Monday, April 29, 2013

Living Jerusalem Reflection Paper

         The Living Jerusalem course is an incredibly unique and hands-on way of learning about the various facets of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Jerusalem. We covered such a huge variety of topics, covering both political and economic issues, as well as gender and identity related issues. I appreciate that this course was not set up like any other history course at Indiana University: there were no lectures from Professor Horowitz, but rather the majority of the class revolves around student-to-student interaction through various media forms. We also had the incredible opportunity to interact with well-known and distinguished scholars, politicians, and activists relating to study within Jerusalem and/or the Arab-Israeli conflict. Over all, I had a very positive experience with this course and would recommend it to anyone interested in Middle Eastern politics and/or culture; however to comment in more detail, I am going to break down the course into the following subjects: the readings, guest speakers, setup of the class, final project assignments, and recommendations for the future.
            During the first few months of the semester, we quickly made our way through Karen Armstrong’s Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths. Armstrong is a religious scholar, so it was important to keep this in mind while reading the novel since this is the main aspect of Jerusalem upon which she focuses. The novel was extremely detailed in terms of names, dates, and events, arguably even to a fault. The further I got into the novel, the more confused I became with the growing and ever-changing list of political leaders, battles and wars, and dates of importance, since they continually piled up. As an academic source, Armstrong’s book was very well written, but for someone with no prior knowledge of Jerusalem’s three thousand year history, it was a bit too much to take in and digest all of the information she presented.
            Complicating the matter further was the speed through which we were required to read the entire book. During the first few weeks of school, I was able to keep up well with the extensive readings since there wasn’t yet a lot of schoolwork being assigned; however, after the first month or so, I had a very difficult time staying on top of the reading. I used the weekends to my advantage in catching up on multiple chapters, yet during the week I became completely lost. In my opinion, having the reading responses due every Monday and Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. (shortly after many students are finished with classes for the day) was extremely difficult to keep up with. Because of my academic and work schedule, there was no way for me to complete the hundred or so pages of assigned reading and write a creative and well-written reading response in only 48 hours. Therefore, I was not able to read Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths as extensively as I would have liked; instead, I was only reading a section of one chapter and choosing important quotations upon which to comment in my blog posts.
            Conversely, I very much enjoyed the assigned readings during the second half of the semester: partly because they were much lighter readings and partly because I found the content material to be much more interesting. It was easier to stay on top of these readings since we were no longer required to digest a hundred pages of material in the span of two days, but rather we were reading a variety of relatively short academic articles or looking around at websites of related organizations. I enjoyed this because I was interested about learning about present-day Jerusalem, its issues, and the ways in which people are responding. But, as discussed in class, it is necessary to examine and analyze Jerusalem’s past in order to have any hope of understanding its present. So for this reason, I understand why the semester was divided in this ways according to the reading material; however, I felt the first half was too intense while the second half was perhaps too light.
            I feel very privileged to have listened to the work and experiences of so many renowned scholars and activists in this field, and I think I enjoyed this aspect of the class the most. I learned a great deal from each of the speakers because even though all of their studies and areas of interest relate to Jerusalem, they were still quite unique and covered a wide range of topics. Being assigned readings relating to each of the speakers before the video-conferences was a great way to become prepared so that we would have the opportunity to ask more in-depth questions as they arose.
            I also really appreciated the variety of sources that were used: it was obvious that the course attempted to provide intellectuals’ opinions from numerous sides of the conflict so that we would be exposed first-hand to the various faces of Jerusalem and the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is what had the greatest impact on me. Learning about the opposite side’s feelings, opinions, and even justifications of the conflict from a neutral individual (a teacher, for example) is so very different than hearing these things from the individuals involved themselves. Personally, Sahar Vardi was this “face of the other,” so to speak, that truly opened my eyes to the Israeli viewpoint of the conflict to which I had no experience whatsoever before this class. After this video-conference, I realized that there are people on all sides of the conflict, but especially Israelis, who support the Palestinian people and hope for peace while simultaneously supporting the nation of Israel. Before this, I was naively thinking only in extremes and in very “black and white” terms.
            As stated before, I really enjoyed the setup of this class, especially the unique use of media. Even though at times we had issues connecting with Ohio State University or with the speakers, it was a very cool experience to not simply be a single, isolated classroom, but rather connected with students learning about similar material hundreds of miles away. Likewise, the experience of videoconferencing with the guest speakers was so much more interesting and inspiring because we were able to see and connect with them one-on-one. It is nearly impossible to get this same kind of personal connection with someone through merely reading their materials or a biography of him/her. Therefore, regardless of the minor technical difficulties, the videoconferences are an essential component of this course because they allow students to see the “faces” of Israel and Jerusalem that would otherwise not be possible.
            Additionally, the blogs were another unique and potentially effective way (depending on the individual) for the students to communicate with each other. I have had courses in the past that have been centered on blogging, yet it has always been through OnCourse which is obviously not the most organized or efficient way to communicate. Therefore, I really enjoyed the professional blog setup because it was so easy to navigate around the students’ blogs and the other sections. It was also really neat to be able to come up with the design and layout as a class. I think as a whole the blog was very successful both for the class and for me personally. I prefer to communicate with students via written media because I feel I can more accurately express my opinions, whereas I sometimes get nervous or do not express myself clearly in face-to-face, group discussions. For these reasons the blog was very effective for me: I was able to easily access others’ writings, opinions, and reactions, and I could also communicate quite easily and casually with my colleagues.
            I have never been an extremely active in-class participator, simply because I feel uncomfortable speaking up about topics of which I am not very knowledgeable. Also, this class was so large that having class discussions was a bit intimidating because many of the people seemed to be so opinionated and well-informed about the issues at hand. Furthermore, I simply enjoy listening to students’ arguments and experiences because I learned a great deal from them. I think discussion is a very significant part of any course, especially one as “personal” as the Arab-Israeli conflict; however since this class was so large, it was rather difficult for everyone to share their thoughts. The small group discussions were a great way of responding to this issue since they generally allow people to feel much more comfortable.
            I had heard in the past that students completed their final projects individually or with one other person, so I was surprised to learn that we would be doing group presentations. Yet, again, because of the class size, this was an appropriate way of adjusting. I was very happy with how my group’s presentation turned out and with all the logistics. I enjoyed being able to choose groups based on similar topic interests, because oftentimes professors assign groups completely randomly, which is does not always cause the group to feel like one, cohesive unit. Over all, I am very happy with the final projects and have no complaints concerning them.
            I have very few recommendations for how this course could be changed in the future. In terms of the readings, I think Karen Armstrong’s book is appropriate for the course, but the chapter assignments should not be as heavy since they were nearly impossible to keep up with. Perhaps more could be assigned for Monday because of the weekend, while less could be assigned for Wednesday. Also, I think more rigorous teaching or discussion of the historical events would be helpful in class (the small groups often got off topic with this). Regarding the guest speakers; perhaps the class before there is to be a videoconference, we could prepare very generally in class and go over main topics and concepts to be aware of in the readings. I feel like this would be the most effective way to prepare for these speakers in case individuals did not have time to complete all of the readings. Also, I found the use of media to be very effective in encouraging creative ways of communication, and it kept the class interesting. Furthermore, I think both small-group and entire-class discussions are important for emphasizing and discussing/debating key concepts. Over all, I loved the course and learned so much from it, but I would have enjoyed listening to lectures by Professor Horowitz a bit more since she has so much experience in the field. It is true that as students we can learn so much from interacting with one another, but a mix between informal communication and formal “lecturing” perhaps would have been most effective in learning the historical, geographic, and political information surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

My Position: Changed and Strengthened

I feel like the most significant thing I learned from this class is that there are not only two sides to the conflict: it is not a black and white argument, Israel versus Palestine. There are so many different groups involved, whether political, ethnic, religious, and so on. In the past in thinking about this conflict, in my mind it was simply the oppressors versus the oppressed.  And in this way my position has changed dramatically because I now feel that I am beginning to understand the various underlying actors and networks that are all shaping the realities of the conflict in their own ways. Both Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims and Jews have all had their share of injustices from an outside party: there is no single group in the wrong or in the right. I think this is the key thing that needs to be understood in moving beyond the two-party rivalry of the conflict, and into action and compromise.

With that said, my position has also strengthened because I am still more sympathetic towards one party versus the other. I find it hard not to sympathize with those people of lower economic and living standards, and who have been suffering from the consequences of land dispossession for decades. This is just my opinion, and I am sure my personal and academic background makes me slightly biased towards this. However I think the most important thing is that I am now able to view this conflict through multiple "sides" / multiple parties: I truly do see the injustices and human rights violations that have been committed across the board, which many people are never able to do (I know this from personal experience, as I'm sure many of you do). Over all, this class has been a huge eye-opener in exposing me to so many different pieces of the Jerusalem puzzle that I never even knew existed, and for that I am very grateful. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Personal Struggles with the Course

In looking around at others' blogs, it seems like a lot of people found the structure of the course to be challenging. Personally, this wasn't the case for me because I have taken another course at IU that required blog posts after each reading, so I didn't find this too troubling. I will admit the due dates were a bit odd: since classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I expected to complete the blog posts on those days or at the least the night before. Completing the reading responses by 5 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays was a challenge and took some adjusting, but once I got into the swing of things it was pretty easy to keep up with.

Along the same lines, I found the heavy amount of reading, especially at the beginning of the semester, to be challenging in completing, particularly by the 5 pm due date on the day before class. I felt like I was constantly struggling to catch up in the Karen Armstrong book, and not because I wasn't reading, but because reading three chapters/ 80 pages between Monday and Wednesday at 5 pm was nearly impossible with my hectic schedule. Over the weekends, I was usually able to catch up to Monday's readings, but come Wednesday I was always behind. In my opinion, the first half of the course was too heavily-based on readings, and conversely, the end of the semester was too light. I do enjoy the contrast in the literacy pieces we read towards the end, as well as exploring different websites, but I struggled with the transition between the two sections and in adapting to the assignments.

In terms of a more personal struggle, I truly had a difficult time putting myself into the Israeli mindset, especially relating to building the separation barrier and settling in Palestinian lands. I was never able to empathize with their actions or the struggles they may have been facing, especially before taking this class. However, listening to the Israeli speakers was really eye-opening because in meeting real, Israeli individuals with differing opinions of the conflict, I stopped thinking of Israel as a comprehensively violent or oppressive entity, and rather one made up of diverse individuals with different views of the conflict. I was surprised to hear that some of them sympathized with the Palestinian struggle, and most of them just wanted to live in peace. I suppose this is because when you are only hearing about the atrocities and injustices a community commits, you start to think of everyone in that community in a negative manner. I feel like this class was a wake-up call in proving to me that this is never the case, and that generalizations and stereotypes are extremely dangerous concepts to hold on to.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

LGBTQ Groups in Jerusalem

I was surprised looking at the Jerusalem Open House's website because I did not expect an LGBTQ group in Jerusalem to be so cohesive and successful in many of their projects. They seem to have established a sense of security and community, that I'm guessing is a little nerve-wracking in a city with so many religious ties, and therefore (probably) very homophobic.

I was also surprised to read about their sources of funding, since normally organizations that are politically or religiously charged are not funded by government institutions. There website says that after 12 years in court, the JOH received a ruling from the High Court of Justice that the municipality had to provide the JOH with funding and treat them like any other community center. They go on to say that the municipality has provided as little as possible, but this is still a momentous achievement in my opinion. I'm not really familiar with the politics of LGBTQ institutions in the United States, but I'm assuming they never receive funding from government or state institutions. That makes this especially significant in a city so religiously charged with the beliefs of three faiths, all of which are quite homophobic (I'm not sure about Judaism on this point so correct me if I'm wrong).

"When I read in the Bible I could be killed for being gay, I understood what it was like to be Palestinian." I wonder if Israelis and Palestinians in the LGBTQ community get along better with one another than those outside of the community. It seems like the extra oppression  would bring closer together those already oppressed ethnically and/or culturally, since they have in common such a large part of their identities. I'm sure this documentary would be very revealing about LGBTQ "politics" and daily life in Jerusalem. I wonder how different it is from the community in the U.S.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: The Ramallah Diaries

I have actually read this novel before for a NELC class on Middle Eastern Literature, the topic of which was "Conflict through the eyes of the Author." I remember really enjoying this book because of the almost informal and light-hearted manner in which it is written. The author, Suad Amiry, uses a large amount of humor in portraying the cynical and illogical experiences of everyday Palestinians living in the West Bank. I think the contrast is effective in making more obvious to the readers the absolute absurdity of some of the things that Palestinians must deal with on an everyday basis, for example, going to get gas masks at six in the morning. I think humor is a tool used quite frequently as a means to deal with an otherwise extremely depressing situation.

The chapter about the dog needing an ID was equally as humorous / cynical. She tricks the Israeli soldier by saying the dog is from Jerusalem so he doesn't need an ID, and he is so perplexed he just lets her through. This situation is so obviously ridiculous from the point of a soldier requiring an animal to have an ID, but sadly these types of situations are so much more common for Palestinians than people realize. And moreover, they are usually unsuccessful in their endeavors.

I like Suad Amiry's writing style of incorporating so much humor into relating her experiences living in the West Bank; it is a welcome relief from fact-based, and "to the point" writings. However, I wonder which style of writing is more effective in getting the message across. For me personally, I enjoy reading more poignant renditions of conflict without the use of humor, for example, White Masks by Elias Khoury. This novel relates the Lebanese Civil War and particular individuals' experiences, such as a father losing his son in the war, and a young woman constantly beat by her husband. Obviously these types of things are much more unpleasant in reading about, but I think these messages need to be conveyed realistically to others so that they do not go ignored. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Weblog Journal #4

The role of my music in my life... This is such a huge topic to tackle and put into words, I don't really know of any other way to look at it other than how my experiences with music and my taste in music have evolved throughout my life:

Throughout my childhood I grew up listening to operas and classical music in the car. My mom grew up playing piano and often played in the house, so my first exposure to music was definitely classical. I also began playing violin when I was 7, which obviously got me even more interested in classical music and composers.

My first exposure to other genres of music (besides what was played on the radio) was through my older brother who was a huge fan of rap from a young age. So I began listened to Eminem in fourth grade, and I remember feeling exposed to a new world of music that I had no idea existed. I listened to all kinds of rap throughout middle school, which I suppose was linked with my adolescence and finding my own identity as a pre-teen/teenager.

During my freshman year of high school I was exposed to The Doors for the first time, and I became immediately obsessed. I went through a huge phase of getting really into 70's rock, like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, as well as some 90's grunge and jam bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I suppose this also related to this typical rebellious teenage phase that most people go through.

Since high school, I've gotten into all sorts of new genres and artists, which probably has to do with meeting so many new types of people with various interests in college. My current obsessions are Tyler the Creator, OFWGKTA, and The Weeknd, as well as some electronic music like Infected Mushroom, Crystal Castles, and Big Gigantic. I always seem to be a few years behind with the new music scene; I find it rather stressful to stay on top of it all. Some of my favorite artists are in completely different genres of music, so I guess I like a little bit of everything, as long as it's music with some sort of deeper message. (Nothing annoys me more than all the overrated songs played on the radio. And furthermore, I think the best music that is produced, no matter the year, usually isn't played on the radio.)

In terms of music's role in conflict, I think ultimately music is a form of expression. It is a way to voice one's opinions, but I'm not sure if I would consider it a form of communication because an artist can record music, but he or she can't make people listen to it. I also don't think music can solve conflict in itself, perhaps other than exposing issues and problems that may otherwise go unnoticed. But I'm sure there are some counterexamples to this that I'm unaware of.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Channels of Rage: Israeli and Palestinian Rap

"Gimme a mic and you'll see how good we go together, like Lewinsky and Clinton." This lyric from one of Tamer's raps (from Channels of Rage) is obviously striking, because I think it goes without saying that Lewinsky and Clinton did not go well together. Their affair caused an arguably unprecedented amount of controversy, particularly in relation to American politics. Americans began questioning the morals of their president and their government. But this lyric is nonetheless very telling: perhaps Tamer is implying that controversy is a good thing. It gets people talking about issues that might otherwise be swept under the rug. As a Palestinian, he has often been politically ignored and left without a voice so to speak, so in "giving him a mic" and allowing him to voice his opinions, the public is forced to pay attention to these issues that often aren't told from the Palestinian standpoint.

Rap is not only a means to expose issues within one's community to others, but it also can expose issues within one's own society. In this case, Palestinian rappers are not only commenting on Israeli politics and the conflict, but they also focus upon honor killings, which is a very controversial issue within Arab society. In the Middle East, the topic of honor killings is avoided, which is why I think it's amazing that this group (DAM) rapped so bluntly about the subject and even made a music video of a fictional honor killing. The only way to stop these human rights abuses that are so complexly linked with culture is to raise awareness and educate the public of their prevalence. "We feel that when there is a crime against a woman, it is seen as the end of the is just another death. A death justified merely by the fact of being a girl."

In the Global Post article, I found the comparison between Tamer and Tupac to be very striking. Not only did both use rap music as a means to convey political messages to youth, but they were/are both minorities living among majorities in their communities. And both used music as a means to "escape the realities" in which they were living. It's funny to think of how much rap has evolved: one could say, generally speaking, that today rap is more so about showing off material goods, partying, or insulting other rappers, etc. (Generally speaking. I know there are numerous exceptions.) However, I think it's safe to say that rap historically began as a form of rebellion against society, especially in the United States, and that it is very much still used in this way, but on a more "underground" level. For example, rap with political messages often isn't played on the radio. Just something to think about.