Every semester, Dr Catalin Ursu’s Social Justice class debates the widely debated topic of Israel and Palestine refugees, borders and walls, settlements, and east Jerusalem. All students were given a total of four weeks to learn the topic and prepare for the debate with their team. Ursu believes that this is important for students to do as it makes them learn something complex and confusing to many, including the leading politicians trying to put an end to the conflict.
The topic of the debate itself can be very confusing since the conflict has been going on for so long. Ursu summarized the complexity of the topic. “The modern conflict dates to roughly 1919. The story itself goes back almost 2,000 years since the Bible is more than 2,000 years with the Old Testaments. The Old Testament explains the Jewish people and their plight, and there is also the Quran, which reveals the plight of the Arabic people in the beginning of the pre and post Mohammed eras. Both stories are ironically similar even though each group fights the other in the name of their holy books. Both groups have similar traditions and history. The term ‘Semitic’ defines a special ethnicity and cultural group in the Middle East and the Semites are both the Arabs and the Jewish people, but the expression anti-Semitic is applied exclusively to Jewish people as well as the hatred used towards them,” said Ursu.
Ursu reminded the class at the beginning of the debate that for some students there may be personal stakes and it can be a sensitive topic; therefore, he cautioned students to be careful and considerate of their classmates.
On the first day of the debate, the Israeli side made a grand entrance into the classroom with a giant flag, the national anthem on speaker, and each student holding a mini flag. It seems that students enjoyed the class and wanted to take the debate seriously while also having some fun.
“I have a bunch of students who couldn’t care less about Israel and Palestine, but when we reached the debate, I no longer have Canadians anymore, instead I have Israeli’s and Palestinians, and that’s great that’s fantastic,” said Ursu.
Grade 11 students Paige Douma and Rhea Ragoo both participated in the debate. Paige was on the team Israel while Rhea was on the Palestine side. Paige had many thoughts as to why this project is an important one for students to have an opportunity to do.
“For such a big conflict that so many others, including me, had no idea about, it should be more universally known. Now if I am asked about it, I can have a proper conversation and be able to explain what’s going on. I also enjoyed being given the resources to learn something that is affecting so many people,” said Paige.
Knowing this debate would take lots of research and preparation, students received enough resources to understand the material. Paige shared some of the big lessons she learned in the class that helped change her view.
“Ursu also reminded the class that in Israel and Palestine, it isn’t the same situation as in Canada, not everyone gets along because of the differences in religion,” said Paige. She also mentioned how she feels as if the whole experience helped her gain a new perspective on how countries can be very different than how the media portrays them.
There is also the whole aspect of how the students and their groups prepared for the debate. Paige talked about how she felt going into the debate.
“There is definitely a lot of nerves and excitement; however, it’s also exciting to see how we got to do a debate but also focus on the fun aspects as well,” said Paige.
This topic is very serious; however, people must keep in mind that this is a class debate and opinions are not to be brought up or discussed. Each side had to come up with 8 questions to ask the other side as well as a 5-page introduction and a 1-page conclusion. Although Ursu said how there is no official winner, last year the Israel side won, and this year the Palestine side won.
There was plenty of passion and energy in the classroom before, after and during the debate and it became very intense in the room at moments. Overall, students seemed to have enjoyed participating and experiencing how the real-life politicians run debates.
Feature photo courtesy: https://www.vox.com/2018/11/20/18079996/israel-palestine-conflict-guide-explainer