Sixteen Americans (15 of my peers and one American studying at American University in Cairo) sit in a classroom with about 12 Arab students.
We’re here to engage in a dialogue, the title of our program is “Dialogue of Civilizations.”
What civilizations? Who do we represent.
We’re all dressed similarly. Jeans, 3/4 sleeve shirts, scarves, sandals and closed toe shoes. Only one girl wears a head scarf. A guy who we discover is Saudi has blondish hair–I would’ve guessed he was a British exchange student.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is our topic of discussion and we’ve all watched Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: Media & the Israeli Palestine Conflict as a prerequisite to discussion. The AUC students were in a course called dialogues, which usually connects with American college students via internet for discussions. Their professor and ours, Denis Sullivan, monitored and chimed in our discussion.
Chairs line the small classroom in large circle. Americans sit on one side, Egyptians on the other. Only because American entered first and grouped together. We go around the circle and introduce ourselves. “Hi I’m Lily. I study international affairs and journalism. I’ll be chilling in Cairo until December. Oh, yeah. I’m from NY.”
I’m embarrassed to say I don’t think I could pronounce many of the Arab students’ names without some practice.
The documentary was a launching point for discussion. What were our reactions to it? For those who don’t have an hour-plus to watch the film, I’ll briefly rehash. It exposed the systematic biased coverage of America media in terms of the Palestine-Israel conflict. It showed the face of a 17-year-old Palestinian girl who straps a bomb to herself–killing herself and innocent civilians in a Israeli cafe. It reveals an upper-level CNN request to refer to an illegal West Bank settlement as a neighborhood, instead of a settlement. Most striking to me, it showed the strong movement among Jews in Israel and elsewhere to end occupation and reach a peaceful settlement. Rabbis and other Jews were represented and a march, organized by these women and ignored by international media was shown.
So back to our circle at AUC.
There was more we agreed on than did not. We all agree, to varying extents media coverage is biased. We all want peace. We understand it is hard, people are angry with good cause. Is violence helping the Palestinians? What are their options? I wondered if America can ever be a trustworthy negotiator with our close relationship with Israel. Israel is our largest aid recipient. We’re their largest importer and exporter. We have agreements going back to the ’67 war stating we’ll give Israel higher levels of weapons and aid then Arab states. Weapons were found in ruins of the 2006 Lebanon war and most recently there are suspicions, confirmations depending what you read, about U.S. weapons in Gaza.
Things got heated at times. Opinions varied, but we were all within a range. We all discussed civilly. We exchanged phone numbers and Facebooks at the end.
Who we were came up a lot.
Our presence was a statement. We were all educated. We all attend an expensive private university in an East Coast city. We have the resources –financial and intellectual to travel. The Arab students are elite. They all attend an expensive private university. They can read–a thing around 40 percent of Egyptians can’t do.
We all read the news. Have access to internet. Agreed we don’t rely on Fox news.
We’re from across the world but have more similar views than not. I know I’ve rambled, led you through scenes, maybe offended you. My point?
Education, not culture is the dominant factor here.
We talked about the small towns many of us came from in the United States where locals watched Fox and only Fox in bars. Egyptians talked about people who can’t read and rely solely on Satellite TV. As educated individuals we have the privilege to seek out information. With knowledge we are able to communicate, relate and emphasize. It is easy for us to look at the choices our leaders make, the apathy, which grips much of the public and feel enraged.
We’re a minority. When more opportunities are available. When children here have better quality school. When children in the United States learn history beyond our own meager years. That is when real change can ensue.