Amid growing tensions between Israel and Palestine, student groups on campus are looking to foster an environment for informed debate.

Violence has escalated recently between Israel and Palestine, sparking controversial and divisive international debate. Two Duke groups—the Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee and Duke Students for Justice in Palestine—aim to be voices on campus for their respective causes and to promote student engagement. The groups have engaged in petitions, tabling, editorials and candelight vigils to increase awareness of the issue.

“[DIPAC’s] primary mission is to promote awareness and increase dialogue about Israel and facilitate pro-Israel activism through the American political process,” said sophomore Amy Kramer, a member of DIPAC. “That’s very important because unlike any other clubs both on campus and nationally, our group does not necessarily advocate for specific Israeli domestic causes and positions. We have members from a plurality of both political and religious beliefs.”

In an email, SJP President Zachary Faircloth, a sophomore, described the group’s mission along similar terms—to raise on-campus awareness concerning the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Faircloth pointed to SJP’s vigil held earlier this month in honor of Palestinian victims of Israeli violence, noting that the event garnered widespread support not only from students but also from the Durham community, including members of the Jewish Voice for Peace—a national activist organization.

Faircloth added that the group will continue its advocacy in the future, arguing that Israel’s military occupation of Palestine is “ethically, morally and politically wrong.”

“As far as the student body is concerned, most people are heavily uninformed,” Faircloth wrote. “This isn’t an issue particular to Duke so much as it is a national issue; most media reporting on Palestine is heavily biased in favor of Israeli, and thus United States’ interests.”

Sophomore Andrea Lin emphasized the difficulty in understanding the conflict due to its “deeply historical and religious origin.” She also stated that the Duke community is not always “as open as it should be” due the large amount of differing identities and opinions.

“I can say that I’m aware of the recent news, but what I can’t say is that I understand and know how it feels for the people with a background or personal experience with Israeli and Palestinian identities or connections,” Lin said.

Students such as freshman Ofir Golan, who considers herself “quite aware” of the issues and often turns to her Israeli parents for insight, expressed criticism toward the media’s portrayal of the events in Israel and Palestine.

“I think a lot of people don’t know enough factual information and form their opinion too quickly,” Golan said. “This is heavily influenced by the media, which makes bold, dramatic headlines to draw attention and doesn’t try to portray a balanced argument.”

DIPAC encourages its members to write editorials to express their opinions and instigate conversation. However, Kramer emphasized that DIPAC does not tell its members what positions to take.

Op-eds are critical in establishing the agenda for foreign policy discussion at Duke, wrote DIPAC president Tyler Fredricks, a senior columnist for The Chronicle, in an email, pointing to a series of five op-eds in The Chronicle earlier this year that sparked discussion about the Iran nuclear deal. DIPAC has also tabled on campus and collected signatures for petitions. In the future, DIPAC plans to bring soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces to discuss Israel’s rules of engagement, which Fredricks described as a significant source of confusion to some students.

Most people intimately familiar with these issues either have a personal connection to it or are majoring in a related field, Fredricks explained, adding that this needs to change.

“There’s always room for improvement, both at the individual and community level for being more open-minded, being more tolerant, being more aware,” Lin said.