By Nirvana Bhatia
Master's candidate in Human Rights
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
In 1993, Deborah Rohan Schlueter, pictured at left, met a Palestinian family living in Denver and became aware of the complexity of their situation. She had a lifelong interest in the region, but this family inspired her to write the book Moghrabi's Olives and to become more involved in conflict resolution initiatives.
"There is no communication between Israel and Palestine; things are at its worst right now," said Schlueter, who was recently named director of the Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East (ISIME).
Three years ago, Schlueter launched the Student Interfaith Peace Project (SIPP) , which gathers approximately 25 high school students from all over Colorado to promote peace-building in the Middle East. The students spend a year studying the Israel-Palestine conflict and other issues in the region, as well as building a social network with students and youth groups living in the Middle East.
The course culminates in a trip to Israel in the summer, where students participate in team-building in the Negev desert, visit refugee camps and holy sites and connect with their new friends.
"It doesn't matter what viewpoint they went with," Schlueter said. "They all come back with a completely new perspective, which is much more complex and compassionate, and with an understanding of things outside their own world. Every student wrote their college application essay on the trip, and many choose to go into International Studies, Middle East Studies, or Human Rights."
Now Schlueter is hoping to develop the program by involving college students and expanding the network in the Middle East. The ultimate idea is to have students in Denver befriend students in the West Bank, and in an Arab and a Jewish college respectively in Israel. The students currently use Skype, but the organization has appealed to the U.S. State Department for videoconferencing equipment.
"It's nice to have everyone talking to each other, but that's a process," Schlueter
ISIME is also trying to incorporate more people-to-people programs as part of its agenda, in order to bring in a broader range of viewpoints. This includes strengthening cooperation between the University of Denver and the local community through more collaborative events, such as the recently launched Middle East Discussion Group. The group invites scholars, statesmen and religious leaders to share their experiences and to spark a lively dialogue on relevant issues.
"We want to be a resource that includes research, education, and dialogue," Schlueter said. "There is a growing interest in the Middle East here at the Josef Korbel School, and we want to help serve that community."
To make a donation to help support this year's SIPP trip, contact Schlueter at 303-871-7477.