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Rabbi, Palestinian Teach for Peace
Shawki El-Zatmah, a Palestinian doctoral candidate at UCLA (left), and Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller help their students develop an understanding and respect for different viewpoints on the emotionally charged issues surrounding the Mideast crisis.

Rabbi, Palestinian Teach for Peace

UCLA Today features class co-taught by Palestinian doctoral candiate Shawki El-Zatmah, a Palestinian, and Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller. The class is sponsored by the Burkle Center for International Relations.

[The following article is reprinted from the May 28 issue of UCLA Today.]

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UCLA Today

Peace begins with a conversation.

For Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, that dialogue began two years ago when he read an article on the Middle East conflict written by a Palestinian student at UCLA. This led to an e-mail exchange, which fostered a friendship and finally evolved into an unusual undergraduate course titled, “Voices of Peace: Perspectives on Confrontation & Reconciliation in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”

More than two years ago, Seidler-Feller, longtime director of UCLA Hillel, and Fadi Amer, now a law student at Harvard, developed a friendship after the rabbi sent Amer an e-mail in response to his article. “You are my brother in peace,” Seidler-Feller wrote.

Together, the two men laid the foundation for what would become a course examining problems in the Middle East; in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Today, the four-unit special topics sociology course, co-taught by the rabbi and another Palestinian recommended by Amer, Shawki El-Zatmah, a doctoral candidate in Middle Eastern history, has more than 80 students participating in lively, serious and thought-provoking discussions at a time when a new peace plan is once again on the table.

The purpose of the course is to “give the students a perspective on the necessity of compromise and the need to reject violence as an option; in concrete terms, the pursuit of a two-state solution,” said Seidler-Feller. “What is unusual about the course is that a strong Zionist and a profoundly nationalist Palestinian can join together to advocate for peace and encourage their students to reach out to one another and do the same.”

Each week, students examine different aspects of the conflict from historical, legal and religious perspectives with such visiting scholars as Professor of Political Science David Rapoport, who discussed various meanings of terrorism from a historical viewpoint. David Myers, who teaches Jewish history, and Najwa Al-Qattan, a Palestinian American and professor of Middle Eastern history at Loyola Marymount, have also participated.

Two undergraduate students, Maraam Haddad, who is Palestinian, and Jaime Rapaport, who is Jewish, serve as coordinators for the course. “I was actually a student in the class the first time it was ever taught,” said Haddad, president of the United Arab Society on campus. “Being very good friends with one of the initial coordinators, I was able to get to know Rabbi Seidler-Feller much better outside the classroom. This allowed us to develop an understanding and a solid respect for one another's perspectives,” Haddad said.

Rapaport, a fourth-year international development studies major and co-president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, said she wanted to help teach the class “both to learn and to foster dialogue between students and to get them to really think about these issues and create discussion.”

Encouraged by students' positive response to the course, course organizers put together a panel discussion for the campus that was held in Royce Hall on May 14.

“The panel grew out of our desire to bring what was happening in the classroom to the community at UCLA,” said Seidler-Feller. “We hope to go beyond the campus into the larger community so as to model how people with different points of view can get along, listen to and learn from one another."