, should have been avoided. To start, I believe that while the moderating was done to control time and temper, the tense manner and attitude with which the panel was moderated created more tension than needed. Eital Schattner-Elmaleh ’17, a moderator alongside Doumani, managed to keep things going in an orderly fashion but at the cost of cutting people off short at very pivotal moments and creating a sense of urgency and tension.

Those are logistical issues that will sort themselves out in time. The more important issue at hand is the question I was left wondering at the end of the panel, which was whether this event did more harm than good. To dissect that notion, one must look at the panelists who Doumani and Elmaleh had to moderate.

Peter Makhlouf ’16, a Herald opinions columnist, and Max Schindler ’15, a former Herald staff writer, easily stole the show with their ability to communicate their ideas and beliefs without disregarding facts and history. Whatever your political opinion was, you had to take both seriously because they spoke from a place of knowledge and experience. It was an added bonus that both were from two different sides of the issue — Schindler identifying as an American Jew and Makhlouf as a Palestinian American.

Although I understand the issue is a sensitive one, some panelists came out sounding either naive or simply racist, and, because of the way the panel was orchestrated, a lot of these problematic factors were not addressed.

At one point, after tensions were officially and visibly high and opinions turned into terse rebuttals, I wanted to ask the panelists why they were even there at all. I believe Doumani and Elmaleh started the discussion on the right foot and had planned for a space to learn and benefit from one another. But the impression I was left with by the end of the night was that this was every side’s chance to defend its opinions and beliefs. I believe in justice for Palestine, I believe the occupation will end one day and I think the initiative Doumani and Elmaleh took toward that idea was the right one. But I do not think the panel was executed well, and the fault lies with the panelists. While it’s great to have a student-run panel sans professors and old academics where the divide between generations is too vast to promote unity, the conversation runs the risk of becoming one of catty dismals and defensive arguments.

That’s not to say that panels with legitimate academics and scholars do not turn out the same way. The recent teach-in entitled “Why Gaza Matters” that was led by faculty faced a tense audience. The Palestine-Israel issue has always been sensitive, so it is no surprise that  the panel turned out the way it did.

I applaud the panelists and the organizers of Monday’s panel for putting in the effort, but I hope that, moving forward, the conversation is less about defending what you believe and more about learning what others believe. We must grow away from the idea that once you’ve declared a political stance you can’t go back. If anything, I hope this panel encourages some of the more strongly politically affiliated individuals to have more of an open mind in future discussions. If a panel strives for this as much as it strives for creating a neutral space, then the possibility of a more informed generation and campus that can fight for change is on the horizon.



Sara Al-Salem ’17 is happy there’s dialogue happening about Palestine-Israel at all and can be reached at

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  1. Wow this article could not be more misleading.

    She is happy that the event has seemed to uphold that “students of all ideological backgrounds are strongly encouraged to attend and participate” and that “An open mind is a conflict’s greatest enemy.” Again, she hopes everyone can “have more of an open mind in future discussions” Being balanced and open-minded to different opinions seems to be her thing. Right? How can you disagree with that?

    Then, of course, she commends two of the panelists with the strongest anti-Israel opinions, and argues that the real problem are the other panelists. The real problem are the pro-Israel panelists, in other words – but she’s not going to come out and say that, because it would go against her balanced and open-minded values.

    Clearly, the author has shied away from her own recommendations and come to the table with everything but an open mind. Typical of discussions on Israel at Brown – only one side, the anti-israel side, is entitled to an opinion.

    • To be fair, she did commend Schindler, but she also made it clear that she’s not in favor of a two state solution, just “justice for palestine.”

      • Schindler is Jewish, but was anti-Israel

        • My apologies. I wasn’t present for the discussion. I assumed the author’s line “It was an added bonus that both were from two different sides of the issue” meant that they argued different sides of the issue. Thank you for correcting me.

  2. Is this a report misplaced in the opinion columns, or is it the most obvious non-opinion I’ve ever read? This is just a report on the author’s ‘experiences’ at a panel, in which she hands out demerits and gold stars to specific people at the event.

  3. “Student run panel on Gaza war.” Brilliant these students must be. They think they can solve something from their panel podium when successive presidents, prime ministers, parliaments, and Henry Kissinger had failed. I wonder if these “Gaza war” problems might be too easy for these students. They should aim higher – like to have a “panel” on inter-galactic war with the Klingons. Only that would befit the Brown curriculum. Oh by the way, I am only being sarcastic. I really would not mind if Israel turned Gaza into a parking lot, to get more cool breeze from the Mediteranean.

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