I’m still asked by friends and family why I agreed to travel to Israel and Palestine. “Isn’t it dangerous and volatile there? Their argument that I risked bodily harm in an area that–according to them–was riddled with hostility and violence, while well-intended, does not necessarily reflect the situation on the ground. Because of the prevalence of these inaccurate perceptions of “murderous Palestinians,” I feel the need to dedicate at least a part of this article to dispelling these horrendous myths.
I cannot stress enough that the Palestinians I met and interacted with were nothing but warm and kind, often greeting me with a warm “Welcome, welcome.” For the entirety of the trip I can honestly say that I only ever felt uncomfortable once, and that particular incident involved an racist Israeli settler, who threatened our Palestinian driver for talking us to a location to unmask the apartheid. Travel certainly broadens the mind, and I feel that if American students actually interacted and talked with Palestinians, I am confident whatever bias or stereotypes they associate with them would quickly change.
As a student of Middle Eastern politics, I was absolutely ecstatic when Case Western Reserve University M.A. Hanna Professor of Political Science Pete Moore told me about the Israel/Palestine study abroad program offered by the Kent State University Office of Global Education. During the course of the conversation I asked if CWRU’s Study Abroad program had ever organized a similar trip. He responded that not only has CWRU ever done it, but most American universities haven’t either. Either the topic material is considered to be too politically sensitive or they don’t want students traveling to a “risky” part of the world.
The deciding factor for me was the diverse itinerary that the KSU professor designed. I had familiar with most of the destinations ( Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Jericho, Bethlehem, Haifa, Beersheba), as they were often covered in readings from prior classes. These areas were truly at the heart of the conflict, and here was a rare opportunity for me to see them with my own eyes. While it would be impossible for me, or anyone, to say they completely understand the conflict, what I learned as a result of this two-week course in Israel and Palestine helped me get much closer than I ever thought possible.
The course consisted of two major components: Daily excursions and guest lectures. These excursions were designed to demonstrate and teach our class about different aspects of the conflict.
No two excursions were the same. For example, one day we received the political tour of the Old City and another we got a demographic tour in Nazareth. We traveled extensively, which came as a surprise to some of the Israeli students we met, going as far north as Nazareth and as far east as Jericho.
In less than fifteen days, we managed to visit most of the sites that have been deemed, in regards to the ongoing conflict, politically or historically significant.These trips were rewarding for me because they allowed me to see with my own eyes many of the complex issues which I had only read about.
In addition, these excursions enabled me to interact with Israelis and Palestinians, which allowed me to put a human face to the conflict. Reading about these cities is one thing, but it can never be seen as a substitute for traveling to them and being able to interact with the people whose lives are routinely affected by the ever-changing situation on the ground.
The guest lectures, which formed the second layer of the course, had a tremendous impact on me because they solidified my determination to pursue a career in Middle Eastern studies. Before the trip I was somewhat convinced that there was no viable career path when it came to this area of study. This inaccurate perception was altered after I was able to interact with some of the dozen-plus regional specialists that had been arranged for us to meet.
The benefits of these lectures were twofold. First, they managed to drastically improve my scholarly understanding of the situation in Israel and Palestine. As a result, I have since become better able to comprehend and articulate arguments about the conflict. Second, they broadened my ability to visualize what my possible career path will look like, which in turn made me more confident in my decision to pursue a career in Middle Eastern studies. Moving forward, I plan on applying for a Fulbright Award, which will give me the opportunity to return to the region for a much longer period of time.
The moment we returned to the United States, I immediately wanted to go back. At this point, it has been three months since I took the course and I am still attempting to completely process what we saw and did in Israel and Palestine.
I can say unequivocally that no other course I’ve taken has had such a large impact on me, both personally and academically.