Thomas DeClerck, Graduate Student
ISRAEL TRIP FOLLOW UP
The summer is quickly coming to an end and thus I would like to take the time to share with you the incredible and insightful experiences my travels to Israel and the Palestinian Territories have provided me. During my ten weeks of study, internship, and travel in Jerusalem and throughout the Middle East I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to a world and people most Americans (as well as much of the rest of the world) in their lifetime will probably never have a chance to experience. Having the opportunity to live and volunteer in Israel and Palestine has provided me with new insights as well as sometimes more questions than answers to the many issues that concern those living in the region. In the mist of these insights and questions I’ve returned to the United States with the ultimate hope (and prayer) that someday peace will finally find its place in a land all too often scarred by a long past of deep hatred, devastating destruction, and reoccurring violence.
My time working with The Al-Mamal Foundation for Contemporary Art within the Old City of Jerusalem provided me with admiral exposure to the efforts of those Israelis and Palestinians who’ve dedicated their lives to improving the situation that has so often prevented productive dialogue and heartfelt understanding between their peoples. In late January during the recent troubles in Gaza I joined The Foundation in putting on a benefit with local artists and musicians to help bring about awareness of the violence and encourage open dialogue amongst the people of Jerusalem regarding their observations of the dire situation. Children, students, and adults from both sides alike were invited to create postcards with messages of hope and compassion to be sent to the children and families trying to survive within the war zone. The event aided once again in further opening my eyes to the dedication so many Israelis and Palestinians have for promoting non-violence, open communication, tolerance, and understanding between their two peoples.
Additionally, I was assigned to help develop an extensive list of artists throughout Israel and Palestine as well as a few international artists to invite to The Foundation’s annual art exhibit hosted within the Old City’s walls in October 2009 titled The Jerusalem Show. Painters, filmmakers, sculptures, poets, and photographers having roots to Israel and Palestine were invited to share their talents, expose their pieces, honor their cultural roots, and ultimately help foster the coming together of peoples affected by such reoccurring distrust and turbulence throughout the region.
To supplement my internship experience with Al-Mamal I also took two graduate courses at The Hebrew University’s Minerva Center for Human Rights on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem. Eleven other University of Denver graduate students from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and myself spent two intense weeks studying the extensive history of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict and the numerous issues of human rights within the area. The courses provided invaluable information on the history of these two peoples whiled also encouraging unbiased critical analysis of the two sides and their age-old ties to the Holy land. The two university professors who instructed us did an incredible job of covering a very complex topic within the short time-frame allotted them and I will be forever grateful for their heart-felt insight and commitment to teaching us foreigners about the fascinating history and culture of their people.
Outside of my internship and course commitments I made it a point to use whatever remaining free time I had to travel throughout the region with my fellow classmates. In ten weeks time we were able to explore the many mystic beauties of the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and Negev desert; enjoy the rest and relaxation the beaches of modern Tel Aviv and ancient Acre provided; as well as make a few trips to explore the West Bank cities of Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Nablus. Traveling throughout the Holy land and having had the chance to interact and speak with the locals of the region was an experience that helped me to become more open minded in my thinking and understanding of who Israelis and Palestinians were as individuals through face to face interactions rather than from a living room television set, a newspaper, or the vastness of internet media also so readily accessible from the comforts of my own home.
With the support of the Vinnik scholarship I was able to make the best of my short yet unique and magical time in this historic region of the Middle East. Having returned to Denver and my studies at the University I now will be able to share the valuable insights and new perspectives I’ve acquired on such a diversity of cultures and peoples with other Americans including: my family and friends, fellow students attending the University of Denver and other educational institutions, my co-workers and clients at the Beacon Center, as well as other individuals and groups residing in Colorado especially those not fortunate enough to be able to travel abroad. I send you my deepest and heartfelt thank you for supporting my studies and work in the Holy land and hope your organization can continue to provide such services to future students interested in discovering all the wonders such regions of the Middle East have to offer.
Thomas De Clerck