Hamline News

Bringing Peace to the Middle East

peace article

In some ways, their itinerary looks like a typical first-time trip to the U.S. During their eleven days visiting Hamline University, the fifteen high school students and thirty educators were going to a Twins game, having picnic lunches, and spending a day in Duluth.

And then there were some agenda items you don’t typically see: visits to a church, a mosque, and a synagogue. And discussion sessions, with topics like “The Role of Debate and Dialogue in Civil Society” and “The Role of Media in Promoting Democratic Dialogue.”

That the students and educators were from the Middle East isn’t what was surprising. What is extraordinary is that the visitors were Israelis, Palestinians, and Lebanese—all traveling and working together.

And their goal for the trip was much more ambitious than merely sight-seeing: Their purpose was to explore new paths toward Middle East reconciliation.

For the past seven years, with the support of U.S. Department of State grants, private donations, and local foundations, Hamline University faculty have worked with Israeli, Palestinian, and more recently, Jordanian and Lebanese educators, to promote the concepts of coexistence, tolerance, and respect through education. Together they have developed and implemented civic education curricula for Palestinian and Israeli high schools, including two-year civic education certificate programs for students and teachers that have enrolled two thousand students.

Every year they meet for an annual workshop, which helps guide their progress. This year’s conference, focused on democracy and leadership, was the first to include students.

The students and educators spent the week working together to develop a more sophisticated understanding of democracy and leadership as vital elements of an engaged civil society, exploring the roles of media, formal debate, service-learning and volunteerism, and interfaith dialogue in enriching community work. The students, all graduates of the program, were selected to attend the conference based on their leadership abilities, and are expected to return to their schools and work on establishing cross-national volunteer programs there.

“We talk a lot about social stuff, things we have in common,” one student said in a Star Tribune article. Due to fear of political reprisals when they return home, students’ names are not made public.

The conference is an “example of reconciliation” between Israelis and Palestinians, focusing on ways to improve both societies, Hamline global studies professor Nurith Zmora told the Star Tribune. Zmora helped found the program at Hamline, along with other professors.

Tamar Zmora, daughter of Hamline professors Arie and Nurith Zmora, served as a college intern during the conference. She recounted some of the students’ experience in an article she wrote in The American Jewish World.

“I didn’t expect to be friends (so) quickly with people. I feel at home,” one student said in the article. “I finally understand our importance as youth; I truly feel that I can make a difference for the better,” said another.

“With tearful goodbyes and the exchange of heartfelt letters and gifts, the students returned to their neighboring home countries after eleven days together,” Tamar Zmora wrote. “Within twenty-four hours of their arrival back home, the students were already posting pictures and writing to each other through online forums. The students are now begging their teachers for a reunion and are hopeful that this can be achieved.”

By: Breanne Hanson Hegg