Over 100 students and members of the St. Louis community attended the presentation of "Combatants for Peace" on Monday night, January 29 in Ursa's Fireside.
The panel discussion, which involved two former Israeli and Palestinian combatants, strove to spark discussion about the Arab-Israeli conflict and facilitate meaningful discussion, towards a peaceful end.
"The perspective we were trying to present was that dialog is a means of bringing peace," stated Junior Aviva Joffe, co-president of SPPIF. "I was really pleased by the event because people asked challenging questions. A lot of what SPPIF tries to do is ask the hard questions."
Those attending the forum were intrigued by the frank angle presented and the commitment of the participants to the peace process.
"It was nice to hear directly from the [combatants] involved, instead of the media," said Tyson Meyer, a member of the local community who attended the forum.
"It made me really happy to see all the people here. It's good to know that people want peace," said Andrea Ginsburg, a senior who attended the forum.
Both participants came to their current perspectives of non-violence after a life-long journey which challenged them on a number of occasions.
Sulaiman Al Hamri is the Palestinian coordinator for Combatants for Peace. His long history of peace work includes co-founding Combatants for Peace in April 2006, and working with other Israeli peace groups such as Taayoush.
"My family has spent a total of 25 years in Israeli prisons. We have paid the price in the conflict, yet I remain committed to peace," said Al Hamri. "It's a duty to retaliate against an occupation–whether for national motives or religious motives, but it is also a duty to do so peacefully."
Shimon Katz served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat solider and came to his views of non-violence during his travels in India after leaving active duty.
"I do believe that as an Israeli citizen I am obliged to go to the army, just like I am obliged to pay taxes. So, I work to find a middle path that will allow me to remain true to my values," stated Katz.
Not all were satisfied by the way in which information was presented.
Following the presentation, Sophomore Michael Safyan handed out a pamphlet entitled "Big Lies: Demolishing the Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel."
"Historical revisionism is lying about things of the past," said Safyan. "Revising the past by impugning my ancestors is not an acceptable grounds for a sustainable peace."
Safyan's pamphlets were not sanctioned by any campus organization, and while he was allowed to hand them out, he was asked to stand outside Ursa's.
SPPIF distanced itself from Safyan's actions, restating their firm commitment to discussion and understanding.
"People get excited about this topic, but what's important is that people are just people and we need to respect everyone," explained SPPIF co-president Ben Sales.
"All attitudes should be shared and discussed, even those which disagree with us. The important thing is to sit and talk about it," expanded Joffe.
While outside, Safyan was met with some skepticism, although he did continue to hand out pamphlets.
"Everyone knows someone who has been killed Everyone has been affected," said Robert Fares, a freshman whose Facebook profile lists his hometown as Dhahran, Saudia Arabia.
Fares continued by explaining that both sides had made mistakes in the conflict and that neither said was blameless.
Panelist Katz explained that part of the benefit of the SPPIF event was that it brought out multiple view points.
"You guys are at the stage where you are trying to learn and create your own independent thought. It's important to show a different side of things," stated Katz.
The pamphlet is written by David Meir-Levi and a publication of the right-wing Center for the Study of Popular Culture, founded by David Horowitz; the center is also known as the Horowitz Freedom Center. According to the organizations' website, its mission is to "The Mission of the David Horowitz Freedom Center is to defend America's free society through educating the public to preserve traditional constitutional values of Individual Freedom, Rule of Law, Private Property, and Limited Government"
Originally prepared for CampusJ.com