As the upcoming 2012 presidential election draws near, foreign policy is increasingly a deciding factor in who will be the next president. Though recent polls on RasmussenReports.com show a close race with 50 percent of voter support for Mitt Romney and 46 percent for President Obama, which excludes 3 percent for another candidates and undecided voters, our country is separated by percentages and not by countries as it is in the Middle East.
While in Israel and neighboring areas in May of 2012, thirteen UVU students studied foreign policy for themselves and see its implications first-hand. Through the Peace and Justice study abroad program, each student witnessed the dividing tension between Palestinians and the Israelis.
As explained by participant Jordan Greene, political science major with an emphasis on international relations, people there are not only divided by ethos but by “partitions, watch towers and walls,” such as the Israeli West Bank Wall.
With regard to these dividing structures, Greene also described visiting the highly protected Cave of the Patriarchs, a structure he said that is “separated, sometimes with bulletproof glass, into half a [Muslim] mosque, half [Jewish] synagogue” where Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah from ancient scripture are said to be buried.
However, this did not to describe all areas students visited. Although in certain areas, neighborhoods and other borders were seen to classify a division of the cultural and ethnic groups, both students and faculty also saw Jewish people, Palestinians and others sharing the city and regularly going about their daily lives.
“In Jerusalem, between the Israeli and the Palestinian side, you see Orthodox Jews walking around with their hats and long coats and curls next to Palestinians and there’s no problems,” said John McFarlane, an academic advisor and administrator over the Middle East Study Abroad program. “[Elsewhere] obviously there are problems going on, but we didn’t see any.”
What goes on in these cities, as McFarlane further explained, isn’t always violence but a kind of tension.
“When you talk about the issue, you can find this frustration. All the Palestinians in Jordan, most of those young people, are not allowed into the West Bank,” said McFarlane.
Because of somewhat strict border control, one students on the trip, a Palestinian and former refugee from Jordan, was not allowed to enter the West Bank with rest of the group and had to stay with family in Imman, Jordan.
Greene attempted to explain the perspective held by the Palestinians he encountered of the overall issues in the area.
“They just want to be treated like normal citizens,” Greene said. “[Arguments over] the settlements, and the Palestinian right to building licenses and the ability to farm and cultivate land have made them feel that they are very oppressed.”
He continued that people in the West Bank expressed that the U.S. support of Israel was “like handing the Israelis a blank check to do what they want.”
In short, Greene explained that Israelis intend to preserve their land from the Palestinians, and Palestinians want the right to return to the land and become equal citizens.
“I can see how difficult it would be for people to see what the truth is,” Greene said, “because both sides are saying the opposite thing.”
Greene shared his opinion of the role of the U.S. in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“I think that the U.S plays a key role in the peace process because even in Jordan, as allies, they regarded the U.S as someone that can help them, kind of like a plead for help,” Greene said. “Palestinians want the U.S to look more with scrutiny and the Israeli behavior and to threaten Israel with the reduction of funding. They feel that U.S is the only one that has the power to pressure Israel to resolve the issue.”
Overall, Greene said most of the people in the area just want to live in peace.
In discussing how Israel can remain a place of diverse culture and yet still become a nation of peace, Greene reported the general consensus held by many.
“[The Israelis] either need to give [the Palestinians] their own state or treat the people as their own citizens” he said, and added that both have a responsibility of the people living within their borders.
The political science major also shared some tips in understanding the foreign policies of the presidential candidates, including keep an open mind.
“You should consider their position on dealing with conflicts their willingness to work with both sides,” Greene said. “Be able to look at the candidates’ willingness to learn and be open minded about situation and that there might be aspects of the situation they don’t know about and be willing to change.”