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Wednesday, May 7, 2003 > News > News Story

Jewish, Muslim students celebrate common ground

Amara Enyia
Assistant news editor

On the eve of Israeli Independence Day, or Yom Ha'atzmaut — the Hebrew name for the holiday —students gathered at Illini Union rooms A, B and C not to protest, but to celebrate the similarities between Muslims and Jews at a symposium titled "Common Ground in the Holy Land."

Co-creators Alison Siegel, student president of the Hillel Foundation and Sara Bokhari, senior in anthropology said "common" was the key word for the event. Bokhari said the event was strategically placed the day before Israeli Independence Day because it was an ideal opportunity for students of Muslim and Jewish heritage to show the similarities of their culture.

Although Bokhari is Muslim and Siegel is Jewish, the two said they shared a very close relationship. From talking to each other, Bokhari and Siegel said they learned there were a striking number of similarities between the Muslim and Jewish cultures.

Israeli Independence Day had been a big day in the past for protests, disagreements and arguments between groups and that people often forgot the human aspect of the conflict, Bokhari said. Once people began to associate faces with issues, it meant a lot more, she said.

"The whole Middle East is so politicized," Siegel said. "What we want to do is de-politicize the region and re-humanize it."

Bokhari said one of the reasons conflict between the two groups was so intense was the lack of dialogue between the groups.

"One of the problems is that people don't get a chance to sit down and talk to each other," she said. Mona Haggag, sophomore in FAA agreed. She said it was important that people examine a conflict or problem from every standpoint and try to find common ground.

"People are just understanding differences, and it's not getting us very far," she said.

Heated protests have taken place in past years on Israeli Independence Day on the part of Israeli and Palestinian students. Savva Amusin, junior in business, said last night's event was a calming agent to negative things that might happen on Israeli Independence Day. Amusin also said the event was an ongoing process of the leaders of both communities to do something that was not typical.

"Sometimes people think there's only one way to do things. This event is an effort to show that there are other ways," Amusin said. "It's taking an area which has been under so much contention and an area where there is so much fighting and showing the similarities of the cultures and people of both cultures together."

Amusin said the media sometimes exacerbated the tension between Jews and Muslims because they focused attention on political issues, which he said were inherently divisive. He said Israel was incredibly important for both Jews and Palestinians, but every time something bad happens, it is portrayed in the media and serves to anger people on both sides.

"This is a way to create some positive emotions," Amusin said about the program. "Terrorism is not why people are attached to Israel. Killing is not why people are attached to Israel. Religion and culture and celebrating that culture is," he said.

The event featured several booths set up to show different aspects of Muslim and Jewish culture such as poetry, architecture and language. Booths also explored the Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i and Christian religions. Several students sang songs from their own culture and told stories. Haggag said she remained optimistic about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Optimism helps you at least feel like there's something you can do," Haggag said.

©Copyright 2003, Daily Illini (IL, USA)

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