A new Eisenhower Institute (EI) program challenges Gettysburg College students to dig deeper than the news headlines and Western perceptions of the Middle East to truly understand contemporary complexities and issues. And for the students in the inaugural program, the capstone of their year was a trip to Israel and Palestine.
While there, nine students in Inside the Middle East met with Israeli and Palestinian professionals in fields including media, intelligence, and international law.
“The program’s major objective is to add new dimensions of knowledge regarding the Middle East and also to encourage critical thinking capacities and skills. I can say decisively and gladly that the visit was a great success in that context,” said program leader Avi Melamed, Middle East strategic intelligence analyst and inaugural Rosenzwog Fellow of Intelligence & Middle East Affairs at the Eisenhower Institute.
The program has already attracted a number of Gettysburg students – some of whom were previously involved with EI’s programs, and many who were not, including those with an interest in Arabic and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.
“We wanted to expand EI’s international engagement,” said EI executive director Jeffrey Blavatt, of their decision to bring Melamed on board to start a new program. “It was also important for us to find someone to discuss the Middle East in a balanced way, and Avi’s expertise in intelligence and experiences in both Israeli and Arab cultures provide the perfect opportunity to do just that.”
Meeting with Israeli and Palestinian professionals with diverse backgrounds and experiences
“Avi truly did a remarkable job of allowing us to meet with representatives of both [Israel and Palestine]. Thanks to EI, I will put a face to the stories that I read every morning,” said Tana Giraldo ’14, a recent political science and international affairs grad. “I truly believe that this program will help more people understand the complexities of the Middle East and impact students’ way of understanding the world and those around them.”
Visits to Israeli and Palestinian settlements
The group had the opportunity to visit an overlook in Tzofim, an Israeli settlement located in the West Bank’s Samarian Mountains. From there, they could see the nearby Palestinian town of Qalqilyah. “While the media often features Palestine and Israel in regards to war and conflict, there is so much more going on with the people who live in the settlements. They have pretty normal lives and care about education, marriage, and being successful in their jobs and careers,” said Uyen Le ’16, a mathematical economics and international affairs major.
Tour of the Anti-Terror Fence with Col. (Res.) Dr. Dany Tirza
Col. Tirza served as the chief architect of the fence, which was designed to protect Israel. With Col. Tirza the group examined the myriad security issues Israel faces, why the fence was built, and some behind the scenes stories. “The tour of the anti-terror fence was interesting in that it brought another side to a story that many people thought they knew down-pat. The thought that went into every last inch of this wall is just mind-boggling,” said Brandon Tower ’14, a recent grad who dual-majored in political science and international affairs with an Italian studies minor.
Tour of Jerusalem
The group delved into the history, cultures, and traditions of the Old City of Jerusalem, seeing sites such as the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock.
Visit to Rawabi, a Palestinian city
Rawabi is the first planned Palestinian City in the West Bank, with construction beginning in 2010. While there, they toured the new city to see the development potential within the territories and learned about the economics of Rawabi.
Trip to the Syrian border
While the Golan Heights had been Israel’s calmest border, recent events have put the security future of this area in question. “Standing in the Golan Heights on the border of Syria was a surreal experience. I could hear the echoes of blasts and see the smoke rising from the warzone in front of me,” said Samantha Smith ’15, a religious studies major and Middle East & Islamic studies minor.
Meeting with a former Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah
Ramallah is a historically Christian town. Today, it has a Muslim majority with a significant Christian minority, and serves as the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority. While there, students met with a former Palestinian Authority official and discussed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Visit with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Combat Intelligence Unit on their base
“We were able to sit down and talk to some of the soldiers, they showed us their weaponry and intelligence-gathering devices. What struck me the most was that many of these soldiers were close to our age, and here they were, defusing dangerous situations almost every day and protecting their country from close and at times violent enemies. The passion and love they felt for their country was palpable, and while I am so incredibly grateful to be an American and love the U.S., I was stunned by how intensely devoted they were to their country,” said Jackie Beckwith ’16, an economics and political science major and music minor.
Inside the Middle East provides a select group of Gettysburg students with the opportunity to develop the analytical and intelligence skills necessary to understand the contemporary Middle East. This is achieved through lectures, directed readings and discussion, and the application of analytical and intelligence tools provided throughout the year.
Avi Melamed is a former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs and Senior Intelligence Official. Today, he is an Independent Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Regional Expert and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region.
Through all of his efforts as a speaker, an analyst, a writer, and an entrepreneur, Melamed strives to be a bridge builder. He dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803
Posted: Mon, 9 Jun 2014
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