Last Friday, a 21-year-old American student of Arabic, Andrew Pochter, was killed in Alexandria, Egypt during a protest. What emerges from remembrances of Pochter is that the college student was an idealist who felt called to immerse himself in Arab political culture in a fully-engaged manner.
He also had pro-Israel leanings; he expressed the hope that Palestine and Israel could be reconciled to one another (at the end of this poem). And because of his Jewish background, one Jewish publication has vilified him for choosing to go to Egypt.
Reuters says Pochter’s family reports that he was a bystander to the protest when he was stabbed:
Pochter’s family said he had travelled to Alexandria for the summer to teach English to 7- and 8-year-old Egyptian children and to improve his Arabic.
“He had studied in the region, loved the culture, and planned to live and work there in the pursuit of peace and understanding,” read the statement, that asked for privacy in a time of grieving.
His college, Kenyon College in Ohio, issued an eloquent statement on Pochter’s death:
Andrew D. Pochter lost his life in the Middle East while on a quest for knowledge and understanding….
Andrew of Chevy Chase, Md., was a religious studies major. Raised a Christian, he was reared in a home with both Christian and Jewish parents, said his mother, Elizabeth Pochter, and he had become interested in his Jewish heritage. He was co-manager of Hillel House, where he had lived during his sophomore year. Andrew was also a member of the Middle East Students Association (MESA).
“Andrew was interested in the whole Jewish side and the whole Palestinian side,” his mother said. His activity in the Middle East Students Association was very important to him, she added.
He was a student of Arabic and had spent a gap year in Morocco after graduating from the Blue Ridge School in St. George, Va., and before arriving at Kenyon. “He became totally enchanted with Morocco,” she said. “He had his heart set on learning the different Arabic dialects.”
The trip to Morocco was a product of a National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
In 2011, Pochter lived in the house of two Moroccan school-teachers. He wrote a piece celebrating the new political consciousness of the Arab Spring for Al Arabiya:
The recent political protests have brought a new identity to Moroccan youth and have changed the attitudes of some in their parents’ generation. Both previously unassuming age groups are now engaging new political ideas and expressing their hopes for a promising future.
The Jewish Press ran a scurrilous piece asking why Pochter went to Arab countries and not to Israel and saying he would have been safer in Israel. “Why was Andrew Pochter in Egypt, not Israel?”
What was he doing in Egypt? Why did he feel more connected to Arab countries than to Israel? Did he really think that he, a Jewish American, could do something for “the pursuit of peace and understanding?”
Did his family support this delusion?
Did his family and friends and teachers warn him that he was going to a dangerous place?
More from the Kenyon statement:
While taking a Kenyon course on Middle Eastern politics, he read poems about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to his girlfriend, Clara Fischman ’13. “The class wasn’t just about some detached war to him, but a struggle that he passionately wanted to resolve,” she said. “Andrew was a person who didn’t see the world as separate nations, but a collection of vibrant cultures.”
Former MESA president Tess Waggoner ’13 of Maumee, Ohio, said, “He was dedicated very much to making people understand each other. He was a bridge-builder.”
Andrew was the philanthropy chair for his fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi. Fraternity brother Andrew Tint ’13 of New Providence, N.J., said Andrew helped raise money for victims of domestic violence.
That Kenyon eulogy links to a video of a slam poem made by Pochter, playing the role of an Israeli, and classmate Sarah Gold, playing the role of a Palestinian, as a “final project for the Kenyon seminar Yearning for Zion:”
Nima Shirazi, who directed our attention to the obit, writes:
Obviously, though the poem winds up placing the two “sides” on equal footing just a bit (though, admittedly, the “Palestinian” voice is courageous and powerful and – to me, at least – the “Israeli” voice comes off as entitled and aggressive), it is important to remember that these are college students, working through this issue and towards truth, justice and reconciliation.