Through a new initiative from The Pearson Institute, students travel around the world to study global conflict.

For Hemense Orkar and Marissa Block, Spring Break 2019 meant an opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine with the Pearson International Conflict Seminars (PICS), a new program through The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts where students can focus on critical issues of global conflict through immersive international experiences.

Neither Hemense nor Marissa had spent time in Israel or Palestine before this year’s PICS trip, which gave them the opportunity to experience the region with an open mind and unbiased perspective.

The PICS programming, led by faculty and staff from The Pearson Institute, exposed students to a breadth of new ideas in a region which has a complicated history and reality that cannot be solved easily or explained simply.

The seminar’s programming centered around two city hubs: Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Hemense and Marissa immediately noted the contrast between the two cities. According to Marissa, visiting Jerusalem allows one to understand why this city lies at the heart of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Marissa also pointed out that, in the United States, because “the issues surrounding Israel/Palestine are both foreign and domestic in nature,” it’s easy to enter this region with preconceived notions. But the issues are more concrete, complex, and visceral when you’re on the ground. For instance, one of the most striking moments was a visit to the individual home of a Palestinian family outside Ramallah that was completely enclosed by Israeli security fences. It is details such as this and the material manifestations of policy decisions she plans to call on as she moves into her policy career.      

Hemense experienced a similar revelation at how real the experiences are of those affected by this conflict. Feeling the immediacy of the issue, he was struck by the recognition that “this isn’t some outside conflict,” but rather the lived reality those in the region experience on a day-to-day basis.  

He was struck by the delineation of society in Israel and Palestine and how two worlds could exist “literally minutes away.” Experiencing the varied programming over the course of the International Conflict Seminar allowed him to see the levels of nuance required to begin contemplating constructive – and hopefully lasting – solutions.

The reality he witnessed showcased a “complicated, murky [situation] with multiple sides and levels,” but one which “shouldn’t take away the need for action.” Hemense hopes to draw this experience into his own life through an effort to maintain this appreciation for nuance as well as a commitment to advocacy.

Wailing Wall
The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (image provided by Hemense Orkar)

As he has seen, the symbols of the conflict often seem different in person than they appear in media or discourse. For instance, though Israel and Palestine is a “small region” – he pointed out that the actual Wailing Wall is only 300 meters long – it is one that “affect[s] many people” both in the region and across the globe.

Still, the region is much more than the conflict that defines it for some, or the very real importance it holds for human history. Hemense found pleasure in the region’s natural wonders through hiking and time spent in the desert, as well as along the Red Sea. Marissa, too, enjoyed the active rhythm of Tel Aviv.

Marissa cited her participation in this International Conflict Seminar as an invaluable complement to her previous academic experience with the Middle East as well as her Jewish heritage. Hemense, as a globally-engaged Harris student, was motivated by friendships with classmates from the Middle East to apply for PICS to further develop his interest and knowledge of policy in the region. Although both of them came to the trip in different ways, these two students were able to form their own perspectives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the experiential opportunity that PICS provides. Through their knowledge and the insights they have gained, the two will advocate for resolutions to the violent issues they have now studied.