This piece was originally published by NYU Local, the independent campus blog of NYU, and is republished here with permission.
It’s a five-minute walk for Dana Salah to reach The Bean coffee shop on 12th Street and Broadway on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The 22 -year-old young woman is cozily bundled up in a maroon sweater, thick scarf, and hijab against the dreary December weather. In Dana’s hometown, the village of Bethlehem in the West Bank of Palestine, it’s a balmy 73°. But the weather isn’t the biggest difference that Dana notices—it’s that five-minute walk.
“In my country I get up two hours before the university because there are checkpoints. It makes life difficult,” Dana says. “The life here is totally different than Palestine. Totally free.”
This semester is Dana’s first as an NYU student. She’s here as part of a university program which brings four Israeli and four Palestinian students to the school for a semester of classes and intensive dialogue about the conflict in their homeland. The program’s mission is made clear by its name: Paths to Peace.
“I want to have this chance to talk to Israeli people,” Dana says. “I wasn’t allowed to go to Israel so I never had the chance to talk to Israeli people.”
This semester provided that chance. The eight students live in two rooms in Palladium, where they share a bedroom with a student from the opposite territory. The entire group participates in dialogues led by two PhD students twice a week, when they tackle the whole range of issues: “the conflict, the history, the legitimacy of the country, the definition of terrorism,” as one program participant put it.
Paths to Peace was launched in 2007, imagined and funded by Stern ’67 alumnus Howard Meyers. Today, Meyers runs Quexco Incorporated, a recycled lead distributor and battery producer. In a 2010 interview with The Wall Street Journal, he explained that he sees the program as an opportunity to develop new leaders in the conversation around co-existence by providing an opportunity for dialogue between young people from both sides of the conflict. “If we can get one of these leaders to go back and create some understanding, it will be worthwhile,” Meyers told the Journal.
For the woefully uninformed, a sanitized history of the conflict in fewer than 100 words: in 1948, the United Nations formalized decades of British colonial policy by codifying the state of Israel in what had formerly been the British colony of Palestine, and before that part of the Ottoman empire. Surrounding Arab nations invaded, but Israel was victorious. Over the next decades, between the influx of Jewish settlers from around the world and the ongoing regional violence, millions of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes. Meanwhile, Israel slowly expanded outside the borders established in the 1948 declaration, then beyond the borders agreed to in a 1967 truce.
About 6 million people remain in the Palestinian Territories: the West Bank and the tiny Gaza Strip, a densely-populated territory between Israel and Egypt. In Gaza, Palestinians recognize Hamas as the ruling party; Israel calls them a terrorist group. Palestinian militants launch rockets against Israel, and Israel responds with warplanes and crippling sanctions in a cycle of violence seemingly without end.