Come One, Come All: Many Voices for Two States

I remember my first J Street U conference during spring
break last March 2013 in Chevy Chase, Md. I remember looking around: There must have been around 300 students in that hall from colleges worldwide who
also cared about this issue as much as I do, who wanted to be there to talk
about the frustrating situation and push for more U.S.-led peace talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yet I felt
like I was a speck, my voice silent in this wave of other voices. The only
difference between me and 95 percent of the other students and speakers was that I was
a Muslim Arab and they weren’t. “Where are the non-Jewish voices?” I thought
to myself as I sat there.

Although I’m Jordanian, my
dad is a Palestinian refugee, which makes me half-Palestinian. I am someone who cares about a future Palestinian state. It was important for
me to join J Street U because I wanted to have a say in the ongoing conversation that will
eventually lead to a just two-state solution. However, the lack of Palestinians within this
pro-Israel organization has made me feel alienated at times. My voice felt drowned among hundreds of Jewish voices at national conferences.

Last March, I felt like I didn’t fit in—but I didn’t quit.
I have remained invested because I support J Street U’s mission, and want to
see it accomplish its goals. I have taken this opportunity to voice my
thoughts, the concerns and opinions that are far less represented within J
Street U and whose amplification needs your support. We need non-Jewish voices
like mine to continue being successful, both as strong supporters of a
two-state solution and as even stronger advocates for Palestinian human rights.

J Street U chapters nationwide are in need of the non-Jewish
voices that are invested in this conflict. While the organization does stand
for both the Israeli and Palestinian states, it still needs multiple, diverse
voices to make this movement more powerful. This conflict, while complicated,
cannot be resolved without the investment of non-Jewish voices.  

One of the most memorable quotes from a J Street U Town Hall
three weekends ago was, “If you’re not on the table, you’re on the menu.”
Clearly, the Jewish voices are active participants that are “on the table” as they
continue to involve themselves with this important issue by pushing Hillels on
college campuses and encouraging other Jewish students to support a two-state solution.
However, the majority of non-Jewish voices on campus remain observers—”on
the menu.”

By not involving yourself in this important and complex
issue, you are essentially supporting the status quo—this means supporting the occupation in place, which is unsustainable as well as polarizing for
both sides.

I call for the silent majority on campus not currently
represented within J Street U to join the broad coalition of voices currently
in support of two states in order to bring more multidimensional perspectives
and voices to the table. We, as Americans, international students, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, have a say in this conflict, no matter our background, religion,
or ethnicity. We must make our voices heard to ensure that our
community and political leaders act with us toward a peaceful, secure future
for both Palestinians and Israelis. After all, if you don’t do politics,
politics will do you.

As students, we must act as agents of hope and change as we
work for peace, democracy, and basic human rights in the Middle East. For this
to happen, we can start by joining the conversation. By making both Jewish and
non-Jewish voices heard on campus, we, as concerned, global-minded students,
have the power to help achieve peace in the Middle East and come up with a two-state
solution. It gives me hope that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been prioritizing this tough
issue, and that he continues pushing forward despite
less-than-desired results. 

I invite you all to become open to the challenges that come
with being an advocate for this conflict, to take this opportunity to step
outside of your comfort zone and involve yourself in an issue that you might be
struggling with or want to learn more about. We must hold ourselves accountable
to the work that is essential for Israel’s future and for a future state of
Palestine before holding our leaders accountable. To accomplish this,
we must first raise our voices, question authority and actions (or inactions)
being taken, and constantly ask ourselves what we stand for.

I am glad to see that J Street U has become a more
political organization in which U.S. and Palestinian voices are involved. The appointment of a special adviser for youth engagement at the State Department in the
Bureau of Near East Affairs and the panel that included a national policy
analyst at the Muslim Public Affairs Council are good starts. While the Town Hall I attended
was a pessimistic reality check for current peace efforts, it reaffirmed the urgency of this
conflict.

This is why I remain committed to a two-state solution. I am
part of the great constituency for peace. Are you?

Leyth Swidan PO ’16 is majoring in international relations with a minor in Middle Eastern studies. He is a program assistant for the United Nations Association of Pomona Valley and the president of the Muslim Student Association.

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