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Cornell's Adult University trip explores 'mother of all conflicts'

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has often been called the "mother of all conflicts." A Cornell's Adult University (CAU) trip in May looked at that conflict up close and personal, in part through the eyes of alumni on the scene. The 17-member group met with scholars, government officials and private citizens. They examined the multiplicity of positions held by Israelis and Palestinians and the problems standing in the way of a resolution.

Israel trip participants meet over lunch with Hind Khoury and Ross Brann

Israel trip participants meet over lunch with former Palestinian Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Hind Khoury (seated, center). Ross Brann, the Milton R. Konvitz Professor of Near Eastern Studies and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow (standing, center), led the tour.

Ross Brann, the Milton R. Konvitz Professor of Near Eastern Studies and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, led the tour, which was staffed by CAU Director Cathy Penner. Brann said the trip was different from others he has led for CAU because of the presence of alumni working in the conflict zone.

"There are some very prominent Cornellians in Israel and the Palestinian territories," he explained. "Most of them are doing peace work of one sort or another, and we met with some of them. It was a very important part of the experience for the CAU students" -- as it was for Brann himself, because the opportunity to engage with alumni is what keeps him leading CAU trips.

Participant Rehana Huq, M.S. '00, said she particularly enjoyed a meeting in Jaffa with members of the Israel Cornell Club. "It was a really rich experience," said Huq, one that incorporated casual socializing as well as structured engagement with alumni working in Israel. She added, "It feels so good that Cornell alumni are doing things that are making a difference."

Israel trip participants enter Israel Museum

Cornell's Adult University Israel trip participants enter the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

One alumnus the group met was attorney Danny Seidemann '73, head of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an NGO supporting crisis prevention and management in the city. Robert Brooks, Ph.D. '65, helped arrange for the group to meet his colleague Rami Nasrallah of the International Peace and Cooperation Center in East Jerusalem. The group also met Sari Nusseibeh, president of al-Quds University, and Dani Dayan, chair of the Yesha Council, among others.

"This trip was planned and tailored so that we really experienced something different," said Brad Tabach-Bank, J.D. '70. "Ross personally created the course plan and sought out the right people to hear about it, and we felt privileged in that regard."

This is the third CAU trip for Tabach-Bank. While he has been to Israel before, he wanted a chance to personally assess the facts for himself and see what forces were coming to bear on each side that have created the intransigency. "The high point for me was actually seeing the Separation Wall and then traveling to Ramallah to see what the proposed Palestinian state looked like," he said.

Brann's goal was to deepen the travelers' understanding of and appreciation for the complexity of the conflict. "To see this engagement with the issues and the people happen is the most rewarding thing for me as an educator," he said.

While the trip was not oriented to sightseeing, the group did spend time exploring Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy and historical sites, including recent excavations. And naturally, they made a stop at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa for a presentation. Cornell and Technion are partnering in the new tech campus in New York City.

On a visit to Ramallah in the Palestinian territories, the group met with Hussein Hirji '03, whose official title is Political Officer at the Representative Office of Canada to the Palestinian Authority. Those on the tour extension also had a chance to meet with Lauren Herman '05, a third-year Harvard law student interning with Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

"We expected to come away with a better understanding of the issues involved in the conflict, not necessarily solutions, and we were richly rewarded," said Brian Miller '79 of his fifth CAU trip. "Ross' lectures and his reflections on the comments of the outside speakers left us feeling enriched, enlightened and privileged to have been able to take this trip."


Terrestrial Jerusalem

International Peace and Cooperation Center

Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

Yesha Council

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