In order to demonstrate common ground, the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies examined the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict at the Loosemore Auditorium on Grand Valley State University's Pew Campus Thursday, Sept. 8.
Partnering with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, the "Can We Find Common Ground Between Israel and Palestine?" discussion provided the Grand Rapids and GVSU community to observe a dialogue between two interfaith leaders and their views on the ongoing conflict.
"What the Kaufman Interfaith Institute has been able to do again is to show how people from different religious backgrounds can overcome their differences and cooperate," said Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center.
Whitney, who led the welcome address at the event, emphasized the challenges and possibilities of reaching common ground in this nuanced and ongoing global conflict.
"We are so fortunate to work with people who break the rule," he said. "People who have the capacity to overcome their ideological, their faith differences, able to work together to find a common ground – it's the only way that a democracy works."
Abdullah Antepli, chief representative of Muslim affairs and the first Imam at Duke University, spoke about the Palestinian side of the conflict during the session.
Antepli, who is also the co-director of the Muslim Leadership Initiative, which invites North American Muslims to engage with the Jewish American community, said finding common ground is essential for any peaceful society, but is not working for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We have enough evidence to basically come to terms and be humble enough to say whatever we are trying to achieve the common ground – political attempts, military attempts, intellectual and theological and religious attempts – are not working," he said.
Antepli stressed the attempts being made in the midst of the conflict should inspire action, rather than words.
"You should also respect at least and honor and acknowledge for the existence and legitimacy of the other side of the story," he said. "We have to gain and acquire some moral courage and try to build common ground based on real action because the culture of despair and hopelessness will absolutely destroy us."
Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and an Orthodox rabbi, focused his part on the Israeli side of the conflict.
Hartman said he dreams of a time where he can live side-by-side with the Palestinian state in peace and security.
Change must be made, he said, as fear of the unknown can begin to define and warp an individual's existence.
"We also have to unequivocally stop acting in such a way that undermines each other's hopes," he said. "If the deepest hopes of the Palestinians and my hope for them is to be a free people living as sovereign in sovereign state, side-by-side with Israel, any action which undermines the fulfillment or the completion of that dream has to cease to be.
"It is not simply enough for me to declare my commitment to a Palestinian state, anything I do that undermines that possibility has to become forbidden either as a political position, let alone as a political platform or political action."
While fear may continue to shape and distort what is happening on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict, courage and action can be introduced in a narrative.
To hear pain, to see pain, to reach out to someone in pain, will ultimately allow a common ground to be reached.
"Engaging with diplomacy, engaging its people, not demonizing society is the way to go," Antepli said.