Categorized | Features

Wooster T.R.E.K. provides illuminating trip, experience in Israel

Katie Harvey
Contributing Writer

From Dec. 26 to Jan. 11, six Wooster students, accompanied by Joan Friedman, associate professor of history and religious studies and chair of the Middle Eastern and North African studies department, embarked on a Wooster T.R.E.K. (Think, Research, Engage, Know), travelling throughout Israel and Palestine to engage with the ongoing regional conflict. This T.R.E.K., titled “Israel-Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Three Religions,” was an optional continuation of the History 228 course, Israel-Palestine: Histories in Conflict.

Friedman has previously led Wooster trips to Israel and Palestine. She considers immersion to be essential to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There are things you cannot learn in a classroom,” Friedman explained, “and T.R.E.K. programs are a unique opportunity to combine formal learning with experiential learning.”

Through Coexistence in the Middle East, an Israeli-based study abroad program, students made their temporary base at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the university, they listened to lectures by academics, representatives from NGOs, government officials and religious leaders about the various sides of the multifaceted conflict.

Sierra Fletcher ’18, a self-designed linguistics major and avid traveler, explained the sheer difficulty of solving the conflict. “Each side is convinced that they’re right. However, they refuse to listen to the other side and the other side’s valid reasons,” she said. Without communication between the sides, a solution seems incredibly far away.

Friedman explained that in order to solve the conflict “you need top-down political solutions, but you need bottom-up personal change and personal connection as well.” She believes that by engaging in such an experience, students are doing their part to alleviate the tense dynamic of the conflict.

To strengthen their understanding of the complexity of the conflict, the group traveled all around Israel, making stops in Nazareth, the Syrian border with the Golan Heights, Sderot, the Nahal Oz Kibbutz, the Negev Desert and Galilee.

The group was also able to meet with two alumni, Mark Herzberg ’89, an official with the United States Agency for International Development in Jerusalem, and Yazan Herzallah ’16, a recent graduate living in Ramallah.

Despite plenty of planned visits, Friedman recounted the group’s encounter with quite a few “fortuitous experiences,” including a rare rainstorm in the Negev Desert and an unarranged talk with two members of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization who were patrolling the armistice line between Israel and Syria.

For the final leg of the trip, Professor Friedman organized two final days to explore Palestine, particularly Ramallah and Bethlehem. Here, students were able to fully experience the Palestinian side of the conflict, concluding the dialogue and promoting more understanding between the two peoples.

In reflection of her experience, Fletcher said that “the best way to understand yourself is to understand humanity and the world. You can’t do that without going and experiencing something that is completely different … to what you have … Go out and get as much experience as you can.”

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