Aug 292010
Authors: Samuel Lustgarten

Last week, I wrote an incendiary piece on my position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only two hours after the article was published online, public outcries accused me of having a generalized hatred toward all things Semite.

My editor forwarded three e-mails to me, more than 40 comments were written about my column on and even the Campus Director of Hillel of Colorado at CSU Rabbi Allison Peiser wrote a guest column on Friday.

Expecting to be disenchanted by another hateful, emotional rant, I was pleasantly surprised to find an impassioned piece on what we have in common and the hope for “open conversations.”

Despite my column’s commentators, who accused me of being stagnant in opinion, anti-Israel, anti-Semite and blind to my assertions, I welcomed the opportunity to discuss the topic with someone from another perspective.

That same day, I contacted Hillel and the Rabbi generously arranged for an impromptu meeting.

One hour later, I pulled out my journal. I had my follow-up column.

Not one to beat around the bush, I dove into the topic of settlements on the West Bank.

At first, I was shocked when Rabbi Allison said building had “stopped.”

All the evidence, pictures and news still suggested that the pro-settlement regime headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel was alive and well. Even The New York Times highlighted Netanyahu’s proclivity for construction in an article published on Aug. 24, the day after my original column was published.

In actuality, it wasn’t settlement activity that was being contested by the Rabbi; it was the word, “settlement.” For many Israelis, the concept that Palestine even exists as a separate entity is up for interpretation. As she acknowledged, what I call Palestine –– what the majority of the world calls Palestine –– is just the “West Bank” for many Israelis.

If I were to apply such daft and myopic beliefs to another dispute in the Middle East, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s position that Israel should be wiped off the map would suddenly make sense.

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of a nation, state and people, it’s no wonder why a jingoistic state believes it’s their God-given right to build in Palestine.

Peiser is right. This is a tremendously “complex situation,” and it’s “hard to step out of emotion.”

For instance, my first article oversimplified the historical connotations of suggesting that “Jews and Palestinians lived in harmony” pre-State of Israel (1948).

It’s true: Concepts like Zionism, responsibility and history need to be flushed out. Six hundred and fifty to 700 words won’t cut it.

In our conversation, Peiser went on to suggest that Israelis may have a “victimization” and “fight-for-life” mentality. As I see it, they can no longer claim that they’re defenseless, “wandering” or even, as a nation, threatened. With militarized weaponry, tactical, organized militias, immense wartime capabilities (see the Six-Day War) and affluence, they’re a world-class military power.

Palestinians are clamoring for a voice. Without a state, without borders and in a seismic political environment that is indiscriminately ravaged by intruders, they’re left defenseless.

But while the situation is seemingly bleak, and though I don’t have a prescient bone in my body, I hold out for hope.

There’s hope that we’ll see Israel take responsibility for settlements and organized destruction. Hope that Jews will forever have a permanent place to call home.

There’s hope that Iranian-backed, Hamas and Hezbollah will cease the onslaught of suicide bombings. Hope that Palestine receives full U.N. recognition and statehood.      

What I experienced while talking with Rabbi Allison Peiser wasn’t always a sense of calm. At times, the conversation felt forced, nerves on edge. We weren’t without the occasional emotional joust of our respective viewpoints.

The beauty is in the realization that we’re doing what many avoid –– talking.

Instead of accosting each other and throwing profanity around like mud, we had an intellectual debate that furthers the understanding for both parties.      

Before we parted, I asked one last quick question. “Do you have plans to talk further about this column and issue with your students at Hillel?”

Almost before my sentence is complete, she nods her head.

That’s all I wanted.

Samuel Lustgarten is a senior psychology major. His column appears on Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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