Over winter break three Kenyon professors touched down in Tel Aviv, Israel, from where they would embark on a 12-day cross-institutional trip across Palestine.
During the trip, the professors spent most of their time in the West Bank, visiting the cities of Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as more rural communities and villages; they also had a chance to visit Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.
Associate Professor of History Nurten Kilic-Schubel said that the experience enriched her understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict. “It is one thing to know something intellectually,” she said, “it is really different to be there and see and observe and listen to Palestinians from different walks of life — their everyday struggles, their ways of changing their conditions, their form of resilience.”
Associate Professor of Sociology Jennifer Johnson, who’s area of focus is the U.S.-Mexico border, said the trip gave her a perspective on the region that she wouldn’t have otherwise had. “It was a really incredible opportunity for me as a sociologist to think about another part of the world and another set of borders,” she said.
Johnson and Kilic-Schubel said that their itinerary focused on learning about the divisions, both visible and invisible, that segregate Palestinians from Israelis. “Some of these separations [are] very obvious, like the wall, and in other cases it’s invisible to those who do not want to see,” Kilic-Schubel said.
On the trip, the professors visited villages and cities along the West Bank, talking to international rights groups and Palestinians living there. “Typically we would spend a day in the place and someone from an organization would guide us through a walking tour or driving tour of a region,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the trip was funded by a grant that the Global Liberal Arts Alliance received several years ago from the Mellon Foundation for the use of cross-institutional collaboration.
Johnson said that there was a call for proposals from the College, from which three applicants — Johnson, Killic-Schubel, and Associate Professor of Philosopy Jason Waller — were chosen to travel alongside professors from John Cabot University, an English-language institution in Rome, and Acadia University.
Johnson described the inaccuracy of the Green Line — a border established to settle the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, that bisects the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean — as an example of Israeli transgression. She said that, as an occupying power in this region, Israel has certain constraints which it must follow. “Under international law, there are certain things that occupying powers can and can’t do,” she said. “Technically speaking, they’re supposed to respect this line.” In light of this, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, along with housing demolitions and other aggressions against the Palestinans living there, disregard the law, according to Johnson.
“My understanding is that settlers don’t represent all Israelis, but the kinds of people who go into the West Bank and set up outposts or settlements are often ideologically very Zionist,” she said. “They see themselves as having a right to the land.”
Killic-Schubel described the Israeli military presence in Jerusalem, noting how, even among the marketplaces, alleys and stores, “you have checkpoints, every 10 meters, depending on who you are.”
Killic-Schubel described the concept, of “sumud,” defined as “staying put” or “steadfastness,” which often comes up in Palestinian films and fiction, as well as anthropological and other writings, but that she never understood until visiting Palestine.
“I remember very vividly my conversations with this Palestinian farmer, his loving description of his farm, his oranges, his sense of history, his stories about every tree and every plot of land in his farm,” Kilic-Schubel said. “And I remember saying to myself, ‘Oh, this is what the Palestinian authors were trying to convey by sumud.’ Those kinds of things are really important as scholars, intellectuals who write and teach on these issues, but also as individuals who really care about global injustices.”