Watch CBS News

Group of Jewish and Palestinian women uses dialogue to build bridges between cultures

Group of Jewish, Palestinian women build bridges
Group of Jewish, Palestinian women build bridges 02:38

They call themselves Zeitouna — a group of six Jewish and six Palestinian women in Michigan that has been meeting twice a month for more than two years. The name is the Arabic word for olive tree, and their motto is "refusing to be enemies." 

The safety of the group and their environment has allowed the women to remain committed to each other in the face of Oct. 7 and the war that followed.

"You absorbed my pain, as I absorbed your pain. It's important to just have a space, a place where everybody is there with open arms," Wadad Abed, one of the group's members, said during a meeting.

Diane Blumson, another Zeitouna member, told CBS News, "There's room in a humanitarian way to recognize the trauma of the other. And people have lost that ability right now."

The women of Zeitouna are spreading that message far beyond the rooms where they meet, including on college campuses — many of which have become deeply polarized since the events of Oct. 7.

At the University of Michigan, two students — one Palestinian and one Jewish — started the Arab-Jewish Alliance more than a year ago to foster better relations between the two cultures.

"I grew up Jewish, and the only time when I ever met Arab students was in my Arabic class," said cofounder Evan Rotker. "I was like, 'How can we bring Arab students and Jewish students together?' And, and this kind of set us down this path."

Welly Altaii, a student at the university, told CBS News the "dehumanizing rhetoric" he saw online following Oct. 7 prompted him to join the group. 

He later added, "I thought, I want to find a club where I can actually interact with people on the other side, because I hadn't had a chance to interact with people on the other side."

Another student told CBS News, "I think that when you meet a group like Zeitouna, who's been around for so many years, I think it reassures you that this sort of, these friendships, they can last forever," one student said.

For the Zeitounas, those students embody the mission they've spent decades working on.  

"As a Holocaust survivor, this is what I learned: All human beings are the same," said Zeitouna member Irene Butter. "And if we could only realize that, then I think we could build a better world."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.