The San Diego State University (SDSU) Fact Finders Mission flew out of Ben Gurion Airport just a few weeks ago. When I first met its members they were strangers, decked out in the Greek letters of their fraternities and sororities, born in the mid-90s, coming to Israel for the first time from a campus known for its anti-Israel activity. With the exception of one, they were not Jewish and had very little personal stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I watched as they fought their jet lag and asked all the tough questions as remarkably reflective young adults, enriched with new passions and inspiration to act.
“I’m confused, but I like it,” is a sentence I heard them say a lot. To have the courage to acknowledge the complexities of this land, peoples, and conflicts, is something that deserves mention. This is what we do at Israel Experts. We show the beauty in the complexities.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be standing on a mountaintop in the Golan Heights overlooking the Syria war that seems so far away,” one SDSU student said as he ate the best hummus of his life.
“Listening to the innovation and hope of Rawabi (the first planned Palestinian city), I kept thinking how inspiring their work is and how much I need to get off the couch and do something with my life when I get back to campus,” said another student leader.
We at Israel Experts have been designing and operating Fact Finders Missions to Israel and the West Bank to show students in leadership positions the stories and faces beyond the headlines. We believe that the best way to learn and deepen understanding is from experiential education. This is precisely why we strive to expose our groups to a wide variety of ideologies, narratives, and people during their time in Israel. We present as many facts as possible and leave it up to the students to decide with which narratives they identify and what they ultimately do with their experience in the region.
On the final night of our journey together, the students spoke of their aspirations back in California and it renewed my hope in the campus environment as an open marketplace of ideas. Instead of arguing or threatening to boycott, these students want to create real dialogue on campus with an understanding of the immense multitude of layers and versions of narratives of this fabled conflict and land. I believe this is the way to make our world a bit of a better place – through experiential education.
Melanie Pasch is a member of the programming staff for Israel Experts’ Fact Finders Missions.
For more information, write Melaniep@israelexperts.com