A new era in the dialogue on the Middle East


Above: Members of Shalom-Salam@York

Wednesday evening marked a new era in the dialogue on the Middle East at York University. A  student-led initiative, Shalom-Salam@York, hosted its inaugural forum “Peace is Possible”.

The event was organized to promote a better understanding of Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints and featured keynote presentations by former Middle East diplomat and scholar Michael Bell and York political science professor Saeed Rahnema. Over 300 members of the York community attended the event held at the Keele campus.

Bell, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian territories and now a scholar with the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, said he was deeply impressed by the students’ efforts to find a common ground of understanding. He encouraged the students to continue their work. “Peace can be built. It will be slow but it is possible.”

In his presentation, Bell spoke about how deeply entrenched both sides in the Middle East are and how a need for open dialogue was critical to resolving the conflict. He told the students that he felt more hopeful about future prospects for peace in the Middle East because of the efforts put forth by Shalom-Salam.

Right: Keynote presenter Michael Bell.

Led by an executive including two co-presidents,  Shalom-Salam’s aim is to provide an alternative forum for discussion about Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one where supporters of both sides can meet to foster better relations and build bridges in a positive atmosphere. The group numbers over 100 members and has an executive with equal representation of Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israeli students.

Shalom-Salam was founded after a group of students met last year in a class taught by political science professor Saeed Rahnema called “War and Peace in the Middle East.” Rahnema encouraged the students to work together because of their different perspectives. They did and decided that more needed to be done on a larger scale to foster mutual understanding at York.

Rahnema explained that the idea of a new student initiative with the goal of promoting dialogue, scholarly debate and exchange on the subject of peace emerged after an end-of-the-year student debate in the course. Discussions and negotiations continued through the summer and Shalom-Salam was created. Its general membership ratified its constitution in the fall.

Left: Following the Shalom-Salam forum, guests enjoyed a potluck dinner of Middle Eastern cuisine.

“Members of Shalom-Salam and the executive committee of the group come from diverse ethnic, religious, political and ideological perspectives. Despite their different positions, they all agree on one point and that is that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible and, in fact, inevitable,” said Rahnema who is also the group’s faculty advisor.

“I am delighted to see how these students, many of whom hold strong views on the subject, are now working together and have started a dialogue,” said Rahnema. “Unlike conflict and confrontation, peace requires partnership and, in order to foster partnership, a dialogue needs to be established. The students are learning the art of negotiation in practice and at the same time are contributing to peace on our campus.”

“Our goal,” summed up Shalom-Salam@York spokesperson Rabia Siddiqui, “is to bring together students from the Middle Eastern community who can look past their political differences and work together for the sake of peace.”

For further viewpoints, see York in the Media.