By Hayley Nagelberg, University of Illinois '19
In March, Joe Biden spoke to a room of 18,000 people at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and said, “the future belongs to the bridge builders.” He is not the first person to use this expression. Martin Luther King Jr, Isaac Newton and Pope Francis are all known to have used this metaphor in their speeches.
The metaphor is simple: Those who build relationships with others and work toward inclusion of more groups will have success. Those who stand alone and tear others down will not.
This week, students across campus intend to promote a message of hateful lies about Israel as truth. This was not a shock for me to see; I have heard of these weeks of programming all around different campuses. But being a freshman at this University, and seeing it for the first time, I could not just brush it off.
Every week, different student organizations stand on the quad promoting their individual messages. This week, the same is true. Groups are selling cookies, handing out flyers and explaining the causes they represent. But this week, there is a new table as well, where I will spend my week trying to not just speak for one group, but for all. Specifically, this table is asking students to stand up and build bridges with us. Not just metaphorically, but literally. We are building a bridge.
The concept of apartheid has been discussed a lot on campus over the last few weeks — from the discussion of divesting from coal like we divested from South Africa, to now this week of programming. The word apartheid means separation. It was the word assigned to explain South Africa’s legislative system of racial separation. These laws regulated every faction of daily life from where people could go to the bathroom, where they could go to school and even whom they could marry.
None of these regulations exist in Israel today. Israel is a democracy — home to people of all religions, all races and ethnicities, all sexual identities and more.
There are people who infer that there is an apartheid in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinian people, but there is no basis to these claims. In the West Bank, as well as in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians are self-governed.
In 1993, after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority was established to govern the Palestinian National Movement. This government is elected and has its own legal counsel. It is in charge of education, judicial proceedings, health policies and medical care.
There have been grave acts against the Palestinian people. The Palestinians are excluded from the Arab League states who do not stand to support their nationality. They have been kicked out of Kuwait, Libya, Iraq and more. They are denied the right to own their own homes in Lebanon. They have been denied citizenship in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other countries. And yet, the events taking place on our campus choose to focus on condemning Israel.
Seeing this upsets me. I want to sit down and explain the facts, but that is not a feasible plan. There is too much distrust amongst different groups on campus for us to have a conversation.
In Israel, Palestinians and Israelis live side by side. In Israel, they attend school together, they play sports together, they learn to play music together and they learn to see each other as partners for peace. In Israel, an Arab woman was unanimously approved by Israel’s cabinet to be national commissioner for equal employment opportunities. Israel’s ambassador to Norway was a Druze man. On Israel’s supreme court, one of the justices is an Israeli Arab. And the list goes on.
These people know how to live side by side, yet on campuses across the country it seems this lesson is not yet understood. But I believe this campus can change that.
I believe we can be the future Biden described — a future full of bridge builders where engaging with people who disagree with us is possible, and where we see each other as neighbors and brothers and cousins, not enemies, despite unstable histories between us.
This week, and moving forward, you have a choice to make as a student here: you can join the demonstrations on the quad; you can join the events that are furthering the divide and animosity on campus, or you can join the movement to unite our campus.
The choice is yours. I hope you choose to build bridges with me.
Originally posted in the Daily Illini, reprinted with permission
Photo by Lily Katz