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Study Abroad in Israel: Beyond the Conflict

By Ariel Ehmer

SIS News Israel Summer Abroad

We asked SIS GGPS'15 student Ariel Ehmer to share her experience on the summer abroad program, Israel: The Prospects for Peace, with us.

After participating in the SIS summer abroad program in Israel, my outlook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been completely transformed. From May 27 to June 15, ten of us embarked on an adventure around Israel, led by Assistant Professor Guy Ziv. The 2014 study abroad program, entitled Israel: The Prospects for Peace, was designed to explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the prospects for a peace deal, in addition to learning about Israel today. 

Our visit began in Tel Aviv where we spent time touring the quaint cobblestone sidewalks of Jaffa, haggling over souvenirs and knick-knacks at the Carmel Market, and gobbling up delicious falafel, hummus, and shawarma. While this portion of the trip was not solely focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this vibrant and progressive city offered a glimpse into the identities of the younger Israeli generation. 

Jerusalem, Tel Aviv’s more conservative and traditional grandparent, was the epitome of religiosity, history, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jerusalem’s Old City, with its labyrinth-like streets, is a place from another time. It was here that we walked in the footsteps of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We gazed at the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. At the Western Wall, we stood next to Orthodox Jewish men and women as they prayed. 

Despite the fact that each of these three religions has its roots planted in Jerusalem, there is tension in the air. The separation wall (also known as the barrier or fence) between Jerusalem and the West Bank serves as proof that the ongoing conflict is far from being solved. The lesson that we learned on this trip is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for Israeli and Palestinian peace. The problem is just too complex. 

Dr. Ziv did a phenomenal job introducing different perspectives into our daily activities. Lecturers included Knesset members from the Yesh Atid and Ra’am-Ta’al-Mada parties, Foreign Service Officers serving at the U.S. Embassy, soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), renowned professors, and activists from several organizations. The topics ranged from water governance, archaeology, religious fundamentalism, settlements, and the peace process. 

What we did not learn in the classroom, Dr. Ziv ensured we experienced firsthand. We were able to float in the Dead Sea, wander the exhibits at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, view Israel’s border with Syria at the Golan Heights, navigate through caves in Rosh Hanikra, hike up mountains, and eat lunch with both Bedouins and Druze. Our papers for the course allowed us to delve deeper into an issue of our particular interest. 

Although I do not have an answer for how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I do have a much more profound understanding about what this struggle entails and I feel extremely privileged to have had a chance to see this for myself.