Nearly four months after the Wheels of Justice made its mark on the Andover community, one local rabbi continues to open up dialogue about the issue with the hopes of getting to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein of Temple Emanuel in Andover invited Shai Feldman and Mohammed Samhouri, prominent scholars from Brandeis University's Crown Center for the Middle East Studies, on April 10 to provide their academic perspectives on the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Goldstein said he organized the event because he felt that the conflict was never debated in the town by experts in a "serious, dispassionate way."
Tensions first arose in Andover on Jan. 5 after the Wheels of Justice, a group consisting of unbending critics of the U.S. and Israeli governments, came to Andover High School and conducted a presentation during class time on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq. The group had originally been invited by six social studies teachers to speak to more than 200 students in late October, according to Thomas Meyers, a social studies teacher at the school who threatened a lawsuit if the Wheels of Justice was blocked from speaking.
Members of The David Project Center for Jewish Leadership later provided an Israeli perspective on the Middle East situation to students and the general public.
"Obviously, these issues are important ones, but I felt that they needed to be discussed in a way that people could understand without all of these other kinds of advocacy going on, which I thought was particularly strong at the time," said Goldstein, noting that one positive aspect that came out of the controversy was the drafting of a school policy that will ban expressing partisan viewpoints in the classroom. "I can't say how many people came up to me in my own congregation and said ‘We just don't feel we know about the [Israeli-Palestinian] situation well enough.'"
Approximately 150 individuals from the community came to the temple to hear Feldman and Samhouri debate civilly.
Feldman's opening remarks drew a chuckle from the audience: "For those who came for a Palestinian/Israeli dogfight, I have some very disappointing news for you." He then spoke about the "big paradox surrounding the conflict," in which "most Palestinians and most Israelis know that there really is only one solution" – two states living side by side, sharing Jerusalem, and Palestinians having the right to return to their own state.
"While the parameters to the solution are well known, no one knows exactly how to get there," Feldman said.
While Samhouri agreed with much of Feldman's perspectives, he gave a more personal account of life in the West Bank and Gaza. He talked about the socioeconomic decline in the "occupied territories," where water supply is limited, jobs are scarce and checkpoints limit the mobility of residents. He even said that half of Palestinian children are estimated to be psychologically traumatized, which should "prompt concern all over the U.S. about the next generation of Palestinians in the making."
"We need a wise, committed, visionary leadership on both sides to start this journey [toward peace]," Samhouri added. "Time is rapidly running out and something needs to be done."
Andover High Principal Peter Anderson told the Advocate in an e-mail that even though he was unable to attend the event, he said he gives the rabbi credit for bringing these two informed speakers to his temple.
Added Anderson: "In my opinion, we don't ever do enough to thoroughly and properly bring about an understanding of other parts of the world."