Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The opportunity to conduct research in Israel and the West Bank has added significant insight to my research towards my senior year experience, and has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. This past January, I was given the opportunity to travel to the Middle East, specifically Israel and the West Bank, to interview political leaders, businesspersons, and ordinary citizens living in the region. While the experience was anything but ordinary, the insight provided by each individual I encountered left a lasting impression and introspect on what life is like living in constant conflict. It is safe to say that my travel experience has provided me with a new perspective on the conflict and has impacted my research project tremendously.
Rather than looking at the situation from a top-down approach, by which politicians are responsible for achieving a positive outcome for each other's side respectively, my research focuses on an economic bottom-up approach through development, integration, and cooperation that offers the chance for the two parties to work together and strive for mutual gains. A bottom-up approach has the primary focus of developing relations from the societal level up through economic development and cooperation. Both parties are able to achieve gains and are therefore better off working together rather than separate. Not only does this facilitate dialogue and help build commonalities between the two societies, but it also allows each side to relate to each other and work together to achieve a common goal; not an outcome where one side views itself as infinitely better or worse off than the other. Instilling a sense of commonality, purpose, and value between the two societies is the main objective of this approach, and economic relations offers the means to achieving a promising result.
During my travels I was able to meet with many influential and interesting people from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. On day one, we met with a woman who started the organization MIFTA; a watchdog organization of all women who file reports and evaluate the treatment of Palestinians by IDF soldiers at various checkpoints throughout the countries. These women provide a valuable check to the IDF, and their physical presence at these checkpoints help bring awareness to the public pertaining to how degrading, timely, and unnecessary this process can be at time for Palestinians. Over the course of the next 10 days, I had the privilege of meeting a Palestinian political elite, visit Palestinians living in a refugee camp, and also visit Haifa and Birzeit University. Visiting Israeli settlers in the West Bank was also a fascinating experience because I heard the stories and reasoning of two settlers, and their justification for living in a settlement community.
The "Breaking The Silence" tour in Hebron was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Hebron is a city in the West Bank that is divided in half with Palestinians living on one ride, and Israelis living on the other. IDF security forces patrol the grounds constantly and the area is marked with fences, and barriers. One can visibly see the bullet holes and marking on the Palestinian homes. Our tour guide, a former Israeli soldier, told us his stories of firing on, and invading Palestinian homes, and how much he regrets many of these personal actions. After the tour, I entered the Palestinian side of the city where a thriving marketplace was hidden from plain sight. Young children tried to sell goods at every turn, and speaking to many ordinary citizens I was able to obtain a clearer picture of what life is like for those who are living in the shadows. It was a humbling experience for me.
Overall, the trip to Israel-Palestine provided me with tremendous perspective on the conflict as a whole, and greatly influenced the direction of my research. With the Palestinian plan to declare a state in the West Bank this coming September, it will be interesting to see if many of the blatant negative issues I observed can be overcome overtime. After visiting the region, I can safely say I have grown from the experience and the experience has impacted much more than my research.