Bridging Narratives Group on Campus Shows Importance of Listening

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By Gavi Siman-Tov, Senior Intern, George Mason University “Bridging Narratives” (BN) was a group that was created in the hopes of having a campus conversation between students from different perspectives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The goal of the group was to have mutual understanding, or at the very least be capable of having a civil conversation, around the issue.

Campus organizations that have sent representatives to participate include Secular Student Alliance (SSA), Israeli Student Association (ISA), Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), Muslim Student Association (MSA), Hillel, Students for Displaced Persons (SDP), and of course The David Project (DP), to name a few.

As demonstrated, there is a mix of very diverse opinions that attended the discussion group and participated in topics ranging from the history of the conflict and the various wars fought, to the current state of the conflict. At the beginning of every meeting we read out a list of rules that we abide by in order to participate in the conversation. If these rules are violated (which they rarely are), the violator is first given a warning, the second time they are told they can not come back to the group.

I believe that this group has made an impact on our campus in terms of relationships between Israel and Muslim groups. Before having this group, SAIA would always shout in the center of campus about Israel and apartheid, but this year members of ISA or DP could come up to SAIA members and have a normal conversation. At times, before the dialogue sessions, I was afraid to be Jewish and half Israeli on campus and to show Israeli pride, but now I can walk around wearing a Mason Hillel shirt without any issues. Within the group we have had people say they have benefited from this group because they understand Zionism from a different and more personal level.

This campus conversation group is now in the making to be its own club and I believe this step brings us closer to meeting our goals of forming mutual understandings about the conflict. I am excited for the group to be able to move forward and continue to get people to come and contribute to the conversation. The only way this group can continue to achieve its goals is to be able to bring people from various backgrounds and viewpoints into the group to talk about the same thing. I believe this is the only way to bring about change and understanding for the Mason community in regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is not just about academia–though that is important–it is about making the other viewpoint personal, it is about putting a face to a statement other than the politicians we see on the news.

I believe this method can and should be used on other campuses around the United States if the Jewish/Israel community hopes to stop the BDS movement and other anti-Israel movements. However, if another campus hopes to create a similar group they need to remember that it is just as important to listen and understand the other side as it is to speak about your own, which I believe is a fundamental part of The David Project.

Gavi is half Israeli, but has lived in Virginia her whole life. She is currently set to commission in the US Army upon completion of her education. She is pursuing her BS degree in Forensic Science and Microbiology and loves to play tennis. She also enjoys history and exploring new cultures.