Political Science students go to Israel, gain new perspective

MTSU students in Israel. Photo by Dana Fox.

This year marks the second time two faculty members at MTSU got to take a group of students abroad to Israel to study “The Politics of Being Israel,” an upper division Political Science course.

Karen Petersen, assistant dean of liberal arts, with her son, Dean Mark Byrnes, 6 undergraduates and one masters student went into the country at the end of July in the midst of what Petersen refers to as the worst conflict in recent Israeli history since the War for Independence.

Despite the conflict, and despite the trip being postponed for a week, Dana Fox, a masters candidate in criminal justice, said the they never saw any fighting.

“There was security everywhere, which was already expected. It’s the most heavily guarded country in the world,” Fox said. “But it was quiet, no indication that anything was going on at all.”

Fox said after the trip was postponed she watched the news the entire week and had wrote off that they were even going.

“I never thought I would be able to go,” she said. “Up until the day before, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to go … Then I got the phone call that said, ‘Are your bags packed? We’re leaving tomorrow.’ … So just getting to go was the fulfillment of a dream.”

Fox said the trip to Israel was a smooth flight that took over 11 hours. But for Nathan Warren, a senior international relations major, who had never flown before, it was long, miserable flight during which he only got 15 minutes of sleep.

“By the time we made it to Netanya, I just wanted to lie down and stretch out,” he said in an email. “Never experienced jet lag though. Next morning at 5 a.m., I was ready to explore.”

Warren plans to follow a career as a military officer after graduation. He said his purpose in traveling to Israel was to see the region in a different light. He is also minoring in Middle Eastern studies, so he knows the language and the history well.

Despite the area being relatively quiet, tensions were high, he said. The student group received reports of violence in the area and could hear gun fire and explosions in some areas they visited.

However, they did not witness any of the violence.

Petersen, who has been to Israel on several occasions, agreed that tensions were high in Jerusalem between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“It wasn’t something you could see but something you could feel,” she said.

She said she has always felt welcome everywhere she has travelled in Israel, but the only place she normally feels uncomfortable is on the Temple Mount. Muslims were allowed to maintain control of the Mount to keep the peace after the Israeli state was created, but Israeli police are always there because of sporadic riots.

This time, Petersen said heavy military force were there because there had been a lot of riots that week.

Petersen said students go on the study abroad trip because they are fascinated with Israel for a variety of reasons, but she believes the trip wakes people up to the reality of what is happening in the region.

“It’s a long history that goes back a couple thousand years at least,” she said. “I think [the trip] tempers some pre-existing ideas of what Israel means. This is a state and it has all the real problems that any state faces.”

Both Fox and Warren said they saw all the amazing sights they had dreamed of seeing in Israel. They both had a long list of favorites, from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to Mount Masada, which they took a cable car up and an hour-long hike down. They also got to look over the plains of Armageddon and the Syrian border. Warren mentioned swimming in the Mediterranean and being baptized in the Jordan River.

Of all the sights they saw, the two students expressed their awe of being witnesses to history far off and history in the making today.

“It’s crazy to think about how close we were to all of that,” Warren said. “There was a directional sign we saw one time saying ‘Damascus 40miles; Beirut 60 miles; Amman 50 miles; Bagdad 400miles.’ We were right in the middle of it all, and that was all I had ever wanted out of going to the Middle East.”

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    September 11, 2014

    I think that it is great that people are so interested in visiting Israel, particularly students from MTSU. With all that is going on the the middle east right now, I think that it is important to actually go and witness the events, culture, and politics involved in the middle east right now.
    One of the things I thought was particularly interesting about this article was that the students said that they could “feel” the tension between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I remember hearing my girlfriends mother talk about her recent trip to Israel, where she said the same thing about the temple mount. While her mother was there, they actually witnessed a sporadic riot by the Palestinians and had to leave the area.
    When my girlfriend visited Israel she said the one of her favorite things was seeing the valley of Armageddon. She said that their guide was very knowledgable about the area, and pointed out the different entry ways into the valley from each of Israel’s enemies. The guide said that if there was to be a battle between all of them, that this valley was the perfect location for such a battle to take place.