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Students plan trip to MidEast following Carter challenge

By peposed

Section: News

October 19, 2007

After several earlier attempts, a group of students have convened to organize a delegation to the West Bank following the Jan. 23 visit of former President Jimmy Carter. When Carter discussed his controversial book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, he challenged students to visit the occupied territories for a few days to determine whether I have exaggerated or incorrectly described the plight of the Palestinians.

Gabe Gaskin 08, one of the members of this student group, stated, its a response to the call to action that President Carter made last year. We all saw that, it was on TV for nine months [this trip is] a response to that quote.

The group, which is called Students Crossing Boundaries, is currently planning to take approximately ten members of the community to the West Bank for a period of five to seven days during February break in 2008, said committee organizer Justin Kang 09. Online applications to join the planning committee for this trip are available at studentscrossingboundaries.com, he added.

Kang explained that Carter donated $25,000 of his Nobel Prize winnings to sponsor the trip. Still, Kang said, we are looking to get outside funds not only for this trip, but for the SCB organization in general, to fund future projects.

Committee member Jahfree Duncan 09 said that the goal of this trip was to get students on an educational trip to document the situation, circumstances, anything concerning living conditions that we can get, adding that the committee was considering acquiring video equipment to document the trip.

We are also going to explore the conflict from a different angle, going to the places [that] most students are not being exposed to, like separation wall [and] the occupied territories, said Noam Schouster 11, an Israeli resident, one of the Universitys Slifka Scholars and a member of the committee. Mohammad Kundas 10, a Palestinian student and another Slifka Scholar, added that its also to see the reality, under what situations that the Palestinian people are living.

When asked about how this group would remain unbiased, Kang said we are trying to attract as many different perspectives as possible. This is not political, this is academic. Responding to questions regarding the groups neutrality after receiving funds from Carter, Kang said President Carter and the Carter Center have given us complete control of the itinerary. Every element of the trip he has left in our hands.

Schouster added that the whole purpose of this delegation is the challenge that Jimmy Carter gave its called a challenge because hes not saying if you believe in what I'm saying go. He's challenging people to explore. We're going to view this with our own eyes and make our own educational judgments and observations so rather than a political statement we're thinking of it more of an educational setting.

Duncan agreed, saying that there has got to be some sort of way for each individual voice to be heard. Each individual person who goes when they come back, they're going to have their own opinion, and that opinion is going to be separated from everybody else. Its not as if this delegation is going to the region, looking for one particular thing it's not a treasure hunt.

When asked about the itinerary of the proposed trip, Kang said that the group had barely begun discussions of the trip, as the planning committee had yet to have been decided. Ultimately, Kang said, what the itinerary will look like is the [decision of the] planning committee as they see fit. We think it will be an exhausting grueling process which all of us will grow from. Responding to questions of whether the group would go to Israel as well as Palestine, Kang said that is definitely an option we don't want to commit to anything, but that is definitely an option.

Kang also added that the delegation was not affiliated with the University itself. When asked why this was, Executive Assistant to the President John Hose said that the concerns were based on safety, not ideology. We were planning to send a group of students to Palestine to meet with counterparts with Al-Quds University, but because of safety concerns, we relocated the program to Istanbul, which took place this summer, Hose said. Having done that and being concerned with safety and security, we can't be in a position of encouraging students to go [to Palestine], and affiliating with the group would definitely have done that.

Kang stated that the first and utmost priority is security and safety if the trip seems to be too risky, the trip will not happen until we are confident enough the trip can occur without any danger. Still, he said, the delegation is our ultimate experiential learning experience, said Kang. Its our first step from moving away from discussion and towards action.

Its not about agreeing with one side and the other, it's about going and viewing circumstances, said Rachie Lewis 09, another member of the committee. I don't think its about picking a side… its not saying that this is information that has to lead you to a new way of thinking that changes your political stance altogether. I think its about seeing something new.

When asked about the political diversity of the committee and the delegation, Schouster said we are looking to be as diverse as the delegation can be. Even people who have no background on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, who come from other regions of conflict, they can be exploring. Kang added that the trip is very open, and we encourage everyone to apply, especially those who question our motives. We sincerely hope they consider joining us to help make our trip a valuable experience.

Elaborating on participants having the proper knowledge base to process the trip, committee member Garrett Nada 10 said during the planning process all the committee members are going to be educated on the conflict part of the committee will be devoted to education, so whoever goes on the delegation, they will be armed with a basic set of facts. Kang added this includes assigned readings, articles, meetings with faculty in and out of Brandeis, and meetings with other organizations with similar experience, experts in their field, in person and on the phone, to give a grand view of the situation.

When asked if a five to seven day trip might be too short to fully appreciate the situation, Kang said that we want to look at all these places and see what we want to see and fit it into as many days as you want to fit it in. This is our first step, this is our pilot program, and we understand we won't be able to do as much as we want to do, but we'll do as much as we can do. This is a first step, and its a step in a positive direction.

This is an issue that divides people often to come at it from an angle where youre not siding, youre just going to sort of mobilize the issue without having to pick a side and make a political statement is not something that is often done here, said committee member Rachie Lewis 09. People often jump to choose, a pro- or anti- you can go and not completely implement your politics. You can allow a trip like this to inform you of the human community.

Student reactions were mixed about the proposed trip. Its very important for people to see what is actually going on, said William-Bernard Reid-Varley 10. The people of the West Bank are economically and politically disenfranchised. Its important to get an objective perspective on these issues and then and only then can we make policy decisions.

Zachary Barr 09 said, it is important that this be done because of Brandeis' history of social involvement, but it can't just be only the West Bank that would be just as bad if people only visited Israel.

This matter just came to the fore in our discussion group for War & Possibilities of Peace, said Ernest Paulin 09. We happened to be talking about the rather astonishing degree of separation between Israeli and Palestinian societiesit appears there is only one village where these cultures willfully coexist, which I think lends credence to the assertions of Mr. Carter. Paulin added, I'm not an expert, but I think the delegation can certainly do no harmand, if it is conducted honestly, it just may shine a favorable light on Brandeis internationally. Carter has wisely circumvented Brandeis' most likely excuse, the monetary issue, so unless there is good reason to fear for the students' safety, I see this delegation as a must.

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