The Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies programs this week continued to promote open public dialogue in the aftermath of the devastating Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and subsequent war in Gaza, co-sponsoring a discussion featuring a Palestinian and Jewish writing and podcast team who have spent their careers focused on a vision of Israeli and Palestinian coexistence.
Omar Dajani, a law professor at the University of the Pacific and the son of a Palestinian refugee who has served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team in peace talks with Israel, and Mira Sucharov, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, whose family lives on a kibbutz that came under attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, spoke Monday night in Loew Auditorium about their work together.
Moderator Jonathan Smolin, associate professor of Middle Eastern Studies, asked Dajani and Sucharov if the war has tested their working relationship.
“Our friendship and collaboration is based on common values, and articulating those values constantly and continuously has helped us weather the storm of the last three weeks,” Dajani said.
“We don’t have identical views about everything, but we have near identical values. And so, as we undertook to think about the future of Israel-Palestine, we are guided by a desire to see equality and mutual self-determination realized in that space. When you build a relationship and you also connect on values, it’s possible to weather a lot of storms, and that feels really fortifying in a period like this.”
Sucharov, a former columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and a scholar of Israel-Palestinian relations, said in the work of confronting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict people of good faith must understand “that it is a country whose peoples are haunted by trauma. For Jews, of course, the Holocaust, and for Palestinians, it’s the Nakba,” she said, referring to the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
All conversations must begin with recognition that even conflicting imperatives—Israel’s need for security and Palestinian’s desire for self-determination, for example—are legitimate, and the challenge comes in accepting that many conflicting ideas can be simultaneously true, Sucharov and Dajani said. That is the starting point to finding accord.
The discussion Monday, attended by nearly 500 people in person and online, was the third in the series co-sponsored by Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies since the Oct. 7 attacks. The first two forums, held Oct. 10 and 12 on campus and livestreamed to more than 1,500 attendees, featured Senior Lecturer Ezzedine Fishere, an Egyptian author and academic who has written extensively on the region; Susannah Heschel, chair of Jewish Studies; Smolin; and Visiting Professor Bernard Avishai. Tarek El-Ariss, chair of Middle Eastern Studies, joined the first via livestream from Cairo.
This close working relationship and scholarly exchange between the Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies programs at Dartmouth goes back decades, says Heschel.
“And because of that long-term relationship and understanding, we were able to immediately jump right in on this issue as soon as the Oct. 7 attacks took place,” Heschel says. “We believe it’s very important for other universities to follow this example. You don’t wait until there’s a crisis.”
Dartmouth has offered undergraduate classes on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, often cross-listed with government, Jewish Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies for some 25 years, Heshel says, with the goal of creating a space for discussion and learning for all students.
“I’m co-teaching, this term, a course on the 1967 Arab-Israeli War with Jonathan Smolin, who’s in Middle Eastern Studies. And our classroom has students who are Jewish, and Muslim, and secular,” Heschel says. “The class is united in academic study. We’re not in any way polarized in the classroom, and that’s what we are trying to achieve. Our classroom absolutely has to be a place where everybody is at home and engaged in the same way in an academic study.”
Fishere has been teaching a class, Politics of Israel and Palestine, since he came to Dartmouth seven years ago. In recent years he co-taught the class with Avishai, a widely published scholar and commentator on Israeli politics. Fishere is offering the class for the winter term, but because Avishai will be working from his home in Jerusalem, Fishere plans to bring in scholars and experts via Zoom.
“Avishai and I have been teaching this together for the last two years because we thought having both perspectives would create a safer space for everybody in class,” Fishere says.
“Since Avishai will be in Israel, I will teach it alone, but I will be relying on guest speakers from Israel, from the broader region, and from Washington, as well. The idea has always been to teach students to understand the motivations of the players and their concerns and their aspirations so that they can better analyze this conflict and understand its dynamics—where it might be going—rather than to try to get them to know, quote-unquote, the truth and take positions about it.”
Fishere also sees Dartmouth as a model for supporting discussion and learning in the field.
“This has been going on for a while, and it has worked. I’ve seen how students, once they feel safe enough to allow themselves to exercise introspection about the community that they come from and about their own beliefs and stereotypes, they can open up and allow themselves to go beyond the point where they started. It’s heartwarming and it’s also what learning is about.”
Faculty from Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies are also working on other ways to reach out to students and the community through gatherings at house communities, the William Jewett Tucker Center, and other venues.
The Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies academic forums were co-sponsored by the Office of the President, the dean of the College, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Institutional Diversity and Equity, the Leslie Center for the Humanities, the William Jewett Tucker Center, Hillel at Dartmouth, the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, the Department of Government, and the Ethics Institute.