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Liberty seniors' friendship transcends politics



Published: Wed, May 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Two Liberty seniors showed that their differing positions on the Mideast conflict need not tear them apart.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

LIBERTY -- Put David Bratslavsky and Mureed Amireh in a room together and bring up the topic of the Middle East, and sparks are sure to fly.

Bratslavsky, a Jew born in the former Soviet republic of Georgia who came to the United States in 1992, supports Israel.

Amireh, a Muslim and first-generation American-born Palestinian whose grandparents still live in the West Bank town of Ramallah, backs the Palestinian cause.

But the differences end there.

They're both senior honor students at Liberty High School. They'll both graduate in June. And they've been close friends since meeting on a baseball field in Liberty six years ago.

"He got hit in the head with a ground ball; that might explain a lot," Amireh jokes.

A peaceable example

The tall, dark-haired and handsome friends joined forces Tuesday to share with about 200 Liberty classmates the complex history and emotions of the centuries-long conflict between their peoples.

And along the way, by their friendship, the two young men also showed that people on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can remain friends despite the mayhem around them.

"If we can't discuss something, we will never resolve the issues," said Nancy Hoover, the Liberty honors adviser who counts Amireh and Bratslavsky among her top students. "We've got to be able to at least disagree without becoming disagreeable and respect and understand divergent viewpoints."

Bratslavsky said Liberty High School, one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the Mahoning Valley, is a good example of how different people can live together in peace.

"You've got black kids, white kids, Chinese kids, Russian kids, Jewish kids, Arab kids all getting along," said Bratslavsky, who will attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., this fall to study international relations.

Amireh plans to major in political science at Youngstown State University after graduation.

Tuesday's 90-minute presentation in the school auditorium titled "The Arab-Israeli Conflict" was part of Bratslavsky's senior honors project.

Dr. Zeev Rabinowitz, an ophthalmologist, talked about Israeli culture and history, followed by a similar talk by Amireh about Palestinian culture and history.

A vigorous debate

Bratslavsky gave a short lecture on the history of Israel and Palestine, followed by a debate between Judge Daniel Butler of Pittsburgh Municipal Court and Ray Nakley, spokesman for the Arab Community Center of Youngstown.

The banter between the two, although civilized, was terse, testy and laced with condemnation and hostility.

"What they really want is to kill all of the Jews," Butler said about the Arab world. "They've taught a generation that it's better to die than live."

Nakley responded: "The Palestinian people just want to be free."

"Give me liberty or give me death," he added. "If it was good for Patrick Henry, it's good for us."

Butler contended that the Arab world, led by kings and dictators, is so concerned about Israel because it is the only democracy in the region. "Democracy is like gasoline: It'll spread everywhere," he said. "It will put the kings out of business."

The conflict "will end when they care as much about their children as we care about our children," Butler said, noting the recent spate of suicide bombers in the region.

Nakley said the conflict will end when Israel stops blaming everyone except where the blame should be: Israel.

"There will be peace when Israel really wants peace," he said.

Palestinians, he said, have the right to live in dignity on the land of their ancestors.

"You can't live in peace when every day people with guns are making your life a living hell," he added.




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