Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"It was the best thing I've done at SAIS."

SAIS mixes theory and practice in many ways. Below Kristen Andree discusses a trip she took last week with 15 other SAIS Europe students to extend their learning experience beyond the classroom walls.

"Spring break" for many connotes sun, sand and swimsuits, not discussions of security and settlements.

West Bank barrier from the Aida Refugee Camp
But the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominated last week's break for 16 SAIS Europe students who traveled with Prof. Raffaella Del Sarto to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Prof. Winrich Kühne accompanied our group, who were chosen by lottery from Prof. Del Sarto's class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because the demand to participate was so strong. The Pears Foundation, individual donors and SAIS Europe contributed to the funding of the study trip.

The trip was planned in conjunction with the Centre for New Diplomacy, a non-partisan NGO that presents both sides of the conflict. The Center encourages critical thinking and believes that even if you do not completely agree with one side or one group’s opinion, the conflict touches humans on all sides, and we should bear witness to all of the stories.

In seven days we visited many parts of Israel and the West Bank, from Jerusalem to Ramallah, Bethlehem to Hebron, as well as Tel Aviv, Ariel and Sderot, stopping for falafel lunches on the way. There were meetings with the Israeli government spokesperson and the Fatah spokesperson, especially relevant during the current Kerry peace talks.
Remains of rockets fired into Sderot, Israel

We chatted with members of the Israel Defense Forces; toured the separation barrier with its architect, Danny Tirza, and visited a Palestinian refugee camp, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and NGOs including the Tent of Nations, the Abraham Fund and B’Tselem. With Profs. Del Sarto and Kühne we managed to take in some of the night life of Tel Aviv.

At the end of each day, we gathered to discuss this complex and nuanced conflict and to reflect on what we had seen and heard that day.

"This was truly a special trip," one student commented. "The administration and our guide were fantastic, always challenging our perspectives and encouraging us to view each point of contention from all angles. I learned much more than I ever expected."

Said another participant: "It was the best thing I've done at SAIS."

Kristen Andree

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