Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The Sol Feinstone International Study Prize for Travel Research and the support of the Stone family allowed me to travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories over winter break and conduct primary research for my Honors Thesis.
My thesis focuses on inter-group relations and social dynamics within the realm of Israeli domestic politics. The research I did during the fall semester was focused on the theoretical backgrounds and Schools of thought that explain the conditions that perpetuate inter-group violence. However, theory could only have taught me so far and the crucial part of research is the actual field work. Additionally, since the focus of my research is construction and re-construction of identities, societal integration, political behavior and the relationship of the Arab Israelis to the State of Israel; it was imperative that I travel to Israel and gather primary data simply because most of the data could not be found elsewhere.
I was part of a group of five SLU students from the Government Department doing their Honors Thesis on different aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the trip was designed to support all of our research plans. Upon our arrival to Israel, our Israeli tour guide told us to use this opportunity and live the conflict, eat ‘street' food, talk to ordinary people, immerse in the society and truly experience the conflict. That is exactly what I did! For ten full days I experienced the dual narratives of the conflict, both from the Jewish and the Palestinian perspectives. Even though my research focuses solely on the Israeli society, it was important for me to understand the origins of this territorial, ethno-national and religious conflict because the inter-group relations and tensions present in the Israeli society are a by-product of this protracted conflict. For this purpose, I went to Jerusalem, Hebron, Tel Aviv and Jaffa, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Haifa and Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam (an integrated Arab-Jewish townn in Israel).
As I conducted my interviews in Israel I met with journalists, activists, IDF soldiers, officials and leading scholars. Through this process, I managed to collect more than 10 hours worth of interview-recordings that help me understand how my interviewees perceived themselves and their opinion on the Israeli society. In discussing the grass-root movements in Israel with one of the peace activists, I learned that even though efforts have been made by both groups, still, it is "not all hugs and humus". At Tel Aviv University I met with Prof. Ephraim Yaar, one of the leading scholars on Jewish-Arab relations in Israel; and met with Haifa University's Prof. Sammy Smooha as well as talked to representatives of Mada al-Carmel: Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa. By talking to the experts I was able to gather information on the particular variables I am exploring.
Aside from its educational value, this trip also had a personal dimension to it. Even though I come from the war-ridden Balkans, I was able to better understand the role that identities and narratives play in a conflict. Moreover, the openness of the people made it easier for me to collect my data and understand their perspective, which was especially important since one of my variables deals with identity (re)construction.
Finally, I would like to thank again the support of the CIIS office and Ms. Francine Stone for giving me the opportunity to do research in the Holy Land. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I hope to build on this research during my graduate studies.