Last issue’s reflection piece on the PalTrek spring break trip sparked a period of deep reflection for me these past several days. The publication of this article happened to coincide and intertwine with other recent events in my life, including organizing an Israel Independence Day barbeque with some of my classmates, watching the news in horror as 700 rockets were fired from Gaza into the cities and towns of my Israeli partner’s family, long conversations with a Palestinian Uber driver named Asus about our mutual love of shakshuka - a delicious tomato and egg dish - and the difficulty of mastering Arabic grammar, and preparations for my upcoming summer internship in Israel beginning next week. With all of these events swimming in my head, I feel compelled to share my perspective from my multitude of experiences I have had from previously visiting, living, and working in Israel.
Through this process, I was reminded of an event I attended this past November. I had the privilege of hearing Yossi Klein HaLevi, an American-born Israeli author, and Dr. Walid Issa, a Palestinian American engineer, speak on campus at Ida Noyes. The event was structured as part conversation and part storytelling, with each speaker discussing their Israeli and Palestinian narratives respectively. The event at UChicago was one of a series being held at university campuses across the country. I took notes at the event and was particularly struck by the following statement Yossi Klein HaLevi made at the beginning of the talk when introducing the personal journey he took that led him to meet Dr. Walid Issa:
“Curiosity is a very dangerous trait because it can lead to empathy. There is a reason why fundamentalists of any persuasion, whether religious or political, why [their] deepest fear is curiosity, because you never know where it can lead. It led eventually to our friendship and to the roadshow that Walid and I are doing on campuses around the country.”
Here at Booth, curiosity runs deeply in our cultural ethos. It’s what motivates us to step out of our comfort zone and take on rigorous courses and explore new countries with new friends. But as Yossi Klein HaLevi said, curiosity also has the potential to lead to empathy and to form an understanding. I often find in today’s political climate, whether discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or key American political topics, there exists little room for dialogue. We are quick to dismiss the perspective of others, at times preferring to shut them out of our hearts completely rather than take perhaps the harder, but potentially far more rewarding path, of inquiry and discovery. Complex and differing narratives and emotions, especially around topics deeply personal to us, can make taking this path all the more difficult. Despite these challenges, despite the assumptions you may even uncover about yourself in the process, I urge us all as stewards of curiosity to create more space in our community for dialogue and for a path towards empathy.
As a first step, my partner Shalom and I would like to open up our home to have a dialogue for those who are interested. Given the logistical constraints inherent to the end of the quarter, I will be reaching out again when we are back in Fall quarter to host a conversation. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation sooner.