Throughout this course we spent time talking about not only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but more broadly the cultures and people that make up each side and the state of Israel, mainly focusing on Jerusalem. We used many different learning approaches including reading a novel by Karen Armstrong, also reading different articles from many authors and using a blog for responses and comments to each other’s reading responses. We watched films and talked to many different people living in the conflict area or who are helping to change the situation in the conflict area. We held whole class discussions where anyone could speak their mind on a reading or project we had studied or something they had learned on their own. Overall I liked how the class focused on the conflict and the disputed area but in a way that gave hope to the situation and made it seem like a resolution could be found or at least that the people could learn to respect one another enough to live together in one area.
This semester we started off our class by reading the book One City: Three Faiths by Karen Armstrong. In her book she discussed the history of the city and area surrounding Jerusalem. By going into detail about all three religions I learned a lot of things about Judaism and Islam specifically, two faiths I have never studied much about. While learning the history was incredibly important and helped me understand the main and deep seeded feelings each side has in the conflict, I felt the book was very tedious and often hard to follow. I found myself constantly getting caught up in the small details of the book such as all of the names of people and places and their specific stories. While these were all interesting I didn’t find them particularly helpful to the class or memorable. For future classes I think that the time would be better spent reading specific chapters of the book that dealt with the necessary history needed for background information. Another route could possibly be having students read the book ahead of time over summer or winter break in preparation for the course as to not have to spend so much time on the book.
In order to keep track of reading responses and weblogs discussing more personal information about ourselves and our opinions to share with our fellow classmates we used blogs to write them out and post them online. The blog was hard to adjust to at first but once used to the format it is a good place to put up reading responses and weblog journals. It is definitely necessary to have reading responses to keep up and produce an individual opinion. However I found that the blog comments were not as effective as when we held open dialogue class discussions about the readings and video conferences. Last semester I took I-204 and I remember each class period we would meet in small groups, almost always with different people, and discuss the readings. After that we would designate one person to tell our group opinion to the class. This, in my opinion, was a much easier format to get everyone involved in discussion even those too intimidated to speak in larger class discussions. It was also a good way to get to know fellow classmates on a more personal level. A way to learn their ideas and opinions on certain topics.
This semester during our large class discussions, though I didn’t speak often, I found listening to my classmates share their knowledge and questions much more interesting than just reading it on the blog. When in a group conversation it is easier to facilitate thought and bounce ideas off each other. Often when someone says something it will remind someone else of something they wanted to bring up. Other times it will create a healthy debate between two or more classmates over conflicting ideas or perhaps a hot topic in government policy. I think in the future more class discussions about the blogs, rather than doing blog comments, would be a more effective way of getting more people involved and having more of a discussion. Though this was hard for us to do with a larger class, I think smaller groups is always a great way to share ideas and a good chance to learn from at least a few of your classmates.
One thing I would have liked to have seen discussed more throughout the class would be the current news from the conflict going on today. While we took a thorough look at the history of Jerusalem and of all three religions who have claimed the territory, I don’t feel enough time was spent on the history of the creation of Israel as a state and how the Palestinians originally became “displace” people. I also would have liked to have gone over the different intifadas a little bit and discussed things that were happening today politically to end all of this. I personally came into the class without much previous or even current knowledge on the conflict and would have really liked to have had a chance to hear more from classmates and possibly even politicians who were involved in making decisions about things like whether or not a two-state solution would be beneficial. This could be something that could be done by possibly having someone each class or each week bring in a new news article about the conflict area or a current policy up for debate affecting the area. Just a short discussion at the beginning of class I feel would really be a good way to keep students updated on the current issues in the area and keep the class discussion current as well. While this would be something to maybe consider discussing in depth if time, I found the class focus of hope for the future and how to create peace a great way of going about discussion in the class as opposed to focusing on all of the hurt and conflict that has gone on.
The parts of the class we discussed what was happening today to create peace, such as Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, were incredibly influential and in my personal opinion one of my favorite parts about the class. To see that kind of hope for the future in a situation that seems so messy there is no way out is very moving. It is something you keep with you and that presses you to want to get involved, even in a small way to help a bigger project. Because of this the film Knowledge is the Beginning is something I would definitely recommend keeping for the next classes. Along with Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim’s project, I thought the overall focus on music and children as a hope for the future were really good themes for the class. The children being something of such a large focus really surprised me but in the end it makes perfect sense. I really enjoyed the time and the focus we put into looking into these topics.
We had many video conferences with different speakers throughout the semester. While technology wasn’t always on our side, the speakers really helped to give us different perspectives from many different people affected by the conflict, or affecting the conflict, in many different ways. Being as removed from the danger of the conflict as most of us are in America the times we got to sit and talk to people in the area dealing with the armies and the disarray everyday really gave one a new perspective and outlook on the conflict area. It was also amazing to have a chance to ask questions to and really just listen to those talk who have spent their lives and are still spending their lives making a difference in the area. I think it was very moving to hear so many different people talk about the goal to conflict resolution being through teaching the children.
Throughout all our different assignments and speakers during the semester the thing I found most interesting and actually most conducive to learning were the group projects. These projects were not only fun to partake in but very interesting to watch as well. When bouncing around different ideas for our project we stumbled upon so many random websites and topics surrounding Jerusalem today. Learning about different things like the culture of both sides of the conflict or the politics of the conflict through our classmates and their interesting presentations were possibly one of the most influential things during the semester. By encouraging students to use videos in their presentations there were some very neat ones people found and even created on their own. I also think letting the student groups pick their own topics created many very different and almost random discussions about Jerusalem that normally wouldn’t be taught in the classroom. By sparking the students creativity and allowing them to take their project in any direction we had a lot of really exciting projects going in all different directions. Getting to hear students talk about these very different topics for a class period was a great way to end the semester, and getting to have a final day at the end to discuss them all and raise questions really helped clear certain things up as well.
One thing I was actually surprised about with this class was the ability for it to focus on the conflict and on the Israeli culture and the Palestinian culture while remaining very unbiased. As we talked about at the beginning and with Karen Armstrong no one is going to be naturally unbiased in a conflict. At one point I believe we even discussed how not talking about something can create a bias. However, I felt the way in which the class topics and discussions were structured each side was able to be represented and discussed in an equally fair light. I think that this had to do more so than anything with the structure of the class. Who was chosen to be a guest speaker and the different articles we read throughout the semester were all chosen to give equal opportunity to learn about and discuss each side of the conflict.