Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The Living Jerusalem Course: Evaluation

My cousin is joining the Israeli army. My aunt told me the news over Thanksgiving and I was shocked. In order to continue living in Israel, he must join the Israeli Defense Forces. I have never felt comfortable discussing Israel with my family. Because of our conflicting politics, we avoid discussing Israel. If I had learned that my cousin was enlisting before taking this class, I would have been less incredulous. After everything that I have learned about Israel, Palestine, and the conflict, I cannot imagine joining the army in order to stay in Israel. I did not mention this to my family. Even though I felt comfortable discussing my views in class, I find that for me it is much more difficult to speak openly about my opinions to my family members. I wonder if my cousin would make the same choice to join the army if he had taken this class. In the Jerusalem Project we learned a myriad of topics from the history of Jerusalem to the separation barrier to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community in Israel. Most importantly, students learn to open their minds to new opinions, to think critically, to wrestle with emotionally wrought topics, to question, and to listen. Through blogging, the Jerusalem Project gives students a space to form and change their own opinions. The Jerusalem Project should be adopted by every college campus. Any class dealing with controversial issues should implement the framework of this course. This class has strengthened my questioning skills and given me the flexibility to change my opinions. Throughout the rest of my studies, I will always remember to as Dr. Horowitz put it, “deconstruct the THE.”
Blogging gives students the opportunity to express their opinions in their own space. As opposed to typed writing assignments to hand in to a professor, the blog itself afforded student’s the freedom to express their opinions. Writing in the blog, I wasn’t as concerned with grammar or eloquence as I was about the process of forming my opinions. The blogging-buddy system is an effective way for students to interact through the blogs. Before we designated the blog buddies, I felt that it was difficult to develop interesting and thought provoking comments for my peers. The blog-buddy allows the student to view the changes of his or her fellow classmate throughout the semester. Instead of sporadically reading different classmate’s blogs, the buddy system allows for a deeper connection between classmates. If the Jerusalem Project expands to both Israeli and Palestinian students, then the blog-buddy system will be even more beneficial for the students. Although I would have liked to receive comments from Dr. Horowitz and other professors, I understand that this may inhibit some student’s writing. Comments from professors could lead students to think differently, consider another opinion, or inspire another avenue of thought, which would further complicate the “THE.” However, if professors were allowed to comment, it might take away from the perceived freedom of the blogging space. If students feel their freedom of expression would be sacrificed, then professor’s comments would not be worth the cost. At the beginning of each session, the professor could ask the students whether or not they would prefer comments. Not all students have to agree on this issue. Throughout my college career, I have never felt as free to express myself without constantly worrying about style and grammar as I have in the blogs. While writing responses, I wasn’t constantly editing myself. Writing in the blogs made it easier for me to articulate my emotions and form my own opinions, which changed after almost every class period.
The Jerusalem Project would benefit from having more class discussions. After every video conference, my brain was teeming with new ideas and questions. For example, before video conferencing with Eitan Grossman, I felt that a two state solution was the most just resolution to the conflict. After our video conference, I began questioning my opinions. Would Palestinians’ human rights be protected with a two state solution? Wouldn’t the same inequalities still exist with two states? Now I’m unsure as to whether or not a two state solution would be feasible. I would have benefitted from discussing these questions in a class discussion. Class discussions following video conferences would be fruitful. Students would benefit from processing what they have learned with their classmates. It would not be worth canceling video conferences, however, in order to have more class discussions. Time for class discussions is not always possible because the Jerusalem Project must work within the constraints of the university. If there is no way to make time for class discussions, maybe the class blog could serve as a forum for discussion apart from our personal blogs. On the forum students could share one question, idea, or section from their personal blogs. Using the class blog as a forum may be a way to foster an online discussion when an in class discussion is not possible.
While thinking about evaluating this course, I thought of the pros and cons of Armstrong’s book Jerusalem. At times, I felt slightly bogged down by reading. It was hard for me to digest such a large chunk of reading with so many historical players and facts. Because I’m not a history buff, sometimes Armstrong’s book struggled to keep my attention. Overall, despite my slight struggle with the book, reading Jerusalem is integral to the class. Reading Armstrong’s book gave me the historical context for the politics of Jerusalem and the struggles of Israel today. Because so many people debate about the historical facts of Israel, it was useful to learn them from an unbiased source. Although the reading assignments were long, it benefitted the class to have this historical background before we began the work of attempting to understand the situation in Israel today. I couldn’t think of any other comprehensive texts that could replace Armstrong’s book. In order to help solidify the information presented in the book, it would be useful for the class to review what they have read. I suggest that for each reading assignment, three students be assigned to outline or take notes on a specific section. Before class discussion, they could present the important information from his or her section. The students could even post their notes on the class blog. This system would help students remember key ideas, dates, and people.
Video conferences are a powerful tool to learn about Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the source. The Living Jerusalem Project gives students the opportunity to learn from people with a myriad of backgrounds and experiences. Every single video conference changed my perspective on Jerusalem, Israel, or the conflict in some way. Some students from our class have expressed the concern that we are only presented with liberal views. Some people have questioned why we do not video conference with right wing Israelis. I understand the desire to have a completely comprehensive approach to studying this topic; however, people can spend their entire lives studying this issue from different angles. In the media, Americans are presented with the right wing views of Israelis. If a student feels strongly that certain views should be presented, then perhaps he or she could explore the opinion in their final project. All of the video conferences were valuable and I learned from and enjoyed each one. One of my favorite video conferences was with Achmed. Because he was our age, I felt more comfortable asking him questions. During the video conference, he encouraged us to ask him any questions and was honest and open in his responses. Before taking this class, I have never before spoken to a Palestinian. Another of my favorites was videoconferencing with Aaron, the creator of Heartbeat. Not only was it enjoyable to hear about the project’s incredible work, but it was interesting to speak to an American who has chosen to focus his efforts on working towards creating a space for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. Every single video conference both contributed valuable information and complicated my understanding of Israel, Jerusalem, and the conflict. Another suggestion for the video conferences is that we meet with Naomi Chazan every single class period even if it is just to say hello.
The Jerusalem Project is not an average college course with a final that ends at the semester. Multiple students in our class have suggested some sort of Jerusalem Project club that meets after the completion of the course. This club could take a variety of different forms. The purposes of the club could include continuing to foster dialogue, learning, questioning, and debate. Another goal of the club could be to raise awareness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based on Lila and Allison’s presentation, it is evident that many IU students do not know much information about the conflict or the occupation. Before I took this class, I was completely unaware of the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. If I ever travel to these places, I’m sure that what I picture now would be completely different. The club could do a variety of activities to raise awareness from giving a presentation at organizations like Hillel or having a Jerusalem festival in Dunn Meadow. The club could also simply arrange for potlucks where we continue discussing the issues ranging from the occupation to the LGBT community in Jerusalem. Perhaps the Jerusalem Project could have a service component that could be continued after the completion of the course. The Jerusalem Project should create an avenue for students to continue the process of discovery after the completion of the course.
The Living Jerusalem class has been one of my most meaningful experiences at Indiana University. Engaging in the process of this course, I learned skills that I will continue to use throughout my life. The Jerusalem Project has not only changed my views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also my whole concept of knowledge and thinking. In conflicts in this world, there is less black and white and more gray than I before realized. I hope that the Jerusalem Project will continue to foster critical thinking and dialogue on many college campuses.

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