The conflict between Palestine and Israel has been the longest conflict in modern history, and up to this day, it is still happening. It is a conflict between two self-determination movements — the Jewish Zionist project and the Palestinian nationalist project — both lay claim to the same territory. Up to this day, they are still fighting over the same land, and an agreement has been proven very difficult to find.
In order to help the younger generation be aware of political strife and injustices, it means that young Canadians must be informed of what’s happening around the world, and the social justice class debate is the perfect opportunity to do so. Every year, Riverside’s social justice class is given the opportunity to have a debate representing the two sides of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Using different sources, Dr. Catalin Ursu teaches the complexity of the conflict between the two states.
Dr. Ursu, a social studies teacher at the school, decided to start having debates in class to give students the opportunity to talk and learn about the longest conflict in modern history. “When I started to work on this course, I realized that we talk about a lot of the concepts, such as tolerance, acceptance, multiculturalism, human rights, equality, equality of opportunity, and so on,” said Ursu. “These concepts we are talking over and over are extremely important for the world, and in order to be able to fight to advocate for them, we have to be aware of all of these concepts, especially the younger generation.”
The purpose of the debate is to negotiate a lasting Peace Agreement while trying to uphold each group’s ideas and interests. The class is divided into two groups: the “Israelis” and the “Palestinians.” In each group, there are the debaters and the researchers. It is a week-long debate, with the goal of not to find an agreement, but rather to understand why this is happening in the world.
Some of the major issues at stake that the groups may discuss are terrorist attacks, borders issues, refugees’ issues where the question of the right of return is still up to debate, and the fight over East Jerusalem, as they all want it to be theirs. With this idea, Dr. Ursu decided that it would be essential to discuss how difficult and impactful these issues are. To come up with the subject of the debate, Dr. Ursu started the semester by teaching subjects such as anti-Semitism, fundamentalism, terrorism, human rights, rights of identity… so that finally students would be ready to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Students also find the debates very insightful and as a great way to interact with others in the classroom. “The debates have been really getting me out of my comfort zone, and they have been pretty intense but fun,” said grade 12 Kyra Catana. “The arguments do get pretty heated every once in a while, but it is an amazing way to listen to others.”
The main reason as to why Dr. Ursu wanted to start doing these debates in class was because debates are the perfect way to train people to think by themselves, to have serious discussions but to also learn to listen to others. With issues like the conflict in Israel, it is crucial that we learn to research and pay attention to our surroundings before we take action. He states that the exercise of researching and studying for a longer time than usual as it is essential to truly emerge into the subject, as that will create the possibility of a meaningful debate, showing the importance of arguments, research, and proof when you discuss an issue.