June 21: The Last Day–with Sikkuy, by Meagan Dashcund

Our last meeting was with Sikkuy, an NGO comprised of both Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens who work within the Green Line to create complete equality for the Arab Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. The name, Sikkuy, is actually a shared Jewish and Arabic word that means opportunity or chance, which demonstrates the commitment this organization holds for equality through changes in policy. Founded 25 years ago, Sikkuy has shared roles with both one Arab and Jew for each organizational position from co-chairs of the board, co-executive directors, and co-program directors. We learned about one Sikkuy initiative on shared regional tourism in which Israeli Jews experienced Ramadan by visiting with Israeli Arabs during the holy month. Even though these citizens were practically neighbors, they had never truly seen each other as more than “the other side.” Hearts and minds were changed after participation in this program, and the Jews particularly started to see the Arabs as a people and a society.

We then were told more about Sikkuy and the goal of its programs. Overall, it focuses on two very key aspects: equality and shared society. Equality focuses on the material things such as government budgets. We learned about how the organization targets discriminatory budget allocation and our speaker, Gili Re’i, highlighted the problem with the gap between Israeli Jewish and Arab society. She told us that the larger the gap gets, the bigger the discrepancy between the needs of the two groups. Sikkuy first identifies discriminatory policies against Arabs and then focuses on breaking down the barriers that prevent the policies from being overturned. They then create recommendations to the local authorities, the Israeli government, or Arab municipalities on how to make the policies more equal. With regards to equal budget allocation, Sikkuy was able to make the Israeli government realize that it was not in the Israeli economy’s best interest to allow this gap to continue to widen. In addition, Israel faces pressure to close the budget allocation gap  because of its recent acceptance into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED). Shared society, on the other hand, focuses on feeling at home in the society, beyond the need for material equality. As a democracy, Israel must address the legitimate need for Israeli Arabs to feel at home in all public spaces in the country. The current state of affairs favors the comfort of the Jews. These public spaces need to reflect the existence of both Jews and Arabs which means that there has to be an equal use of Hebrew and Arabic in these spaces, among other adjustments, including a national anthem that cannot be sung by 20% of the population.

Sikkuy was a perfect wrap-up for our course as a whole. Not only did it provide us hope when Gili told us, “The government doesn’t want our work to be done, but we do it anyway,” but it solidified the concept of shared space and equality, and ultimately, the entirety of the course. The fundamental goal for Sikkuy and many of the NGOs and speakers we have met with is equality in resources and equality of shared space. It’s not just about material equality, though. The need for both Jews and Arabs to be able to move freely, interact without discrimination, and feel welcome in Israel is a part of the beginning of the end of the conflict. People throughout this month have told us that this is not a religious conflict, but it most definitely is a personal one. The feeling of being at home and Ofer Shinar’s comment on positive self image are just as important as the legal negotiations and policy equality that the Israelis and Palestinians have to work out together. Through the varying perspectives and the barriers to peace involved in this conflict, everything will come down to whether or not the Jews and the Arabs can see each other as people and societies, and not just the “other side.”

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June 14: Shared Pain, by Meagan Dashcund

For what turned into the most emotional experience of the trip, the group had gathered into a Hebrew University International School’s classroom. We first met with two individuals, Moira Jilani and Rami Elhanan, from the NGO Palestinian Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace. This organization is responsible for bringing together families –Israeli or Palestinian – who have lost loved ones in the conflict. Joint activities, education, and public meetings, all are resources for this organization to demonstrate that reconciliation between the two nations is possible.

It was in the fluorescent-lit classroom that Rami and Moira shared with us their heartfelt stories. Moira is a mother of three, originally from Barbados. She moved to Houston, Texas when she was ten-years-old. She met her husband, Ziad Jilani, at the University of Houston, where he was studying to be a pharmacist. When he proposed to her, he said three things: he will eventually return to Palestine, his children must be Muslim, and he will never be divorced. When she asked about the possibility of multiple wives, he claimed he was a poor man and that even though the law would allow for him to have four wives, he was in love with her, and that was that.

On June 11, 2010, Moira said goodbye to her husband for the last time. He had gone to Al-Aqsa mosque to pray while their three daughters, Hana, Mirage, and Yasmin, stayed home with Moira after having just finished their final exams. The family had plans to go to the beach when Ziad got back. At 1:30 PM, Moira called to inquire the whereabouts of Ziad. She assumed he had left his phone in the truck when she received no answer. Half an hour later, her niece came to the house; her face red and filled with tears. Moira screamed Ziad’s name. Her niece told her that she should come to her mother-in-law’s house next door, and although Moira was only dressed for the beach, she ran down the street. 500 men were gathered outside and confirmed what Moira feared to be the truth.

There were three customary days of mourning. In that time, Moira received thousands of people at her house to support her and pray. Although she only knew a few hundred of those who came, she explained that it was customary for everyone to come out when someone is shot and killed in Jerusalem. For the most part, Moira had only heard that her husband was killed for his “terrorist actions.” Knowing that Ziad was neither a political activist nor a violent individual, she yearned for the truth. Three days later, Moira met Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist known for her reports on Palestinian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza. It wasn’t until Amira asked if she could go and discover the truth that Moira was able to find out what actually happened that day.

Amira found out from eyewitnesses that Ziad had been in his truck, coming back from prayer, when there was a demonstration causing a traffic jam in Silwan. Protestors from the demonstration threw rocks that shattered his windshield. When he attempted to get out of the situation, the side mirror of his car bumped into an Israeli soldier, who fell down. Israeli soldiers suddenly started screaming at him, calling him a terrorist. They started shooting wildly, hitting a young girl waiting for her father outside of a butcher’s shop, another elderly man nearby, and Ziad. Much later, when Moira walked into the Israeli High Court of Justice court room to for a hearing about the two border policemen who killed her husband, she told them that she expected nothing from the courts. She said that it was clear she was considered a second-class citizen in this country and that justice would not be found by these judges for the man who shot her husband. Approximately 30 people – friends, family, and neighbors, some who had come all the way from the US – showed up in court to support Moira. There were both Palestinians and Israeli  members of the Parent’s Circle present. Moira looked back to this time and said that even though she did not get justice against Ziad’s killer in court, the hope she received from the support of these people was a different kind of justice. When one of our group later questioned her if she felt anger, Moira claimed that she does not believe in revenge. She has seen the soldier who killed Ziad, and he is a much different man now than he was before. She said, “God is doing His thing to him, more than I could ever do.”

After hearing Moira’s story, we were all deeply touched. This was a woman who had suffered so much, and was still able to tell her story over and over again, without shedding a single tear. In Amira Hass’s report on the Israeli news website, Haaretz, she wrote that Ziad was shot and left lying on the ground. Even when he was still alive and still not a threat, Palestinian eyewitnesses claim they saw Israeli soldiers shoot him in cold blood and hit one of Ziad’s family members for trying to help him. What hurts even more to read, is that the Israeli media at the time was reporting that this was a failed, vehicular terrorist attack in which the terrorist was killed. If you care to read the article, you will find many more inconsistencies with what you might think is proper law throughout the investigation of Ziad’s death.

http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/otherwise-occupied-why-they-shot-him-in-the-head.premium-1.510669

Nevertheless, Moira ended her tale with a glimmer of hope. She talked about the women’s group, Steps for Peace, and how she was welcomed in for a “jamming session” hosted by an Iraqi Jewish Israeli woman, during which women made jam, ate Iraqi food, and shared recipes. Moira lightly joked about how difficult it was for Palestinian women to give up their recipes, but how important it was in this moment to share. Not only were these women sharing recipes, but their stories. The key, Moira claimed, was simply to sit over food and share stories.

We then heard from Rami, a Jewish Israeli. He smiled as he told us his name and leaned over, gesturing to Moira. He said, “This is my sister. She is one of the closest people to me, even closer than some of my family, because we have shared pain. She is a leader. She is a light in the dark.” Rami was born in Jerusalem, a 7th generation Jerusalemite. His mother, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, was also born in Jerusalem. His father spent one year in Auschwitz After his liberation from the death camp was later nursed to health by his mother, and that is how Rami came to be there today. He introduced himself by saying this: “I am an Israeli, I am a Jew, but first and foremost, I am a human being.”

Rami explained that 42 years ago, he was an Israeli soldier fighting in the Yom Kippur War (1973). He lost many friends in the war and when he had finished his service, he was bitter and angry and wanted to detach himself from the pain. He went to art school and became a graphic designer. He married, had four children, and 23 years ago on Yom Kippur, welcomed his daughter, Smadar into the world. Rami smiled as a spoke, telling us how amazing she was – she swam, played piano, danced, was filled with happiness. He was working as a graphic designer at the time for anyone who would pay him, left wing, right wing, it didn’t matter. He had completed his goal and was fully detached from the atrocities of the outside world. Nineteen years ago, on September 4, 1997, two Palestinian suicide bombers took their own lives in Jerusalem along with the life of 14-year-old Smadar. Rami said that it was the beginning of very long and cold night – one that continues to this day.

Rami explained that there are seven days of mourning in Jewish culture, called shivah. During this time, he questioned what to do. He told us that revenge was easy to feel, natural even. But he had to stop and ask himself, “If I kill the whole world, will she come back? Will killing anyone ease the pain?” For almost a year, he tried to go back to his normal life as if nothing had happened. He recalled the day when a very stereotypical left wing-looking Israeli man named Yitzchak Frankenthal invited him to talk about peace amongst a group of parents who had lost children. This man had also lost a son to Hamas. At first, Rami was angry at this man for even suggesting peace was a possibility, but curiosity got the better of him and he eventually agreed. Palestinians came to be with him, crying for his loss and their shared pain.

This was the first time Rami had ever seen Palestinians as human beings. It was this moment that convinced Rami to devote his life to spreading his message, “We are NOT doomed. We can change it and end this cycle. We MUST talk.” Rami explained that he believed people can learn to listen. The price of the other way, he claimed, was much too high. He then told us of their one great ally, which was the power of shared pain. He said that people could use it to bring darkness and destruction or to bring light. And just a little bit of light can get rid of a whole lot of darkness. He told us that we all bleed the same blood and feel the same pain. Even though the Jews are a people with 3,000 years of victimhood and fear of extinction runs in their DNA, he refuses to use his victimhood to victimize others. For a race that never forgets, he claims, reconciliation is the only hope.

The Parents’ Circle/Family Forum’s website has dozens of stories just like Moira and Remi’s. Some are written as letters, while others are warnings to families who may have not yet suffered. After a while, unfortunately, the stories begin to blend. Every loss was an unexpected bomb in someone’s life and a transformative period for each family. The how’s and why’s almost stop mattering because the sense of loss is the overwhelming force that drives each story. However, out the of pain and the suffering, there is one shared pain that with it comes one shared message: hope. Moira and Remi emphasized their demand for us: not to necessarily be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, but pro-peace. Through dialogue and understanding the humanity of the other side, there is hope for these two nations. All we have to do is share.

http://www.theparentscircle.org/Home.aspx

Afterwards, we spoke with Maya Kahanoff, who, along with a Palestinian co-researcher, took on the role as evaluator of the dialogue work of Parents’ Circle/Bereaved Family Forum. She began by speaking about her daughter. When her daughter was in 11th grade, she went to see the concentration camps as a part of a school trip. When she returned, she asked Maya how something like that could have ever happened. It was a question that we had heard at Yad Vashem and many times afterwards, and it is a question I am sure we will continue to hear. It was this experience as a mother that made Maya interested in the work between Israelis and Palestinians. She continued with statistic from the Bereaved Family Forum’s Dialogue Encounters for Youth: 1,400 Israeli and Palestinian youth, 63 dialogue programs, and one transformative process.

In general, Maya said, the Palestinian youth enter with anger while the Israeli youth are ignorant. While there are many narratives heard in these dialogues, the Israelis are often unaware and are hearing these perspectives for the first time. Maya claimed that this ignorance was a defense mechanism and talked about an Israeli “siege mentality,” which is a shared feeling of victimization and defensiveness. She told us that it is this sort of mentality that prevents dialogue, and it is this mentality that leads to apathy. In the Israeli society, apathy has led to a lack of trust, narrow perception, black-and-white judgements, and the blocking out of the suffering of others. To that end, Maya argued that empathy is necessary, which does not entail agreeing, but simply being willing to feel for the pain of all.

Maya repeated the message of Rami and Moira, and told us to try to understand, but not necessarily to choose sides. In her graduate-level course, Maya also tries to teach her Palestinian and Israeli students to respect the pain, empathize, and especially to be more reflective and critically analyze the information given to them. She told us about a particularly religious student who gave a presentation on an NGO that involved religious Jewish settlers talking to Palestinians and how, although she was skeptical at first during the presentation, she was reminded afterwards of the importance of including everyone’s perspectives.

Maya then spoke about the Holocaust. She acknowledged the existential threat we have heard about since our first day from Dolev and the powerful role it continues to play in Israeli society. She spoke about how the Israeli government often uses these powerful emotions to intensify the fear of the people and abuse its influence. Physically, the Israelis are stronger. Through resources, land, economy, international aid and support, the Israelis are the stronger party. However, mentally and psychologically, the situation is more difficult. She told us that from what she has seen in her class, it is important to discuss pain and create opportunities for attitude change so that both sides stop dehumanizing one another. Dehumanization only leads to the legitimization of killing. Maya ended her talk in a similar fashion as Moira and Rami: with hope. The only way to break the apathy, she claimed, was to raise hope even when the political leaders were using fear. Peace building requires this. She would know firsthand. According to her evaluation, 77% of the participants of Dialogue Encounters for Youth said they had an increase in their positive impression of the other side.

The take-away message was the same as many we have heard before in this course. Respect the other side, empathize with the pain, critically analyze everything you are told. Something that was particularly fascinating about Maya’s evaluation, that we have also heard in other talks, was the non-linear transformation in perspective. She described two phases. First, there’s euphoria. There is a sense of revelation that there is a completely new side to this conflict. Then (and this is the much longer phase) there is contradiction, and here you move forward and backward and hopefully forward again. This phase involves constant debate between what to believe and what to change about one’s beliefs. It isn’t easy, and one doesn’t have to agree with everything you hear from the “other side,” just respect the pain and empathize. In Maya’s words, “See others, but then see yourself in the others’ eyes.” Only then can the peace building begin. She noted at the end that in her view the most powerful work takes place behind the scenes, not in the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue sessions, but in the sessions for Palestinians and Israelis separately and in the interior work that each participant undertakes.

June 6: Jerusalem Old City and Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, by Lisa Teitelbaum and Meagan Dashcund

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Today we toured the Old City. We had already visited this area during our free time and knew a little bit about the history, so it was nice to go back with an official tour guide. We met our tour guide, Yossi, outside of Jaffa Gate. We began by talking about sacred spaces, their meanings for various religious groups, and the significance of Jerusalem as a sacred space. He then explained a brief history of the composition of the Old City and the uniqueness of the Armenian Quarter, as it is the only section that is ethnic and not religious. The Armenians have had a presence in Jerusalem since the first century, when they fought under the Roman empire. After this brief history we entered the city.

Our first stop in the city was the Mosque of Omar. You might find it interesting that this mosque was located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, right next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s not uncommon for houses of worship to be located in areas beyond their given religious quarter. The Mosque of Omar was built on the site where Omar, a Muslim Caliph, prayed next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He did this because he knew that a mosque would be built where he prayed and he did not want it to be built over the site of the church. Next we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church is located on the site where Jesus was buried before his resurrection. The church is managed by a number of Christian denominations, because the site is sacred to so many groups. Yossi told us that this can often lead to tensions between the denominations, as they often disagree about how conservatively dressed visitors should be or if pictures should be allowed. He even told us about a ladder that supposedly hasn’t been moved in hundreds of years because the leaders can’t agree on who is responsible for it.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immovable_Ladder).

We then left the church and headed back towards Jaffa Gate. We stopped outside what was called the Tower of David, although Yossi told us that historians dispute this claim. Rather, he says, its being referred to as the Tower of David is meant to be more of a symbolic location. He also brought our attention to the various types of architecture around the tower. There were a number of layers and elements to the architecture that represented the various empires that occupied the Old City throughout the centuries.

After this we went to the Tomb of King David. Again, Yossi explained that the accuracy of the location is disputed, but the religious significance it holds is more important. We were able to go in and visit the tomb. The room is divided with men on one side and women on the other and a divider down the middle. There were number of Orthodox Jews praying there. It was interesting to see first-hand how significant this site still is for Jews.

Afterwards, we made our way to the room in which it is suggested that Jesus held his Last Supper. The room is a second-story room that is directly above the Tomb of David. The space was large, stone, and had many Arabic plaques on the walls. We learned that it was originally the church of Mount Zion, but in 1524 CE, the Ottomans transformed the room into a mosque. This was due to the significance of Tomb of King David. Something interesting that we noted was the fact that the room was actually on the second floor. A couple of us have taken a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls which were found in Qumran, a site in what is now the West Bank. We learned about the tendency of the people at this time to convene in the “upper room” rather than on the first floor, because they were closer to God.

We then went to the roofs of the Old City. At the point at which we were standing, every single quarter touched. It was the only place that our tour guide allowed us to enter into the Muslim Quarter. He used this to illustrate just how easy it is to go from one quarter to another and that they were all relatively connected. We then left the roof and entered the Jewish Quarter. We went to a plaza that is surrounded by several primary schools. The plaza was filled with children playing and reenacting a battle against the Romans in celebration of Jerusalem Day. The plaza was the site of a number of sieges waged against the city and a major historical landmark.

After this we made our way to the Western Wall. We first viewed it from an overlook and discussed the significance of the site and the Al Aqsa complex behind it. The Al Aqsa complex contains the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. We were unable to get near the complex because of Hebrew University policies and limited visiting hours as dictated by the Islamic Waqf which controls the site. The mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. The Western Wall, located just below the complex is the holiest site in Judaism, as it is the closest location to the site of the ancient Temples. We were able to visit the Western Wall. Again, the area was separated by gender. On the women’s side, there was a woman who checked to make sure that all clothing was appropriate. If not, she would give women scarves or skirts to borrow. At the Wall, many people were praying and left papers with prayers written on them stuffed in the wall. There was also a Bar Mitzvah being held on the other side of the barrier in the men’s section. There was a group of women crowded around the separation barrier trying to watch him recite his portion of the Torah. The time spent at the Wall demonstrated the significance that the site holds for many people. Although we were unable to visit the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, we can imagine that the scene would have been similar. Our visit to the Old City, and these sites in particular, made clear how important this sacred city is for so many people.

Before leaving, Yossi talked to us about the meaning of the Hebrew word for Jerusalem, which is Yerushalayim. The direct meaning is “City of Peace.” Using this, he parted ways, wishing us peace on the rest of our trip. However, something that Shalom mentioned earlier this week, was to note the difference between the term for Jerusalem in Hebrew and Arabic. The Arabic is القدس, which is pronounced al-Quds and means “The Holy,” and is nothing like the Yerushalaim that the Jewish Israelis use. This is a source of contention between the Israelis and the Palestinians because it is reflective of the downplaying of non-Jewish place names, as a pattern of asserting dominance over the land.

Many of our fellow students were not prepared for what our next lecture would bring. We met with Yossi Kuperwasser, a reserve Brigadier General who had served as a Director General in the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the research division of the IDF Military Intelligence. It was an eye-opening change from what we had been exposed to while visiting the West Bank. He began by describing the ultra-radical Muslim beliefs, which he suggested were at the core of every conflict in the Middle East. Most importantly, however, he outlined seven key beliefs that he argued came from the Palestinian perspective. They are as follows: 1) There should never be a Jewish state because Jews are a religion and no religion has its own state; 2) Jews never had sovereignty of the land; 3) Jews are terrible creatures, which is why the West wanted to get rid of them; 4) Palestinian-ness is defined by the struggle against Zionism, which is racist and colonialist; 5) Palestinians are the only victims in this conflict and they continue to perceive themselves as victims in order to not take responsibility; 6) the conflict is both national and religious; 7) the conflict will never end until all of Palestine is returned to the Palestinians. His main point was that Palestinians will never accept any offer of peace that the Israelis could offer and that is why the conflict will never end.

The lecture left us wanting to discuss and process what had just been said, so we went to a nearby park to debrief. We began by sharing our initial thoughts about his perspective and why he may have thought the way that he did. For many of us, his comments, while very misguided, felt like a result of his interactions with Palestinians in the context of military action. As a high ranking military official in the intelligence sector, the Muslims he interacts with shaped his impressions of Muslims as a whole. We also agreed that this type of thinking, and the unwillingness to change it, was one of the many reasons that conflicts like this persist. On a larger scale, his views align with Samuel Huntingdon’s Clash of Civilization theories, the idea that certain civilizations are inherently incompatible and will inevitably fight to destroy the other. In this case, Western and Islamic civilizations. However, Mr. Huntingdon’s theory is critiqued for over generalizing certain conflicts and taking them out of context. Talking with our Madricha, Daniel, we learned that Brig. General Kuperwasser’s thinking was not rare in the Israeli military. In fact, these ideas are what the soldiers are taught to believe. She was surprised to hear that this was not our experience with Palestinians during our time in the West Bank. This lecture, and the discussion that followed, helped us to put Kuperwasser’s lecture into the context of our time in the West Bank where we heard and experienced interactions that completely contradicted Kuperwasser’s assertions. We came away better understanding the misconceptions that many Israelis have about Palestinians that have impeded progress in resolving the conflict.

 

 

 

May 25: The Yishuv–Museum of the First Aliya and Atlit Detention Center, by Meagan Dashcund

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19 hours after touching down in Tel Aviv, the group woke up early to begin our day exploration of Israel. We met our tour guide for the day, a Hebrew University student named Dolev, and traveled to Atlit Detention Center Museum via bus. We learned that the camp was built during the British Mandate for Palestine in the early 20th century. It was used for the processing of legal immigrants and later imprisonment of captured illegal Jewish immigrants who were trying to get to Israel after WWI until the British left Palestine.

There were many different stories about this camp. For the legal immigrants, it was as a place of waiting until they received certificates that allowed them permission to enter the country legally. For the illegal immigrants of the 1930s, it was a place of detention (until they could be shipped out to Cypress for further detention). By the mid 1940s, survivors of the Holocaust started to arrive. For them, the barbed wire, forced cleansing showers, and male and female separation, caused the camp’s residents to fear the camp. The longest anyone stayed at Atlit was 23 months.

We saw a complex and detailed show on the ship, Galina, that told the story of the immigrants who came to Israel and were detained at Atlit. We also heard stories about a group of 40 immigrants who escaped from being sent to Cyprus to be detained with help from the Palmach, the underground army of the Jewish community. At the end of the tour, Dolev told us that his grandfather had been a survivor of the Holocaust. He said that he always kept the Holocaust in mind and that no matter what negative things we heard about the Israelis later on our trip, we should remember that the majority of the country is still healing from the effects of the Holocaust.

We then went to The Museum of the First Aliyah in Zichron Yaakov where we dressed up in clothes that the first Jewish immigrants would have worn to Israel and took a guided tour that told us a story of a family who made aliyah in 1882. Aliyah is the Jewish term for the immigration to Israel. It literally means, “the act of going up” and is one of the most basic tenets of Zionism, a movement that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the historical Land of Israel. From the family we followed through a series of videos, we learned that it was very difficult to farm in Palestine at that time, particularly using the techniques that they new from Europe. After many failures, the early Jewish settlers tried to copy the agricultural practices of local Palestinians and turned to grapes. At the point of desperation, Baron Rothschild in France offered to buy the land from the settlers and send in people to tell them what to farm and how to do it. Unfortunately, we discovered that the supervisors were not always kind to the Israeli pioneers and were often considered arrogant and demanding.

 

Meagan Dashcund

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Hi, my name is Meagan. I’m a rising Junior at Dickinson and I’m from Hamilton, Massachusetts. I am a double-major in International Studies and Religion, concentrating on the Middle East and security studies, and am minoring in Arabic. In the Fall, I will be traveling to Amman, Jordan to study Arabic further. At Dickinson, I am member of the women’s varsity squash team and I like to draw and paint in my free time.