Against the backdrop of a terror wave that has rattled the capital and country, Arab and Jewish students of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem returning to class for the Fall Semester on Sunday said the crisis is mitigated by the liberal confines of campus life.
While several students gathering at a popular café near the Horace W. Goldstein Building said the campus has not been spared the psychic scars of the nearby bloodshed, most described the school as a model of coexistence.
Reham, a soft-spoken 20-yearold Palestinian nursing student, wearing a violet hijab, said the violence had put her on edge, but that returning to the relatively safe atmosphere of the university has settled her nerves.
“I am afraid outside of here because there is too much violence,” she said. “But I feel safe here and am happy to be back.”
Asked if she had any Jewish friends, Reham, who requested her last name not be published, smiled as she answered, “Yes.”
A few meters away, Omer Levy, a 24-year-old political science and East Asian studies major, said that while he was not feeling the stress of the conflict on campus, it was nonetheless palpable.
“I’m not really stressed, but you can feel it in the air,” he said.
“I feel fine on campus. There are people from all over the world studying here, so you have people who speak many different languages here, mostly Hebrew and Arabic, and we hear a lot of Arabic, but I think it is mostly positive.”
“I think that means people can live together,” he continued. “So I’m not afraid.”
Moreover, Levy said all students received a letter from the faculty acknowledging the conflict before classes began.
“They offered services for us to express ourselves, but I do not feel threatened by Arab students,” he said.
Palestinian student Murad Sgaier, a 25-year-old architecture major, said that while he was badly shaken by the tension while working downtown, he is at ease on campus where he lives in a dormitory.
“I felt bad because I was surrounded by extremists… but I feel like things are calming down; like things are going to go back to normal,” he said.
While Sgaier said he did not have many close Jewish friends at school, he added that the overwhelmingly liberal student body helped ease tensions on campus.
“At the school itself, most people are considered more leftist, so there is not a lot of animosity,” he said.
Asked what needs to be done to end the hostilities, Omar Abdelqader, a 24-year-old Palestinian photography major, said a political solution is the only answer.
“You need to end the occupation, obviously,” he said. “When you subjugate 6 million people to daily suffering, you experience racism on all levels. The oppression becomes institutionalized, so you need to end it.”
Abdelqader, who grew up among many Jews in Herzliya, said the Israeli mentality is infused with anti-Arab sentiment.
“The racism is so instituted that it’s hard to get rid of it, and it surfaces every time there is an opportunity,” he said. “I know it’s there; it doesn’t matter how much you try to hide it.”
Still, Abdelqader said he has many Jewish friends.
“Of course I have Israeli friends because there are some sane people,” he said. “And I’m not talking about people who can ‘coexist’ with you, I’m talking about people who can ‘exist’ with you. I’m talking about human relationships.”
Abdelqader said it is a sense of profound desperation among Palestinians that has led to the current spike in violence.
“In the last three weeks, we’ve seen individuals going out doing what they’re doing knowing that they are going to be killed,” he said. “That gives you an indication of how oppressed they must be. And, of course, I’m not for people stabbing people in the street – I’m not for that at all. But you need to find the root of the problem.”
The Israeli government, Abdelqader contended, is only dealing with the “symptoms.”
“The only solutions they come up with are militaristic and policing, and it’s not working,” he said.
“We’ve got to find the cure for the disease itself.”
In the meantime, as Israeli students Ofek Zemach, 25, and Shachar Bar, 23, walked to class together, both said they feel completely safe at the university.
“There is a lot of security, but it doesn’t seem that people are looking at each other in a different way,” said Zemach.
“It is very safe here,” added Bar.
“If you go shopping or something in Jerusalem, you look around you, but not here.”
Bar said he lives on the same floor as five Arab students in the dormitory, all of whom he considers friends.
“We cook together, talk and I sit with them and smoke with them,” he said.
Still, Bar noted that there is one subject that is taboo.
“We don’t talk about politics,” he said.