I once worked with CU Chabad’s Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm to offer a 10 week course for returning CU students on Birthright as a continuation of their experiences in Israel. It covered differing topics considered by us to be important in fully understanding what they had just experienced first hand. Topics such as the building of nation-states historically and the relevant international law since the British Mandate period.
One of the topics I covered was the Palestinian view of the Middle East conflict and I had invited Amin Kazak, professor at the Korbet School of International Relations at Denver University, and a Palestinian who grew up in refugee camps, to give this lecture. Though he could not do it because of conflicts with his teaching schedule, I was able to get Denver’s Rabbi Franklin to do it in his place. My idea was this: the Palestinians have a narrative, and Jewish students learning the Israeli narrative have to know the Palestinian one in order to decide how they were going to judge each narrative. To believe in one or the other or some third way meant to know each narrative in the first place.
Kazak would have done an excellent job, but Franklin went whole hog into the personna of a dispossesed Palestinian. He challenged the students relentlessly. “The creation of Israel destroyed my life and the lives of my family. I have keys to a house in Haifa and I want it back. Here are the keys. We have suffered greatly, and continue to suffer. Israel is cruel and intransigent. We have lived in Palestine for years, and then we are made refugees. The Arab nations treat us badly and Israel makes it worse.” Every argument from them was met with a good counter-argument from him. The students squirmed and I loved it.
I tried to do the same thing once with Shayah Sallo, publisher of the Boulder Weekly, after he and Stand By Israel cooperated on successfully presenting “Obssession” at the Boulder Theater to over 400 people. I wanted a public debate between a Muslim who was opposed to Israel and a Muslim who supported Israel. I had Dr. Tawfik Hamid in mind for the Muslim advocate for Israel. It didn’t happen for various reasons, but the principle is there in the attempt: two very strongly opposing views on an important topic who could give us a window on how to compare and contrast each viewpoint.
That is the idea behind Shaul Gabbay and Amin Kazak’s book, “One Land, Two Stories.” Both are experts in Middle Eastern studies, one Israeli and one Palestinian. They each fought for their respective sides, Shaul in the 1982 Lebanon War and Kazak advocating for the Palestinians. But they are friends and have a working relationship. Kazak says he did not work with a Jewish person until he came to Denver and met Gabbay.
So do the Palestinians have a narrative worth listening to? Yes. They have suffered and carving out Israel was a loss to them. But do the Israelis have a narrative that contradicts the Palestinian one? Yes as well.
In this complex situation, one cannot understand it and teach it without delving whole hog into the debate. Such a debate will not be the end and final thoughts of your decisions on it, but it will go as far as is possible in one night and one book.
Come hear Amin Kazak and Shaul Gabbay discuss these narratives at the Boulder JCC on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 7 pm. Register for the author talk and book signing at boulderjcc.org