Saturday December 20, 2014
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20.12.2014
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Or Ben-Shimon

A blow to academic coexistence

Many people perceive Ariel University in Samaria as identified with the right-wing camp. And while a large part of its students do come from the national-religious sector, there are some 600 Israeli Arab students who study with us. They share the same classrooms, the same material, and the same educational experiences. Not long ago, two female Arab students approached me and asked me to sign a petition calling for the directorship to set aside a room for Muslim prayer. I was happy to sign it. That's freedom of religion -- they have a right to pray, too.

Most of the students thought as I did, and the university is busy setting up a Muslim prayer room. Moreover, many friendships are being formed between students from Judea and Samaria and Arab students and efforts are being made to assist minorities and new immigrants who encounter difficulties with the language. Acceptance of the other and tolerance -- this is the reality of coexistence here at the university many see as "controversial." Coexistence that allows freedom of expression and pluralism.

Last Monday, when the tragic news about the deaths of kidnapped teens Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel was announced, celebratory gunfire was heard from a Palestinian village a few kilometers from my student apartment in Ariel. There is no way to describe the chilling sensation I felt at that moment. Even though I was hurting, I was surprised to discover that an Israeli Arab student at Ariel, an Israeli university, for education and professional training that will probably be her livelihood in the future, wrote an insulting post about the incident on her Facebook page supporting terrorist activity.

The post was a blow to the students; a sense of betrayal at seeing the harsh words of hatred from someone we believed to be one of us, even a friend. Shock and revulsion. It was clear to everyone that she had no place among us. We were sorry to learn that a similar incident had taken place at the Technion, where an Arab student working toward his medical degree put up a post expressing joy at the kidnapping and murder. The students at the Technion experienced the same hard feelings. Beyond the sense of betrayal and amazement, it's terrifying to think that students who are studying their future professions alongside us and getting special assistance and government scholarships for members of the Arab sector -- above and beyond all the regular student privileges -- secretly hold such hatred for us in their hearts.

In any case, it is unacceptable for students, no matter what their ethnicity, to give legitimacy to terrorist acts and still keep pursuing an education from those whose destruction they desire. Statements supporting attacks on the innocent have no place anywhere, and certainly not in an academic institution.

The anger has turned into hard feelings, and it is very much present. Since the Facebook post, I haven't been comfortable and I believe that neither I nor any of my cohorts will be able to keep studying under the same roof with that student, whether it's at Ariel, the Technion, or any other academic institution.

Freedom of expression, the core of democracy, is one of the pillars of the state, but even freedom of expression has its limits, and contemptible statements like these have long since crossed them.

Or Ben-Shimon is deputy head of the "Israelis" student organization (affiliated with Habayit Hayehudi) at Ariel University.

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