Across Borders 2012: People Living in an Environment

Naama Katz, 2012 Across Borders Participant On July 1st I was packing my last belongings, quite happy about the thought of leaving the July-August heat behind, in Israel. This thought […]

Naama Katz, 2012 Across Borders Participant

On July 1st I was packing my last belongings, quite happy about the thought of leaving the
July-August heat behind, in Israel. This thought was accompanied with the excitement of
finally visiting the country that has so much influence on my own culture, economy and
even language – the US. As someone studying and dealing with public policy as well as
environmental practices and green politics, it seemed like a great chance to learn from
the “big guys” in the US. My only fear prior to the program was in having to be “The Israeli”-
not an easy part in this play of Middle East and world politics.

So I arrived at Dickinson College, and started to meet the people I was going to spend the
coming month with – Jordanians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Israelis; women and men,
married people and singles, students and working people. By the time the jet lag was over, I already
knew the names of all the other 15 group members, and the program’s organizers and
academic leaders. I also figured out which is the best place for a beer in Carlisle (out of the 2
places), and that time schedules in the Middle East are usually more flexible than in the US….

The academic program started with a conflict management workshop, which lasted a few
days. Shalom Staub was teaching and practicing a model for conflict resolution that could
be implemented in all kinds of situations. The workshop was the first step in creating a
common language, for those who have coming from different countries, academic and
professional fields. It was a first opportunity to hear and share some views and ideas with
the others.

The coming weeks were full and loaded with studies, travels and meetings. We saw the
Chesapeake Bay and experienced it in the simplest way, sailing on its water. Later we also
experienced it with our heads, listening to many people talk about it, each one according
to his or her profession or interest. It was very interesting to see the different points of view
describing the same natural resource: economic, touristic, legal, and even emotional. So, I
asked time and again when meeting those people and organizations, “why isn’t it clean yet”?
The answers I (and others) got were various, but all had a common component – politics.
Moreover, it took me some time to figure out that the environmental issue called “cleaning
the Chesapeake bay” actually contains a fundamental conflict between basic American
values such as freedom of occupation for the American farmer and the benefit of other
population groups, and the next generations. Until this conflict is solved, or at least dealt
with, I assume it will be hard to deal with the environmental issue.

It was very important to understand how cultural factors influence environmental policy. For
me, though, the even more important part was dealing with the issues raised together with
the group members. I had the chance to get a clue of their views and values about the
thing we all call environment, which is supposed to be global and border-less, but which in
fact each one of us perceives differently.

About my fear of being “The Israeli” in a Middle Eastern group, well, I found that the best
thing to do was just be myself, with my range of views and believes about my own country
and about the politics of the area. I found a group of thinking people who were willing to
listen, even if not to agree.

More than everything, the Across Borders program was a human experience for me – an
experience of people living in an environment.