UC Irvine OTI Student: “I think it would be impossible to claim we can understand the area without considering Hamas.”; CAIR weighs in on the OTI

Following this line of thinking, one must wonder if  OTI employs this sort of naive logic with  the Ku Klux Klan or other dangerous white supremacist groups?   Hamas is  virulently anti-Semitic and dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel. Meanwhile, despite OTI’s “efforts”,  nothing has changed on campus.  Also noteworthy,  according to this article:  ” Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), believes the students are pioneering an important educational project by engaging with the region hands-on.”   

Olive Tree Initiative aims to hear both sides in Middle East conflict

Group of UCI students takes trips to Middle East to talk to officials, activists in both Israeli and Palestinian territories.

April 23, 2011|By Joanna Clay, joanna.clay@latimes.com


At multicultural UC Irvine, the Middle East and U.S. policy in that region can create fervent debate.

While tensions sometimes escalate on campus — as they have with the Irvine 11 case against student protesters — in 2007 a group of students decided to respond to Middle East tensions in a way that wasn’t polemical or political.

Instead of debating the different sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the confines of the UCI campus, they would travel to the region — meeting with officials, academics, religious leaders and activists — and come back to the community with the results of their conversations.

They called their organization the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI).

Since its inception, the group has organized three university trips and two community trips. Fifteen to 20 UCI students go on the two-week trip, splitting their time equally between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“I think OTI is a really great example of an innovative campus program that has developed a really constructive way of addressing campus tension,” said Megan Braun, a UCI graduate who went on the 2010 trip.

Other UC campuses, such as UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz and UCLA, have taken a cue from OTI’s accomplishments by starting chapters of their own.

OTI recently came under fire for meeting Aziz Duwaik during a 2009 trip to the region. The student group had intended to meet with a member of the Palestinian Authority, but that official didn’t make it to the meeting. Duwaik, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, filled in for the official. And unbeknownst to the OTI delegation, Duwaik was also a Hamas representative in the West Bank.

Hamas, a militant Palestinian group, is on the U.S. State Department’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

Since the 2009 trip, OTI has tightened scheduling policies.

To the group of 15 to 20 students who make the yearly summer trip to the Middle East, they think that the publicity about the incident distracts from OTI’s mission, which isn’t to take sides or point fingers, but to start an intellectual dialogue with those representing different perspectives.

“For many OTI members, investing ourselves in an organization based on education rather than advocacy … can be difficult, as it becomes a source of controversy and criticism from our respective communities,” said OTI member Armaan Rowther.

Braun believes the 2009 meeting has allowed them to put one of their many fundamental beliefs to the test: listening to all sides.

Although she does not agree with the moral or political position of Hamas, she said, it does not mean that students cannot engage with that group academically.

“I think it would be impossible to claim we can understand the area without considering Hamas,” she said. “If you really want to understand that region, then that narrative needs to be part of the overall study and experience.”

Isaac Yerushalmi, a former OTI member who is now studying in Israel, hopes people understand that OTI will always be non-partisan and educational.

“Educational initiatives like the Olive Tree Initiative are a friend to all those who seek peace and coexistence in the region — Israelis and Arabs, Jews, Muslims and Christians alike,” he said in an e-mail.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), believes the students are pioneering an important educational project by engaging with the region hands-on.

“You’re dealing with people that are in conflict with each other,” said Ayloush, whose organization is based in Anaheim. “It’s not about agreeing with them,” he said. “It’s about hearing the unique narratives of each of the sides there and learning how to maneuver around it to get the parties closer together to promote peace.”

See also: Open Letter Concerning the Olive Tree Initiative at UC Irvine

 In an Apparent Contradiction, Is UC Irvine Now Calling OTI Meeting with Hamas leader a “Misstep”?

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. State department and it’s charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews

Parents: Are the Olive Tree Initiative Trips Safe For Your Student ?

International Solidarity Movement “Peace activist” Murdered in Gaza

Letter: UC Irvine Olive Tree Initiative Students Met with Hamas Leader in 2009 trip

 We encourage you to to read this revealing letter from the OC Jewish Federation to UC Irvine expressing concern about the 2009 OTI  meeting with Hamas leader


6 Responses

  1. If one were involved in an educational initiative dealing with African Americans in the United States (circa 1960), then I think it would be necessary. Especially if the students were involved in conflict analysis, mediation, reconciliation and education of those two communities.

    Ask yourself if Arab students should hear the perspectives of the IDF and the Mossad, and whether these students also feel uncomfortable meeting with military personnel. While it’s not the same (comparing Hamas to the IDF/Mossad), if OTI had an opportunity to meet with a member of the Shas party, or an Irgun/Stern commander I think we can agree that their perspective would be equally valuable – yet contentious.

  2. Huh?

    Oren is too young to remember what that was all about. He probably never knew the names Viola Liuzzo, Andrew goodman and Michael Schwerner, young white people who went to the South to fight for civil rights for blacks and were murdered in cold blood.

    “conflict analysis, mediation, reconciliation and education of those two communities.”!! Indeed! While you are trying to engage in conflict analysis and all that other stuff, the other side wants you dead.

  3. Having been born in 1989 remembering freedom summer would be quite difficult… I know of both Schwerner and Goodman through education.

    I get it, its hard to stand up to murderous fiends… its much easier to ignore them and make them appear to operate in a vacuum… but it does nothing to stick one’s head in the sand. Its far more powerful to stand up and face them than it is to ignore. You mention key activists in the Freedom Summer, but do you see them cower at the Mason Dixon line? Did they not understand the danger of venturing into the South, of standing up for what they believe in? I believe you refer to those individuals in the wrong context. If you even care for the Palestinians, you would have to address Hamas – especially if you oppose them.

    “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
    -Moshe Dayan

  4. Oren,

    I hardly stick my head in the sand. My method is to expose them for what they are. Just weeks ago, the Fogel family was slaughtered as they slept including a 3-month old baby as the Al Aqsa martyrs Brigade celebrates and takes credit and Palestinians pass out candy in the streets. Now we see the specter of Jewish left-wing activists going and embracing the families of the accused murderers. I have been following this Palestinian story since the late 60s when they began with the skyjackings, the attacks at Rome and Vienna airports in the 80s (I was living in Italy at the time) Also the Munich Olympic slaughter in 1972., the Achille Lauro where they threw Leon klinghoffer overboard in his wheelchair because he was an elderly jew.

    If you think you can “dialogue” with these folks, yoiu are naive. The main point, however, is that no one can justify the risk involved for students who go to the West Bank. If and when harm comes to one of these students over there, watch the lawsuits fly. Watch the recriminations against those in power who continue to push this asinine program.

  5. Gary, I respect your work, dont get me wrong. Its just sad to see your conflation of the Olive Tree Initiative with left-wing radical Jewish organizations like Jewish Voices for Peace.

    It makes me and others who are involved in OTI recognize that critics really misunderstand the organization. every effort you make to paint OTI as a JVP/Left-Wing/Hamas-terrorist sympathizer makes us work 10 times harder to refute it – because it simply is not true.

    Watch the recriminations against those in power who support this asinine program known as OTI? Its statements like these that make me question the integrity of this website altogether. What is its focus? Why hasn’t OC Task Force focused on the slew of anti-semitic organizations at UCI and across Southern California?

    Of all the organizations… OTI? No condemnation of SJP or their continuing alienation of several Jewish and Arab OTI students from among their ranks? Instead people who would be our friends and allies are making a mockery of moderate Arab and Jewish students and dedicated Israel activists by pointing their fingers at OTI and its imagined threat instead of those committed to BDS and Israel’s destruction.

    At some point you have to reach out to your allies, and decide whether you want to alienate the different means towards the very same end, or cooperate for the betterment of the State of Israel and Jewish life on campuses all over the world.

  6. Oren,

    I don’t recall linking OTI with JVP. Of more concern to me are the connections with SJP. Why are certain OTI individuals involved with SJP on more than one UC campus? And I am not referring to Muslim students here. Strange indeed.

    I also don’t understand your comment about the Task force. Fighting anti-Semitism on the UCI and other campuses is why they were formed. They have done precisely that-with nothing but opposition from the Fed and Hillel who were denying anti-Semitism on the UCI campus. (I am not speaking from hearsay here.)

    My points are very simple. One: The OTI appears to be slanted toward the Palestinina perspective.

    Two: These trips cannot be considered safe for students. You are fortunate that nothing happened to you over there. I do not wish to see a tragedy involving UCi occur.

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