Georgetown’s Students for Middle East Peace hosted a day-long conference to discuss peaceful resolutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to foster dialogue with people from various colleges nationwide.

“I thought it was an amazing success,” SMEP Press Coordinator David Waytz (SFS ’05) said. “Not only was it really important to talk about conflict resolution, but it took on a life of its own . perhaps in the future we can create a unified front for peace.”

SMEP, a non-political and non-partisan group promoting tolerance and understanding, organized the conference to raise awareness and foster dialogue about the situation in the Middle East. Approximately 50 to 60 students from East Coast colleges, including George Washington, Johns Hopkins, Tufts and University of Pennsylvania, participated in the day’s events.

SMEP was created during the spring semester of last year in wake of the Israeli-Palestinian situation and allows students to engage in non-confrontational conversation, Waytz said. It currently is composed of approximately 10 to 15 board members.

Planning for the conference started in October, when SMEP members contacted 20 colleges in the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas that had seemingly pertinent religious or political groups. From there, information spread by word of mouth and through on Web sites posts devoted to peaceful resolutions of conflicts in the Middle East. The sites, such as one run by the Tikun organization, mobilize nationwide movement towards finding a peaceful solution to the problems in the Middle East, SMEP President Rebecca Helmer (SFS ’05) said.

The conference also utilized the Web site of Californians Len and Libby Traubman, who founded the “Palestinian-Jewish Living Room Dialogue” forum idea. The Traubmans previously visited Georgetown to lead dialogue groups.

“We had one [living room dialogue] as part of the conference,” Waytz said. “It’s where a diverse group of people talk about their life, experiences, where they’re from; the purpose is to acknowledge a common humanity within a diverse group of people.”

The conference featured panelists, speeches and a Jewish Arab cultural concert. Two Georgetown students, Jawad Issa (COL ’05) and Emily Singer (SFS ’06), shared their experiences as participants in Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace is a summer camp in Maine that joins teenagers of varying backgrounds hailing from Arab countries and focuses on a theme of coexistence.

Keynote speaker Forsan Hussain promoted the co-existence of Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. He distinguished between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians living in the territories, Waytz noted. In addition to panels throughout the day, the conference was capped off by a “Falafel Fest” featuring the performances of a Jewish-Arab band composed of Georgetown students, an Iranian dance group from George Washington University and Georgetown’s Harmony a cappella group.

SMEP members were extremely pleased with the outcome of the conference and plan keep in touch with the visiting students and to make it an annual event. “It really got people talking and started to form some connections between people on this campus and other campuses about initiating dialogue about the Middle East,” Helmer said. “We’ll definitely do it next year, hopefully on a larger scale.”

The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the Georgetown Israel Alliance and the Am Kolel Judaic Resource Center Peace Fund.

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