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Letter: Middle East no simple matter

To the Editor:

We would like to address Avi Schaefer's '13 concern about the character of Common Ground ("To those interested in creating peace in the Middle East," Nov. 2). Our full name is Common Ground: Justice and Equality in Palestine/Israel, and our stated mission is to supplement campus dialogue with voices and perspectives that we believe are under-represented in mainstream American media and political discourse. Common Ground meetings are not internal discussion forums, but are geared towards planning campus-wide events.

Common Ground was established nine years ago by students of diverse political leanings, connected by a commitment to the equality of human life and the pursuit of just peace in Palestine and Israel. Common Ground today does not operate from a set political platform but rather from a shared belief that security and human rights should be a birthright for all. "Common Ground," therefore, refers to our common understanding that before peace is possible, continuing injustice must be brought to light.

Our speakers are often critical of current Israeli policies because the status quo of occupation is not conducive to the just and equal peace we hope to see in the region. As Schaefer points out, we do not bring speakers who "represent the general view of Israeli society" because we believe that these voices already dominate mainstream American discourse. We bring neither Yisrael Beitenu nor Hamas because mere juxtaposition of diametrically opposed voices does not achieve our goal of fostering nuanced discussion. It instead perpetuates a simplistic and unproductive polar binary, which must be overcome in order to achieve peace and common ground.

As a group aiming to supplement and diversify (rather than encapsulate and summarize) discourse, we bring speakers whose politics and identities reflect a complexity inimical to the language of "pro" and "anti" so often employed in criticism of our work. Recent examples include Anat Biletzki, former head of Israeli Human Rights group B'tselem; democratic Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti; former IDF soldier and human rights advocate Micha Kurz and prolific Middle East historian Joel Beinin. These speakers, and numerous others, demonstrate how people of different backgrounds can speak out together against systematic inequality.

We are working towards a sustainable and just peace, centered around respect for human equality and advocacy for basic rights. Common Ground shares these values not only with peace-oriented Israelis and Palestinians, but with global civil society and international law. If concern for humanity doesn't seem so "common" in campus discourse — and if such a platform merits accusations of "bias" — then perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the grounds upon which claims to "balance" are based.

Eric Axelman '12
Rahel Dette '13
Maria Fregoso '10
Lucas Mason-Brown '13
Mari Miyoshi '12
Members of Common Ground

Nov. 8


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