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The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Israeli peace activist speaks at Quinnipiac, receives mixed reviews from students

Amid the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza, Israeli peace activist Nitsan Joy Gordon spoke about dealing with trauma in the midst of war at Quinnipiac University on Nov. 8.

Israeli peace activist Nitsan Joy Gordon takes questions on her new book, “Together Beyond Words,” in Quinnipiac University’s Mt. Carmel Auditorium on Nov. 8. (Nicholas Pestritto)

The Albert Schweitzer Institute co-hosted the peace activist alongside the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven and Peter C. Hereld House for Jewish Life on Quinnipiac’s Mount Carmel Campus.

In 2003, Gordon co-founded Together Beyond Words, an organization that strives to train and empower peacebuilders and transform the prejudices between Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs and Jews.

Working within Israel, Together Beyond Words aims to bring together Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as Bedouins and Druze — ethnic minority groups in Israel — to heal ancient wounds, recover hidden strengths and promote emotional understanding. The workshops include dance movement therapy and listening exercises.

“Pain that is not transformed is transmitted,” Gordon said, noting that emotions often drive behavior and can be destructive for oneself and others.

Gordon lives in northern Israel, about four miles from the border of Lebanon. A few days after the Hamas attack on southern Israel, Gordon heard sirens and sought shelter alongside her neighbor in their safe room.

Gordon shared a quote her father told her during the 1967 Six-Day War.

“‘This is the middle of the war. There are some Arabs and there are some Jews who are bad. Like, most people are like us and want to live together in peace,’” Gordon recalled him saying when she was a child.

For her masters degree, Gordon studied dance movement therapy at Goucher College in Maryland. She wrote her thesis on how dance movement therapy can help in understanding the healing process. The dance therapy is meant to create a space for people to be vulnerable and heal while engaging with one another in an activity.

“It’s much easier to access what we feel when we move,” Gordon said, noting that people can withhold how they feel in discussion. “Emotions are very accessible in the body.”

Gordon and other instructors teach participants through listening partnerships, which increase compassion and are helpful in conflict zones when stressful issues arise on a daily basis.

“Sometimes they cried, sometimes they got angry,” Gordon said. “There was a space for them, this was the part where they got to express their pain.”

Gordon shared stories of fear and grief of participants from her workshops that resonated with her.

“Feelings are like waves,” Gordon said. “They come and they go, but if you don’t give them the space they continue to stay within us.”

Sean Duffy, executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, said Mordechai Gordon, a professor of education, and Nitsan Joy’s brother, asked in August — roughly two months before Hamas launched attacks on Israel — if the organization would be willing to host the peace activist on campus following the release of her book, “Together Beyond Words.”

“I’m a Jewish-American. I have a lot of family and friends out in Israel and I’ve just been trying to navigate everything while adjusting to college being a freshman,” said Max Hershkowitz, a first-year nursing major. “I thought it would be nice to come to do a little research and try to educate myself.”

Some students noticed the Department of Public Safety’s visible presence at the event, while others did not.

“I feel like in the end everyone wants peace and it’s nice to hear someone talk about it and educate others,” said Samantha Levenstein, first-year physical therapy major.

Due to a rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks on other college campuses, some students said they were concerned for their safety and preferred to remain anonymous.

In late October, police arrested a Cornell student and charged him in connection with antisemitic threats after he allegedly threatened to slit Jewish students’ throats on social media.

“As a Muslim, I do not feel unsafe,” one first-year student said. “As a pro-Palestinian supporter, I do feel unsafe.”

Earlier, in mid-October, a landlord stabbed 6-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al-Fayoume and his mother in Illinois. The child, who was stabbed 26 times, did not survive the attack. Prosecutors say the landlord stabbed the mother and son because of their Muslim faith and the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

Students reiterated that their professors had been supportive when they disclosed that the events in Israel and Gaza had been affecting them and their academics.

“All of my professors have been great, they have allowed for accommodations for me to catch up and make up,” a sophomore Palestinian student said, noting that they felt unsafe on campus because of recent hate crimes on other college campuses. “It is mostly from the students and getting side eyes.”

Although students said they felt Gordon was knowledgeable about the Israel-Palestine conflict, some students said they thought that the speaker did not acknowledge current and historical events or Israeli occupation. 

“I think she is knowledgeable but she won’t say anything about (the war),” the first-year Muslim student said. “She’s from Israel, she should know about what’s happening in Palestine, like (Israel is) next to it.”

The student also said they found Gordon’s inability to talk about current events irresponsible given her role in peace activism.

“The way she framed things hid a lot of information and neglected a lot, making it one-sided,” the first-year Muslim student said. “Listen to pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian voices. I think the best choice is for everyone to acknowledge that all lives are equal.”

In early November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a foreign military aid package for Israel without providing humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

“How do you not know what’s going on in a government that is giving your country $14 billion?” the sophomore Palestinian student remarked.

Students who have expressed their pro-Palestinian views said that their families and friends advised them not to share their views vocally or through social media out of fear for their safety. Students themselves have been cautious, but have seen other people’s views on the issue change.

“My parents are very adamant on me not talking about it,” the first-year student said, whose parents worry about the impact of Islamophobia on their child. “‘Don’t say too much because they’ll hate you.’”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations found a 182% increase in reports of bias incidents against Muslims between Oct. 7 and Oct. 24 compared to the same period last year. 

“Every single time I talk to my parents they have told me to keep quiet and keep my head down,” the sophomore Palestinian student said.

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