AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last Tuesday, a group of about 80 people gathered on UT’s campus to honor victims in Israel and Palestine and to bring together students from Jewish, Arab and other backgrounds. It was held one month after the Israel-Hamas war began.
The vigil was organized by student group Atidna International, which promotes dialogue among Arab, Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian students with chapters across the country.
“There is probably never been a more divisive time in the history of the United States, with Jewish and Arab students specifically,” Atidna at UT President Elijah Kahlenberg said. “So we wanted this vigil to be a space to recognize the humanity of the ‘other’ and to be able to bring together both groups in a shared pursuit of peace and, hopefully, reconciliation.”
Kahlenberg, a UT junior, founded Atidna International about two years ago. He wants students to not be afraid to reach out to the “other” side of the conflict.
“If you’re Jewish/Israeli and Arab/Palestinian, don’t be afraid to understand the identity, the history, the culture of the other,” Kahlenberg, who is Jewish, said. “Because when you start to understand them, that’s when you begin to understand that they’re not your enemy. They’re your friend. They’re your brother.”
Atidna International was formed about two years ago and has held about 20 dialogue and peace events since then, Kahlenberg said. He believes this is the only student group in the country with this goal. He added there is not a set political agenda, but rather the group hosts free and open dialogues—primarily between Jewish and Arab students.
The group’s Palestinian head of dialogue, Jadd Hashem, said the group gathers students from all backgrounds.
“The majority of what you hear, you’re not necessarily supposed to agree with,” Hashem, a UT sophomore, said. “We’re supposed to have healthy disagreement in order to understand one another in order to make progress down the road, at least at our university.”
Hashem, who is Palestinian-American, said the group’s vigil was emotional and peaceful.
“We kind of removed any sort of tribal nature that came with it…we have many organizations that are associated with Arab or Jewish chapters of certain different organizations around the city of Austin, but our goal here was to put something together for anybody, students, professors, faculty—whoever wanted to come and join together,” Hashem said.
They said future Atidna events will depend on what happens on the ground in Israel and Palestine, which will fuel what the student group will talk about.
“There’s new developments every day, so what comes about will be the fuel for what we talk about,” Kahlenberg said.