Students Travel to Israel and Palestine to Study a Contentious History

Trip is centerpiece of course examining "conflict of two national movements"

March 8, 2012 by John Hopkins

WOOSTER, Ohio, March 8, 2011 - When spring break begins tomorrow, eight Wooster students and their professor will embark on a two-week journey of discovery and learning in Israel and Palestine. The trip is a central part of History 228, Wooster in Israel and Palestine: Histories in Conflict, taught by Joan Friedman, assistant professor of history and religious studies.

The group’s itinerary will take them from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Bethlehem and the Golan Heights. They will visit the site of an Arab village destroyed in the 1948 war and the Israeli town of Qiryat Shemonah, which lives under constant threat of rocket fire from across the Lebanese border.

The students will speak with Palestinian Christian families from Bethlehem, Israeli settlers from the West Bank, and Jewish, Muslim, and Christian student age peers. Wooster alumnus Mark Herzberg ’85, an official with USAID, has arranged briefings at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.

Friedman planned the trip through the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, whose aim is “to harness the teachings and values of the three Abrahamic faiths and transform religion’s role from a force of division and extremism into a source of reconciliation, coexistence, and understanding,” according to the group’s website.

Friedman, an ordained rabbi, has travelled to the region several times, and lived in Israel for two years during graduate school and rabbinical school. At its heart, she says, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a conflict of two national movements, each with its own narrative, both of which expend enormous energy attempting to delegitimize the other.

“You have to look at both sides, and you can’t study one by simply reading critical literature written by a partisan of the other,” Friedman says. “My hope is that by the end of this course, the students will understand the history of the conflict well enough to have informed opinions regarding current events in the area.”

The College of Wooster is America’s premier college for mentored undergraduate research. Every Wooster senior works one-on-one with a faculty adviser to create an original research project, written work, performance or art exhibit. In the process, each develops independent judgment, analytical ability, creativity, project-management and time-management skills, and strong written and oral communication skills. Founded in 1866, the college enrolls approximately 2,000 students.