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Students accept Carter challenge

Published: February 2, 2007
Section: Front Page


Members of the Brandeis community are working to fund a community delegation to the West Bank, sources say. The two initiatives come weeks after former President Jimmy Carter challenged the university during his Jan. 23 speech to visit the occupied territories for a few days to determine whether I have exaggerated or incorrectly described the plight of the Palestinians in his controversial book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.

Following the Carter event, I feel as though this is a good opportunity for Brandeis students and the community as a whole to actually pursue measures to bring understanding regarding issues about the conflict in the Middle East, said Kevin Montgomery 07, who is leading the effort to sponsor the trip. While the committee is still being finalized and logistical discussions have not begun yet, we expect to travel in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, explore the Palestinian territories themselves, and, travel and cost permitting, we'd like to travel to Israel itself.

Montgomery, who also began the petition that ultimately convinced Carter to speak at Brandeis, felt that there was a continued momentum from the Carter event that was spearheading this. He added that this proposed trip would preferably take place for several weeks during the summer to maximize the amount of time available for student findings, and would not act as a course for college credit. Montgomery also stated that a popular idea amongst the committee was to film the delegations travels, in order to create a documentary of their findings.

Its a great idea, I think, said Professor Gordie Fellman (SOC). Theres nothing like getting up-front and close experience to get ahold of a situation that people only hear through hearsay and secondary sources.

Its a good idea for us to go further for this, said Dustin Smith 08, a member of the core committee of Montgomerys proposal. Now that weve opened a dialogue on campus, its best for us to go the whole way.

Caleb Smith 10 said the reason he joined the core committee was because I guess that its something I don't know a whole lot about I'm not Jewish so its not something I've given a whole lot of thought about before going to Brandeis, so I historically sided with Israel. Caleb said that President Carters speech, even though I though he left out a lot of things, it showed me a side I hadn't seen before. Obviously we can support Israel, but I hadn't heard the side of the what the Palestinians go through.
One dilemma that some students have raised is that of protecting the students. From being in Israel, I have felt as though I were singled out as an American and a Jew by how I look, said Sara Allinson 07. Recalling news of suicide bombings and students being kidnapped last summer, Allison said, I would be extremely hesitant to go into this areaeven with bodyguardswith a group of predominantly white and possibly Jewish students. A bodyguard can only protect you against so much.

Finally, one of the most difficult issues for the neutrality of the trip is that of funding. Indeed, plane tickets from El Al can range from $1,000 to $1,500, and conservative estimates of the costs of living and travel from the Peace Yeshiva encompass $75 per week. Furthermore, prices for security and video equipment could range up to tens of thousands of dollars. Montgomery, when asked about potential donors, said that possible sources would not be determined until the committee met.

There is one source, however, that has been ruled out by the committee: We don't expect to have any affiliation with the Carter Center, said Montgomery;

however, he added, We have already contacted the Carter Center for advice and potential contacts of people we could interview while in the Middle East.

Many have stated concerns that the trip would be biased in one direction or another based on the entities funding the enterprise. When asked his opinion, Fellman said, Everythings biasedso what? I dont see a problem with bias.

Allison agreed, saying I dont think it can be unbiased but I think the best way to do this is to see the happy and sad stories in Gaza and the West Bank. She added that any delegation should also do some rebuilding in the North, and see some of the families that had to endure Katyusha rocket attacks into the civilian areas. Furthermore, she suggested a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Yad VShem: I think that represents the entire idea of Zionism that the militants and extremists are fighting against.

Dustin Smith, meanwhile, felt that it was possible, although perhaps difficult, to have an unbiased trip: You just need the right mix of people to do that, he said. It cant be dominated by BIPAC, or be dominated by extreme leftists, but a preferably neutral delegation, or a very inquisitive bunch thats over there. He added that a group would need very good documentation skills to do something like this.

Caleb Smith added that I think it will be difficult because, when writing a story like this, I think there are hard things that the Palestinians are going through, but you also have to take into account that Israel is also defending itself.

A lot of people who have very strong opinions about the Israel-Palestinian conflict haven't been there, said Fellman. There's nothing like first-hand experience to get the juices flowing.

If I could, I would definitely love to go and see it for myself, added Dustin. I've read plenty about it, but its very different to step on the ground there and meet these people who are having these experiences. Since this [challenge] was brought up during my answer from President Carter, I think it would be a good thing and step up and do it.

Editor's note: Due to a copy editing error, the Hoot said that the Student Union was working on a trip. They are currently not involved in such matters.