The Arab-Israeli Conflict: One of the Most Controversial Issues at HSAS

Emma Condon, Grade 12, Journalism Student

The High School of American Studies boasts a rich and unsugarcoated curriculum as well as an engaged student body and teachers who question the way we view history. As a community, we are more than willing to weather the uncomfortable, the awkward, and the controversial to get to the root of an issue or to uncover a truth. But there is one issue in which this ease with the uncomfortable seems to wane: the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Although the Arab-Israeli conflict is perhaps one of the most controversial issues in the world today, it’s still surprising to see HSAS students shy away from friction. It is easy to get caught up in the complexities and emotions tied to the topic, but our intensity and spirit might actually hinder productive discussions.


The Arab-Israeli conflict, as a conversation, may be unique because both sides are deeply rooted in religion and ethnicity. This complicates matters because, for some people, religion and ethnicity are important parts of who they are and how they define themselves. Unlike other topics, the Arab-Israeli conflict can feel personal, and any discourse can feel offensive. Habiba Sayma [‘20] explained this feeling: “I remember never telling anyone about my Palestinian origins in freshmen and sophomore year because I already knew that the majority of my classmates didn’t think the same way I did.”


For Sayma, her silence was precautionary and a matter of preservation. But she isn’t alone in this gut feeling. Others, even on the opposing side, feel that the school can be hostile. “I think this is a problem at HSAS because some people use this topic as an excuse to be anti-semitic,” said Yael DiPietra [‘23]. 


There seems to be a lot of miscommunication, largely because there is no communication. One student might see HSAS as generally pro-Israel and another might see it as generally pro-Palestine. There are a lot of assumptions made, some of which might be fair. Nevertheless, these assumptions create, as Peter Kotchev [‘22] put it, “this demonization of both Jewish and Arab people which paints this whole conversation with a thick layer of prejudice.”


The silence surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict is felt in every crevice of the student body. Those who are simply observers also feel that this topic is untouchable. “I’ve felt uncomfortable too especially because I’m not Jewish or Israeli or Arab, and this issue in particular often feels so personal,” said Alexa Cerda [‘21]. 


When the students at our school seem to be tip-toeing around a subject, they often turn to the faculty, where some of their questions might be answered. However, the teachers rarely address the Arab-Israeli conflict in any depth, and some students feel that the teachers actually bear responsibility for the fact that the issue is rarely talked about. “I think teachers brush against the topic because they know that it’s loaded and that feeds into people not being educated on it,” said Sayma. 


Perhaps, in the murkiness of silence, there remains a trademark HSAS curiosity and desire for gritty, unembellished truth. Hope is not lost at HSAS when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead of jumping to conclusions, we need to take our own advice and simply do what we have always done: discuss, debate, and clash.