Three young Israelis recently had an opportunity to discuss some of the human dilemmas that arose during the recent war with Hizbullah with Lebanese students at the University of Miami in Florida.
Elad Pilpel, Adi Blanchinksy and Idan Kligerman spent three weeks in the United States participating in the Zionist Seminar program, trying to raise awareness of Israel among university students. The program is sponsored by the Jewish Agency and the WZO's Hagshama Department, which focuses on inspiring Zionist activism in 18-to 30-year-olds around the world.
The trio were leading an exercise with students in Miami, considering the situation of people undergoing Hizbullah rocket fire in northern Israel who had to decide whether to stay in their homes or to flee south, and of students either leaving school to join the fight or finishing the term.
Pilpel noticed a small group of Lebanese in the audience, and as the exercise continued, he saw a change in one man's attitude. He became concerned the man might have come to sabotage the program.
"I thought we'd get into a political argument and it would get bad," Pilpel said in a phone interview. "But the best thing that came out of it was that we argued, but the conversation was positive and maybe this could lead to more communication."
The three Israelis started their tour with sessions at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.
They then traveled to Indiana University before making their way to colleges in Florida, Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York.
The group presented two main programs to students, Jews and non-Jews. One focused on how Israeli media and society dealt with the war this summer. The second program used songs, cartoons and puzzles to explore Israeli culture.
"We had various responses," said Kligerman. "They showed a lot of solidarity and wished they [students] were there, but others couldn't relate because they hadn't been in a situation like that before."
The dialogue with the Lebanese in Miami afforded everyone an opportunity to see both sides of the conflict. Pilpel and Kligerman said the Lebanese didn't view Hizbullah as a terrorist organization, but as part of "the resistance" that provided more stability than the Lebanese government.
Kligerman and Pilpel stressed the importance of sharing Israel with people in the United States.
"It was very interesting to see and share with other people our information," said Kligerman.
"They won't get it any other way if they aren't in Israel and don't have an Israeli relative."
The three are aged 24-25. Pilpel and Blanchinksy are attending college in Israel and Kligerman is working in Arad.