The March 14 op-ed titled “When will AIPAC start cheering for peace?” discussed the 2014 policy conference held in early March, which I attended as one of 2,300 students and as AIPAC’s campus liaison at U.C. Davis. This was my first policy conference, and it was an inspirational, life-changing experience for me.
I learned about AIPAC’s initiatives to build coexistence, heard people on both sides of the issue talk about how they are working for peace, developed a better understanding of the complexities and strengthened my understanding of the current peace negotiations.
A highlight was seeing two teenagers, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, talking together onstage about the importance of peace, coexistence and the dream of a brighter future for their respective peoples.
Recently, AIPAC has been accused of presenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that dehumanizes the Palestinian people, which is not what I observed at the policy conference.
Instead, AIPAC offered different perspectives and initiatives, including many people-to-people peace efforts. One remarkable panel on civilian coexistence featured Yarden Leal-Yablonka of the Peres Center for Peace; Robi Damelin of the Parents Circle–Families Forum; and Ali Waked, an Arab Israeli who is deputy director of Merchavim–the Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel.
This session helped me understand the coexistence movement from both Israeli and Palestinian points of view. I learned about the Twinned Peace Sports Schools, initiated by the Peres Center for Peace and supported by USAID, which brings Palestinian and Israeli youth together to play soccer in an effort to facilitate mutual respect and coexistence.
I also heard the moving story of Robi Damelin, a mother who personally understands the human costs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her son was on reserve duty when he was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and she now participates in a forum for hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost close family members in the conflict and who are working to promote reconciliation and a just solution.
I also heard perspectives from speakers such as Ghaith al-Omari, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, which is committed to strengthening Palestinian-American relations. Al-Omari has served in different senior positions in the Palestinian Authority, including foreign policy adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. With his background and experience, al-Omari offered the Palestinian view of prospects for peace in the current negotiations.
I witnessed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand in front of 14,000 members of the pro-Israel political community and call for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, which the audience answered with a rousing standing ovation.
Some students may not care much for Israel, and others may care a lot for Israel. I was simply impressed that America’s pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is committed to peace, coexistence and a two-state solution.
Jessica Reiter was raised in the North Bay and is a second-year student at U.C. Davis, where she is the AIPAC campus liaison.