You can breathe a sigh of relief. This isn’t another piece about the whole Finkelstein debate. That debate, however, did inspire me to write this viewpoint. My fellow Hoyas, I want you to think about something over winter break. Do not fret – it has nothing to do with your classes.

Last summer, I went to jail. No, it was not the typical jail one might imagine. I was a prisoner of the West Bank, and my experience there has changed the way I approach life at Georgetown.

Here at Georgetown, we take our freedoms for granted. We can go wherever we want, say what we please and do anything (within the limits of the law, of course – well, most of the time).

We also do not realize the importance of the people with whom we are in contact. I am not talking about networking. Sure, you can meet the person who can give you the job of your dreams, and your life is set. I am referring to the people you pass by everyday. The girl you thought was beautiful at New Student Orientation. The guy who sits next to you in IR class. Think about them. What image comes to your head? Do you think of a white, Asian, Latino or black person? Is he international? Is she lesbian or questioning, poor or rich? We love to talk about how diverse Georgetown is, but we rarely see this diversity in action. We shy away from getting out of our comfort zone and understanding what it is that makes us so diverse.

When I was in the West Bank this summer, as a Palestinian citizen, I was not allowed to enter Israel. The major highways were blocked off due to security concerns. After waiting at long checkpoints, I was usually turned away. I value the meaning of freedom after experiencing such limits to my movement.

A wall and fence separate Palestinians from Israelis in the West Bank. This separation has a dehumanizing effect. The limited contact Israelis do have with Palestinians is through images on television – rocks, guns, suicide bombers – and the same is true for Palestinians. They meet Israelis at checkpoints, and on television, they witness the actions of the Israeli army with their guns and bombs. To Israelis, all Palestinians become hateful terrorists. To Palestinians, all Israelis become ruthless oppressors. I am usually an optimistic person, but prospects for peace seemed poor while I was in the territories.

When I returned to the United States I realized it is here at Georgetown that I can make a difference. On campus, there are many Israeli students and supporters. No wall or checkpoints separate us; we are all “Hoyas.” This bond can bring us together, and discussion can mitigate our differences and help us understand each other.

One day when I wore my “Hoyas for a Free Palestine” T-shirt, I was stopped by an Israeli Hoya who gave me a “boo.” I asked him why he disagreed with “freeing Palestine,” and how he would resolve the conflict. We spoke for 30 minutes, and I learned a lot from this Hoya, just as (I hope) he learned a lot from me. We are now friends and smile at each other at campus events. We don’t agree on much, but we understand each other. This understanding led to peace between us and a common vision that separation cannot be allowed in Palestine and Israel. Had I not worn my shirt that day, and had he not approached me, we would have probably stereotyped each other – not learned from each other.

Campus groups need to be more inclusive, and Hoyas need to broaden and diversify their views. I often go to events sponsored by cultural groups such as the Georgetown Israel Alliance and Students for Justice in Palestine and see the same people attending. Even if you disagree with a speaker’s views, go listen to him or her speak. You never know when you might learn something new or understand why someone thinks differently from you. This is your chance. There are no barriers and nothing that can stop you, except for yourself. Be brave. Take the first step. You will not believe how much you can miss about a person by judging them without talking to them.

In the West Bank, I witnessed how misconceptions and separation can cause hatred. Hatred is not conducive to peace. Only when we can see beyond our differences can humanity be unmasked and a commonality be made visible. With our common ideas and bonds, we can create friendships and help bring about peace.

Hammad Hammad is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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