This quote by Elias Chacour – the Archbishop Metropolitan of the Melkite Catholic Diocese of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all of Galilee – became the slogan of the seminar organized by Ophir Yarden – the director of ICCI’s Center for Interreligious Encounter with Israel – from June 5thuntil June 16th2010 for a group of M.A. students in International Relations from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
15 students led by two professors with mixed religious background were enabled by ICCI to experience Israel and Palestine from non-typical and challenging perspectives. This seminar was mainly politically based and presented the participants many narratives and opinions about the ongoing conflicts in the region. The program started with 2 tales of 1 city – Jaffa – and provided the group in the following days with other special experiences a visit to the “triangle” region, home hospitality with Palestinian families in Bethlehem or a presentation by a settler in Kefar Etzion. The students and their professors were very much interested in as many perspectives as possible and experienced many challenges for their own academic thinking about this case study.
The seminar also provided the participants with eye-openers. The accommodation in Bethlehem was such an experience for many students to break stereotypes about Palestinians.
One of the students told us: “I look forward to the time when I can stop talking and get my hands dirty and hopefully be part of the change and reconciliation process” and one professor assessed the importance of the seminar by telling Ophir Yarden: “I want to personally thank you for the incredible work in putting the program together. I have been doing study seminars with students for 25 years and this was one of the best. I am overwhelmed with what I have learned.”
Ophir Yarden summed it up by saying: “Perhaps there are three possible ways to experience Israel and Palestine. A tour shows you the sights of the region. A pilgrimage reinforces what one already knows, feels and believes. ICCI‘s seminar challenged what participants already know and invite them to consider new perspectives.” We feel that we achieved ICCI‘s goal in this seminar.