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The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Opening a discussion: Brookline Peace Coalition organizes panelist event on Israel, Palestine and Gaza

The Brookline Peace Coalition organized a panelist event on March 2 from 5-7 p.m. at the Florida Ruffin Ridley School Auditorium to discuss the past, current and future states and envision a peaceful future for Israel, Palestine and Gaza. The event featured Brown University professor Omer Bartov, University of Massachusetts Boston professor Linda Dittmar, University of Massachusetts Boston professor Leila Farsakh, Translational Research Director Abood Okal and Harvard University Associate at the Center for Jewish Studies Dotan Greenvald.

In the wake of the conflict in Israel and Gaza since Oct. 7, several residents came together to form the Brookline Peace Coalition and organized Brookline for Peace in Palestine & Israel, a panel discussion event to be held on March 2 from 5-7 p.m. at the Florida Ruffin Ridley School Auditorium, which will accommodate a maximum of 350 people.

Members and organizers of the Brookline Peace Coalition said they intend for the event to create peace and open conversation in their community. The event will feature five panelists with connections to the war, whether it be firsthand experience or having friends or family in Israel and Gaza. These panelists will discuss and analyze the history and current events of Israel and Gaza through an academic lens.

Brookline Town Meeting member Chi Chi Wu will moderate the event, guiding the speakers through a brief opening statement section from each panelist, followed by a dialogue section with a set of pre-developed questions and concluding with an open questions section where questions will be written by the audience.

The Brookline Peace Coalition:

The Brookline Peace Coalition wrote a petition calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, which was stated in a Medium article posted on Dec 6, 2023 by the Brookline Peace Coalition.

Behind the scenes, the Brookline Peace Coalition has been organizing the Peace in Palestine & Israel event space and designing questions to address what they deem a pressing issue while attempting to mitigate the potential harm that could arise in Brookline, according to Precinct Five Town Meeting and Brookline Peace Coalition member Omar Mabrouk.

Brookline Peace Coalition member Emma Nash, who is an organizer of the event, said while the panelists need to speak to their personal ties to the war, the coalition aimed to invite speakers who could speak to the events in Israel and Gaza through an academic lens to set an accessible tone for the event.

Brookline Peace Coalition member Ralph Minichiello also helped to organize the event on March 2 and said the coalition selected speakers who could bring a diverse range of perspectives on the war and the state of the region, even if they may not align with the coalition’s ideas.

“We’re an organization that is in favor of a permanent ceasefire,” Minichiello said. “We don’t expect everybody coming to this forum to have that perspective. In fact, I’ve invited two people who don’t happen to believe in a ceasefire. So, we wanted voices that would ground this in some academic knowledge and expertise, facts, analysis and we’ll have a broad perspective.”

Nash said a pivotal part the organizers have to play in the event is providing balanced perspectives on these events by finding speakers who might not share the same views. She said the main goal of the event is to provide a safe space where as a community, people can work together through the discomfort they may feel about the conflict.

“I think a lot of conversations around Palestine and Israel have been in bad faith, we just assume the other person’s position and assume the other person is out to get us,” Nash said. “So, building a space where people can ask the questions that they need to ask with a strong amount of trust in the room, that feels safe and welcoming and where we are able to take each other in good faith seems really important to me.”

Mabrouk, who is one of the organizers of the event, said he is frustrated with the seemingly never-ending conflict in Israel and Gaza that briefly captures people’s interest with every violent flare-up until the news cycle moves on. With the panelists’ academic expertise and by providing historical context and analysis, he hopes the event will open discussion and attendees leave with some optimism.

“Brookline is, in a way, a place where we have a lot of smart, intelligent, educated people. We also have kind of a pretty strong religious community. This is a place where it might be a little bit uncomfortable, but let’s have this discussion on an analytical level, like let’s actually talk about what is it that is going on over there. Not rhetoric, not like using hyperbole,” Mabrouk said. “Let’s actually talk about what is the root cause of this and what can we do. How can we imagine, given all of what we know about the history of this, a positive outcome where this cycle of violence actually ends once and for all?”

The Climate of Brookline:

Reactions to the violence in Israel and Gaza have created unease in the Brookline community.

Mabrouk said his teenager at the high school has expressed concerns about uncomfortable conversations in the hallways surrounding Israel and Gaza.

“It is almost a taboo topic to discuss, and that to me is wrong. I think that we should be able to have students be in an environment where they can openly discuss their views on Palestine, their views on what Israel is and has done there and not feel like they’re going to be retaliated against,” Mabrouk said.

A clergyperson in Greater Boston, who will be an attendee at the event and has requested to remain anonymous due to concerns of reinciting previous social media attacks, said her child feels reluctant to voice her opinions on campus.

“There’s been tremendous pressure on them to choose which protest to go to and pressure from the friends of each organizing team, of each protest, from one side or the other,” she said. “There’s a lot of polarization on campus as well. And our child has felt extremely uncomfortable voicing and won’t voice any opinions because of that. So, I think this is another issue that we need to figure out: how to come together so that there is a safe place for dialogue, for real dialogue.”

Mabrouk said he loves his community and all the neighbors of different identities he has met in Brookline. However, noticing “We Stand With Israel” signs throughout Brookline and not many “Standing in Solidarity with Palestinians” signs, Mabrouk said he has felt slightly concerned because, to him, those signs represent the community endorsing the militant activities by the Israeli government.

Nash said everyone she has discussed the conflict with has expressed emotional distress due to personal ties there and began reflecting on her own identity and reasons for organizing the event.

“I myself am Jewish, and I feel a personal connection because actions taken on behalf of Israel are so often attributed to the will of the Jewish people that so often, as a Jewish person, one is either expected to defend those actions or otherwise. Whether you have an opinion on it or not, you’re sort of drafted into the conversation by the association between Israel and Judaism,” Nash said. “Having been taught the history of the Holocaust, having been taught that to be Jewish is to pursue justice and all in all events, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that my Jewish identity should compel me to uncritically defend those actions. And I wanted to be part of building a space to say, ‘Hey, there’s not consensus among Jewish people about this,’ that we all have very different views about it.”

Hopes for the Event:

As the organizers prepare for the event, Minichiello said he hopes to learn from the event and gain a deeper understanding of what he perceives as a major historic event.

“I think this is going to be a very important moment of a world-historic event that’s going on before our eyes that’s unfolding, and it’s something that will be discussed and analyzed much into the history books,” Minichiello said. “Now’s the time to say, ‘What did I do? What did I learn?’ And that’s why I’m there and I’m doing this stuff. When I talk to my grandchild, when she’s old enough to understand me, I want to tell her what I did when I saw this happening. So, I’m going to be at this event to learn to be in dialogue.”

Brookline resident Susan Bookbinder said as an attendee, she hopes to contribute to being part of an audience that is eager to learn.

“I would really like to learn. I want to be part of my community, Brookline, in the audience saying, ‘Yes, we want to learn. We do not want to be fighting. We do not want to be scared of each other. We don’t want our kids feeling threatened on all sides,’” Bookbinder said. “I’m hoping that I’ll meet people in the audience to do further work with. I think the audience is really important.”

Reflecting on her identity, the Muslim students she has taught at the University of Massachusetts Boston, her involvement in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and as a Brookline resident, Bookbinder said she believes it is necessary that she attends the event.

“I’m Jewish. There’s so much pain and fear among the Jewish community. There’s so much pain in the American Muslim community or the international Arab community. I feel that given my perspective on this, I need to show up. I just want to be as a Jew, a witness to anything who wants to hear both sides. See people as people, not just as numbers, not as tribes that are enemies of each other,” Bookbinder said. “I feel like it’s really important since there’s nothing I can do in Israel and Gaza. But, I would like to be part of making the Muslim and Jewish communities in the Boston area and Brookline be able to not be afraid of each other and not feel alone and feel that we can really talk to each other.”

Nash said as a Jewish person, she hopes to see more people in her Jewish community commit to working together through discomfort.

“Everyone I talk to about this stresses what an emotional issue Israel is for them. That it’s hard to see past that emotional tie, and I really want to see more people in my community commit to working through their discomfort, to recognizing it’s important for our emotions to be acknowledged and felt, that we’re not the only people with a strongly emotional stake in this and that the ability to step back and outside of ourselves and to say, ‘I’m not going to let my sense of fear override my ability to calmly, rationally and with empathy’ is so important.”

The clergyperson said she was drawn to this event because the event would focus on looking at the past, present and future, and that, she believed, it was organized in a way where you might listen to people you may not agree with initially, but eventually find common ground through thoughtful dialogue at the end. She said she was looking for more than solace from this event.

“I was thinking about finding some more community of people who are open to dialogue, who are open to listening to one another across race, culture, class, etc., and it seemed like the organizers put some thought into creating an event which would allow for different people to come together and have that presence for one another and be able to listen to one another,” she said. “I don’t think solace is what we need—I’m not trying to be controversial here, but I think what we need is unity and we need connection and we may need to disagree with respect… People are ready to choose sides and I don’t think there are sides. I think we need to figure this out, but I don’t think that one side is living a truth and the other is not.”

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