Over winter break, students participating in the Jerusalem course were given the opportunity to spend two weeks in Israel. During that time, they were asked to conduct research projects that they could eventually present to the campus. Some of the topics included social justice issues, regional conflict and anti-semitism.
Junior Judith Espinoza started the long-form presentations on how terrorist organization Hamas took advantage of the lack of resources in the Gaza region as a way to recruit members. For her presentation Espinoza interviewed a former Knox student who lived in Gaza.
“A reason why Hamas has so much support is because it provides significant social benefits to its supporters, as well as its members. In many areas that have been destroyed by on-going warfare, Hamas targets young children,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza explained that through other research she conducted, she learned that Palestinian students felt that they had no future. For them, dying for a terrorist organization was worthwhile if it meant being able to provide for their family.
When Espinoza asked the former Knox student why he never considered joining, she was told it was because he felt like he was offered many privileges in his life, and has learned that violence isn’t an answer to the region’s internal issues.
“The other reason why people join is because of nationalism. They feel like they are occupied É To put it in simpler terms, no one wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘this is a fun idea to do,’ right? You have to be in oppressive conditions,” Espinoza said.
During the question and answer portion of the presentation, Visiting Instructor of Anthropology-Sociology Michal Ran-Rubin talked about how difficult it was to get information about Gaza from residents there. Ran-Rubin pointed out that much of the information comes from activists who have only spent a few weeks at a time in the area and aren’t seeing the big picture.
She also mentioned how Hamas had a great influence not only as a terrorist organization, but as a political party. Nonetheless, Ran-Rubin was impressed with the work and research done by the students.
“I was very impressed with the students and different narratives and questions that’s taken people years to ask and synthesize. They really understood the nuance of the narratives,” Ran Rubin said.
Rubin also teaches a course on contemporary media representation of the conflict. During the presentations, sophomore Constantinos Kourtellas showed media clips from CNN and Fox News. This was a way for people to see how different sides of the conflict were portrayed in either negative or positive ways.
“I hope that what they got from it was the ability to see how narratives on the ground and media and journalistic mediums affect how we see the region,” Ran-Rubin said.
For junior Iesha Said, her research topic was more personal. Said, a hijab-wearing Muslim student, talked about her experience at holy sites.
“I went in with an open mind and I knew that it was going to be a good experience,” Said said.
For Said, being able to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two major sites for the Islamic religion, was a moving experience. Though, Said stated that there were times she felt uncomfortable being obviously Muslim. While entering and leaving Israel, Said was extensively questioned about her heritage.
“I thought it was going to be okay because I have an [American] passport, but it was like ‘no’ and there was suspicion,” said Said.
Though Said and most of her fellow panel members are critical of the occupation of Gaza by the Israeli government, she said that political leanings were not as important as the educational experience of the trip. Ran-Rubin believes this is also true of the classes taught at Knox.
“The program gives analytic tools and [it’s up to you] what you do with your tools. The program is much more focused on: here are the scholarly [texts] and the analytical categories and how they can help you unpack the conflict,” Ran-Rubin said.
Ran-Rubin believes that a travel course like the one at Knox is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
For Said, one of the most impactful moments of the trip was receiving a Hebrew scroll from a woman in the city of Jaffa. Said later ran into a Jewish man who translated the scroll for her.
“I asked him if he was from Jaffa and he said, ‘No, my parents immigrated here from Tunisia’ so they travelled during World War II. They went to France and then a refugee camp. It was around the same time as the end of the Holocaust,” Said said.
For Said the the trip was a way for her to get perspectives that she wouldn’t have had had she not gone abroad. Learning how the Holocaust directly affects the Israeli population today was important to Said.
“Something that a lot of people don’t realize, and it can be hard to, is that Israel is so cosmopolitan. It’s people from all over,” Said said.
Said believes that the trip would be challenging for students who have different viewpoints on the ongoing conflict from their peers, but that going on the trip was worthwhile for that reason alone.
“You observe when you’re on this trip. Even if you do present as more [critical of the occupation in Gaza], you have to learn from another perspective as well,” Said said.