This summer, three Brandeis students, Hannah Kober ’16, Risa Dunbar ’17 and Leah Susman ’18, along with Brandeis Professor Bernadette Brooten (NEJS) visited Al-Quds University. Brandeis maintained a partnership with Al-Quds University until November 2013 when a rally on the Al-Quds campus led former President Frederick Lawrence to suspend the partnership. The Brandeis University/Al-Quds University Student Dialogue Initiative believes it is time to reinstate the partnership.
In an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Susman and Dunbar discussed their summer trip to Al-Quds and the Dialogue Initiative’s plans for the future. They explained that the organization of the trip began with Professor Sue Lanser (ENG), who has been involved with Al-Quds since the inception of the partnership. Lanser visited Al-Quds in May and began planning the trip with students and faculty.
At the end of the spring 2015 semester, students with the Dialogue Initiative wrote letters to President Lawrence asking him to help fund the trip, but the students did not receive any funding from Brandeis. Susman, Dunbar and Kober were each in Israel for personal reasons: Susman volunteering with the interfaith organization Kids for Peace, Dunbar as an art specialist at an integrated summer camp and Kober doing thesis research and studying Arabic, and they decided to make the trip happen.
The three students met with Brooten, who was in Israel working at Hebrew University at the time, to coordinate the trip to Al-Quds.
“It was wholeheartedly the four of us with the support of Sue and the administration from Al-Quds” that made the trip happen, said Dunbar.
Dunbar and Susman explained that Al-Quds funded their stay at a four-star hotel and provided them with meals even though it was during Ramadan. Their Al-Quds hosts insisted on paying for their meals, transportation and even ice cream when they visited a famous shop one night.
“It just showed so much about how hospitable they were,” said Susman.
While at Al-Quds, the group from Brandeis toured the university’s Abu Dis campus. Students and faculty at Al-Quds showed the Brandeis representatives around the area, exposing them to their culture.
“The special part about being there was that it was during Ramadan, so we were able to celebrate Iftar,” said Susman, noting that they attended a break the fast at a faculty member’s home at 1 am.
The Brandeis delegation also participated in programs focused on community organizing and dialogue, including ways to open up the Brandeis campus to dialogue concerning the partnership. The trip culminated in a letter-writing campaign. Students from Brandeis and Al-Quds wrote letters to the presidents of each university, asking them to make contact with one another. Their letters to Interim President Lisa Lynch also requested that she meet with a delegation of Al-Quds students planning to visit Brandeis in the spring, and help fund their trip.
Dunbar and Susman believe the delegation will be a great experience for members of the Brandeis community.
“I think it’ll be a really great opportunity for Brandeis students to be able to put faces to some of the people at Al-Quds,” said Susman.
“I think it’s lifting up their voices as a presence here. We are not experiencing their culture or their narratives directly and that’s a problem,” Dunbar added.
President Lynch responded to the students’ letters and Dunbar and Susman were thrilled to see Lynch express her willingness to consider both their requests—reaching out to the Al-Quds president and meeting with visiting Al-Quds students. Students form the Dialogue Initiative are aware that, as interim president, Lynch is unable to formally reestablish the partnership, but they are hopeful she will take certain steps toward mending the relationship between the two universities.
“We want to have a continuous relationship with her, to keep the conversation ongoing for her to know our faces, for us to know her. We want there to be an accountability there,” said Dunbar. She and Susman stated they are in the process of scheduling a meeting with Lynch and again praised Lynch for her willingness to speak with them.
In an email to The Hoot, Lynch stated that she found the letters from Brandeis and Al-Quds students “thoughtful and moving,” conveying tales of a “remarkable experience where [the students] found meaningful points of commonality despite cultural and experiential differences.”
She said she will, schedule permitting, be happy to meet with the delegation of Al-Quds students in the spring, writing, “This will be an opportunity for the dialogue to continue amongst our campus community.”
Regarding the reinstatement of the partnership, Lynch wrote, “I am of the view that we need to allow time for the next president to review all aspects of this issue and to reach her/his own decision on this important matter.”
Discussing Lynch’s successor, Susman stated she hopes they will be “aware of what the partnership was and the events that have happened since its suspension,” said Susman. She hopes the new president is open to speaking and engaging with students.
“I think there are two hopes, that this president will listen to students and engage with the students, and that this president is in line with our values and represents Brandeis’ values,” said Susman. The Dialogue Initiative believe Al-Quds is in line with Brandeis’ values.
Later this semester, the Dialogue Initiative is planning an event during which students who have visited Al-Quds will speak about their experiences. This event will be similar to the event held in October, 2014 following the delegation that visited Al-Quds in the summer of 2014.