A newly formed partnership between Beyond Bridges: Israel-Palestine (BBIP) and USF now offers a hands-on summer program in one of the world’s most renowned and dynamic locations: Jerusalem.
In its second year, BBIP is growing in popularity as it provides students with an opportunity to study abroad and gain direct experience in understanding varied political voices that are outside of the mainstream discourse.
A group of USF presenters, who made the trip to Israel last year, enthusiastically shared some of their fondest memories during an information session at Kalmanovitz Hall last week. Their intimate stories allowed the small group of prospective BBIP applicants to fully appreciate the value gained from the many political discussions that took place at dinner tables and beachside locations throughout the duration of the trip.
USF graduate Celeste Wilson, who focused on Jewish Studies and Social Justice at USF, provided an in-depth view of this unique immersion program. She admitted that like several of the other participants, her family was uneasy about her taking the trip, but upon her arrival, Wilson immediately knew that she had made the right decision.
“Prior to the trip, I read quite a bit about the conflict, but once I got there, I was blown away by the immense variety of perspectives,” she said.
The state of Israel has been the site of an ongoing conflict between certain Israelis (members of the Jewish state) and Palestinians (an Arab population consisting of mostly Muslims and some Christians), in which both groups claim sole control over Jerusalem, a holy site for the three major religions, as well as mutual recognition of each other’s institutions, among other things. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli troops have continued to occupy the West Bank and Gaza Strip of Israel, establishing settlements, removing Palestinians out of their homes, and forcing millions into refugee camps.
Seniors Lizzie Guerra and Kaitlin Locascio, both International Studies majors, were among those who joined Wilson on the trip last year.
Guerra’s studies include an emphasis in Politics and Society, and after having studied the conflict in one of her courses, she became interested in the program. Guerra has taken five immersion trips through the university, including the BBIP program.
Guerra said she had a strong bias before BBIP, but her goal “was to break down the biases and view things from an outsider’s perspective.” An objective that she was able to accomplish.
Kaitlin Locascio said, “Had I gone on my own, I would have seen the things that I wanted to see, and what I already knew existed. But the BBIP program really challenged my perspective, especially given the connections the program offered.”
As they prepared for their studies abroad, all three presenters quickly discovered that most people distant from the Israel-Palestine conflict do not truly understand that it is much more nuanced than perceived. This program, however, allowed all BBIP participants to closely study a variety of viewpoints by working with non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, including officials from the Palestinian Organization Hamas and Israeli settlers.
All three presenters said their research preparation of the Israel-Palestine conflict prior to BBIP proved necessary and resourceful as they were immersed into a first-hand perspective upon arrival, although in-depth knowledge of the subject is not essential for prospective applicants. The direct interaction allowed for a majority of their studies to consist of intensive dialogue with NGOs and civilians, as opposed to perusing through history books in a library.
A keynote highlighted by all three speakers focused on the high politicization of nearly every aspect of Israeli-Palestinian society. They informed the potential BBIP applicants that while the Israeli settlement conflict seemed to be the most prominent issue, it was certainly not the only conflict occurring in the region. Another prominent issue of debate included the segregation of Israeli schools.
As part of the immersion experience, last year’s group of seven BBIP participants were housed in an East Jerusalem hotel that was a mere ten minute walk from the heart of the Old City. This provided the group with easy access to several historical Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.
The reputation of BBIP has grown significantly over the past year as the program continues to draw a tremendous interest from both students and members of the public. The number of applicants has doubled this year to 14 or 16 students, who may embark on the study abroad experience.
Students may receive up to four academic units through the university, and the trip includes a variety of amenities such as local transportation, city tour fees, and lodging and meals throughout the trip. Four USF staff and faculty members will also join BBIP participants.
While the cost of such a trip has created concern for some prospective BBIP applicants, the presenters stressed that there are a variety of scholarship options available to applicants and that the university is extending the USF tuition rate for summer programs to include BBIP.
Lizzie Guerra described the program as a highly worthwhile investment and reminded potential applicants that for her a“BBIP guidance was crucial. The trip really changed the course of my whole life’s work.”
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