Among the 33,917 students at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, where I attend, there are clearly political differences between the Jews, Muslims, and Christian Arabs who form the student body and faculty. However, these differences are not negative. They are a refreshing splash of unified diversity despite Israel's ethnic stigma.
While hope for a two-state solution and peace in the region is widespread, the Palestinian state remains in constant static with Israel. The Wakseh, that is the schism between Fatah and Hamas which started after Hamas won the Gaza Strip election in 2006, is over, and a new Palestine is forming as the Hamas and Fatah governments merge, a government which may look towards conflict with Israel in the future.
But of course not all Muslims in the region have the same radical views as Hamas, which is considered by some as a terrorist group and whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Many Arab Muslims living in Israel flourish in the secular democratic way of life.
At Bar Ilan, Arabic is spoken and studied as well as Hebrew and English. Traditional Jewish yamulkes adorn the head of some men, while some women don hijabs – traditional Muslim headwear. However, as a stroll around campus reveals there is a unifying current to be detected in the electric desert air that bonds the university's Arabs and Jews.
Tasneem Shawahni, 23, is a religiously observant Muslim student at Bar Ilan. I had a chance this week to chat with her outside the university's synagogue. While it is true some of the school's finest Muslim students do consider themselves Palestinians living under an occupation, Tasneem, who lives in the Arab village of Jijula does not feel comfortable making that association. "I feel like an Israeli not a Palestinian," she said. When asked what her opinion is about the unity government between Hamas and Fatah she simply shrugged and said, "It doesn’t make a difference."
Her sentiment is shared by another Muslim friend of mine, Mohammed. Mohammed is married and is a father of three, is in his late 30's and is the store manager at the local branch of the international Israeli franchise, Aroma Café, where his cousins and younger brother are also employed. Mohammed recently told me, "Unity government or no unity government I don't care what happens in Palestine. I have never been there. It is not a country, it is a mess. Israel is my home."
The fact remains, there will always be bullies and trouble makers in the world; there may be no way to change that. Extremists and fundamentalists such as Hamas will always stand for Islamic cultural and ethnic purity and despotic censorship of their people, as well as violent jihad against their Jewish and Arab neighbors. Though, like the school bully, by simply ignoring the harassment and brow-beating there is a chance the provokers will eventually get the message. We at Bar Ilan University are too busy trying to better ourselves and secure our exciting future goals than to engage the bullies on our borders.
Photo Credit: Scott Krane