Thursday, May 14, 2009
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I will regularly update the posts as a venue to recount my experiences traveling in Israel and the West Bank throughout my 71 day stint in the Holy Land. Here's a little background about myself, and my purposes for traveling:
My name is Stephen Robinson, and I am a 20 year old student at Brandeis University with majors in Politics and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) along with a minor in Hispanic Studies. I have spent the last two years at Brandeis studying the intricate grammar and structure of the Arabic language while attempting to absorb the diverse range of views that exist on the campus regarding the Middle East, and more specifically, Israel/Palestine.
My interest in the Middle East began upon my arrival at Brandeis when I enrolled in Hebrew language courses. I never attended a single class, instead switching to the Arabic department. My choice was motivated by logical, travel rationale; more countries in the world speak Arabic than Hebrew. If I am to travel, I thought, Arabic will be of much more use.
In the Summer of 2008 (last summer), I was selected to be a part of an ongoing relationship between Brandeis and Al-Quds University, a prominent Palestinian institution in Al-Quds/Jerusalem/Yerushalayim. Along with a group of my peers, I traveled to Istanbul on dollar of the Ford Foundation in order to convene with a group of Palestinian students from Al-Quds. This experience was very influential in my conceptualization of the Middle East, and led me to understand the complex narrative considered by Benny Morris as the Zionist/Arab conflict.
Over the course of a two-week, paid vacation in Istanbul, we students were charged with the task of communicating with one another (a pretty simple task considering the entirety of the Palestinian group was proficient in English). Our group formed very strong ties on personal and intellectual levels. We spent a mandatory, daily session discussing texts selected by our fabulous professors, and spent the rest of the time enjoying ourselves. I gained many new friends in Palestinian Muslims, a Palestinian Christian, a Palestinian Muslim with Israeli documents, American Jews, Israeli Jews, American Christians... We were a pretty diverse group.
This tremendous experience led me in the Fall of 2008 to apply for a travel grant facilitated by the Carter Center (yes, Jimmy Carter's Carter Center) through a Brandeis organization called Students Crossing Boundaries (hence the name of the blog). The purpose of this grant is to enable Brandeis students to travel to the "conflict zone" within Israel/Palestine in order to get a first-hand perspective beyond the lens of the media.
Upon my selection for this grant, I immediately pursued an internship with a prominent American NGO, American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA). ANERA has a main office in Washington D.C., with its main office abroad in East Jerusalem. Most of their aid initiatives deal with humanitarian focused relief in the West Bank and in Gaza. My efforts came to fruition when I was offered an internship under Robert Crothers, the Middle East Representative for ANERA's Jerusalem office.
I am extremely enthusiastic about the impending experiences that await me. I will travel throughout the West Bank with my supervisor Robert Crothers to view, firsthand, the realities of strife. I will see poverty, depravity, depression. But as I know from my experience in Istanbul, while those living in the West Bank are certainly deprived, they are also resiliant. With luck, I will reunite with many of my friends from my Istanbul trip, visiting their homes in Bethlehem and Ramallah.
As Thomas Friedman states, "a Jew who wants to make a career working in or studying about the Middle East will always be a lonely man: he will never be fully accepted or trusted by the Arabs, and he will never be fully accepted or trusted by the Jews." I have no idea about my career right now, but I do know that I love studying the Middle East. I guess for now, I'm a cultural vagabond in the vein of Friedman. However, as we all know from Kerouac, everyone loves a vagabond. So read on...