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Despite distinct Middle Eastern backgrounds, students agree on one thing: peace

University students Joshua Tilsiter, left, and Mohab Ramadan founded the Israeli-Palestinian Resolution Society in the UK. (Nargis Babar/YJI)

Durham, U.K. –  With the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians raging in the Gaza Strip, three university students from different backgrounds are bonded over a common goal towards peace. 

Joshua Tilsiter and Mohab Ramadan are students at Durham University who formed what seemed like an unlikely friendship.

Their different experiences and perceptions have made them outspoken on the conflict, even prompting them to found the Israeli-Palestinian Resolution Society.

Tilsiter said he went to a Jewish primary and secondary school, which instilled him with the viewpoint that the Israeli Defense Force was a purely humanitarian, positive organization. But he said he later got involved with a left-wing Jewish youth movement called Noam, which advocated for a diplomatic solution to the conflict and an end to the occupation of Palestine. 

Ramadan grew up in Egypt, where he said he was surrounded with anti-Israeli sentiment and resentment towards parts of the Jewish community.

“In my generation, it has died out a bit,” Ramadan said. But the one-sided view made it difficult for him to be open to discourse, until meeting Tilsiter.

Ramadan and Tilsiter said that peace should be the ultimate aim.

“People need to remember what war is,” said Ramadan. “Imagine if it was your mother or father. Would you still be calling for war?” 

Tilsiter added that anecdotal stories are the way forward.

“By hearing people’s struggles, you are forced to confront people’s humanity and come together to find a solution,” Tilsiter said. 

Another Durham University student, 19-year-old Nada Abu Ta’a was born in East Jerusalem, with her whole extended family living under Israeli occupation. She recently spoke at a panel discussion for the Israeli-Palestinian Resolution society.

Abu Ta’a said Israeli Defense Forces kicked Abu Ta’a’s grandmother, who was 13 at the time,  out of her home. Abu Ta’a explained that in the decades since, several of her family members have been imprisoned and beaten for defying the Israeli Defense Force. 

On the 7th of October, the terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel. Hamas fighters fired missiles and broke through the barrier separating Gaza from Israel, taking about 240 hostages and killing 1,400 people, according to Reuters.

Many of the victims were civilians living near the border with Gaza.

In response to the attack, Israel began bombing the Gaza Strip and recently sent in ground troops. The death toll in Gaza is more than 10,000, Reuters reported, quoting Palestinian officials. Among the dead are thousands of children.

The latest escalation follows 75 years of conflict between the Israeli government and Palestinians under occupation. 

These escalations had a profound impact on both Abu Ta’a and Tilsiter. 

“Recently, there have been so many emotions coming up for me personally,” said Abu Ta’a, who now lives in England.

When the war broke out, Abu Ta’a tried to take her mind off the conflict, but to no avail.

“I felt so guilty,” she said. “Why am I having fun when my family is suffering?” 

Despite being a native of East Jerusalem and having an Israeli birth certificate, Abu Ta’a, like many of her fellow Palestinians, is not allowed residency. After she left to live with her parents in England, she could no longer live there, Abu Ta’a said, a policy some call quiet deportation. 

She said she was recently stopped and questioned for hours at the Tel Aviv airport, interrogated and forced to strip down. She said she had to give up all her electronics.

Her interrogators only backed down once she threatened them with the British Embassy, she said. 

The war is a symptom of a far bigger problem.

For decades, Palestinians have lived under separate rules set up by the Israeli government. 

Abu Ta’a said that many in her family have been denied jobs simply for being Palestinian. Even access to housing is rife with discrimination. The difference in treatment is clear to see, said Abu Ta’a.

Although they pay the same taxes, the Palestinians have no trash collection, are not allowed into Israeli schools and cannot vote, Abu Ta’a said.

“People do not realize it, but the way Palestinians are under occupation is so secretive,” Abu Ta’a said. 

Tilsiter’s divergence from his family’s viewpoint has always been a struggle. But with the onset of the current war, “the boundaries of what I can talk about with my family are becoming narrower and narrower,” he said.

Tilsiter said his grandparents and many of their generation knew only persecution across Europe.

“Israel became their last hope of a safe haven,” he said. But he said he draws the line where this haven comes at the expense of another population.  

“Once we tried to dissect what we’d been told and found commonalities in our stories, we realized that there are two sides, but that this is ultimately a humanitarian problem,” said Tilsiter.

 “My family is very political. They’ve been kicked out of their homes,” said Abu Ta’a. “But they don’t want killing on either side. They want peace, which involves the freedom of Palestine.” 

Despite their different experiences, all three agree on one thing – that we must strive for peace.

Nargis Babar is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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