How are college kids handling the growing tension in the Middle East?

Posted at 6:57 AM, Apr 16, 2024

(WXYZ) — The Israel-Hamas War is on the brink of leading to a larger conflict in the Middle East, and here in Michigan and across the country, supports of Palestine took to the streets.

Protests took place along I-75 near the Ambassador Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and O'Hare Airport in Chicago.

It was part of a nations tax day protest against the billions of dollars the U.S. is sending to help Israel.

Now, the growing conflict has led to some very difficult conversations, and I spoke with students on the campus of the University of Michigan with different perspectives to see how they're maintaining their relationships.

Since October there have been a lot of protests over the war, whether it's pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinians, but without getting into the political side of things, I want to find out how people are managing relationships and friendships as this conflict continues.

"I think it's hard to give your opinion, you have to filter what you say," Shannon Downer, a freshman at U-M, said.

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The Middle East crisis does not directly impact freshmen Amelia Bennett, Shannon Downer, and Keilana Papatheodore, but seeing the Jewish and Arab communities hurt on campus, they are trying their best to hear each side.

"Do you think staying neutral is the best policy?" I asked.

"I don't but I think lack education on the issue?" Downer said.

"Have you tried understanding the conflict?" I asked Papatheodore.

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"I feel it's also kind of hard there are very like polarized sides," she said.

"I just try not to bring it and cultivate those friendships without politics involved," Bennett added.

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But for those when the conflict hits closer to home, the choice between friendship and patriotism gets tricky.

"I'm a person that avoids conflict, so it's been difficult being on campus since October," Claudia Flaxenburg said.

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Robert Feldman from Boston and Flaxenburg from Colorado are both Jewish and trying their best to keep things cordial with their Arab friends.

"We just talk about other things. We know we have different beliefs on the subject but it's not something that we are grabbing coffee or something like that," Flaxenburg added.

"So when the topic comes up about Israel and Gaza, how do you handle it?" I asked.

"I just listen to what everyone has to say," Feldman said.

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"There is is definitely tension, I would say, but having open communication and talking through it is helpful again staying civil and polite, not hurl insults," Flaxenburg added.

Arab grad students Lila Ghaith and Bushra Hasan have similar struggles.

"Are you finding it harder to make Jewish friends now?" I asked.

"Yes, I would say so," Ghaith said.

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"Where do you struggle the most in terms of having that conversation?" I asked.

"I don't know. It is hard. I usually start with statistics without it being biased, and pulling statistics on both sides," Hasan said.

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"Regardless, both sides are struggling, people are dying on either sides, so it difficult to talk to people," Ghaith said.

"So you would wish people would be more educated?" I asked.

"Yes, I would wish they would not make it too political. Because that seems to be the go to excuse," Ghaith said.

"So what would you wish would be different on campus?" I asked.

'Really just understanding we were all chosen to be U of M for our strong beliefs and the leaders that we go ahead and become and for the leaders that we are now," Hasan said. "So really just embrace what's happening on campus and learn from one another."

"For me I think it just makes me proud to go here and that people can speak their mind like that. And if I were felt strongly about something, I can go protest like that too," Downer said.

For 7 AN, I'm FJ.

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