CANTON - A St. Lawrence University government professor is taking five students to Israel and Palestine for 10 days over winter break to study various aspects of the conflict for individual research projects.
"A lot of the research they want to do, you really need to be on the ground," said Ronnie M. Oleske, who has a doctorate in international relations. "Plus, we live in Canton and one of the main ways to study political conflict, especially one as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is to be on the ground."
This trip is not a typical study abroad option offered by the college. Miss Olesker, who is Israeli, organized it when six senior government majors asked her to advise them on their independent research projects, all of which involved the conflict.
Only five of the six will get to go to the Middle East; the sixth student, who is Pakistani, was denied a visa to enter Israel earlier this week.
Though all of them have taken at least two classes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, none of them has ever been to the region.
"I think they have the facts. I don't think that they yet understand the deeper meaning of what they've read about," their professor said. "It's hard to understand when you're seeing (pictures) but when you're there and seeing that there is no space between the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Wailing Wall - there's just no space." Their research projects range from how the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel are discriminated against and segregated from the Jewish population, to how the nation's military, the Israeli Defense Forces, use new media to bolster their mission.
To get the information they need for their year-long projects, the students will be traveling around Israel and Palestine and meeting and interview all kinds of people.
"They're meeting everyone from students in a joint Israeli-Palestinian school to possibly even the Palestinian prime minister, if he's available," Miss Olesker said. "He's willing, it's just a matter of scheduling."
During the fall semester, the six students worked on proposals for what form their research would take and worked out what kinds of questions they would ask their interview subjects when they were traveling around the nation bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt on the west and Jordan on the east. When they get back after their 10-day tour, they will write their thesis papers. Since all of the students were involved in the research, even the student who can't get into Israel will be expected to write a thesis paper.
For Miss Olesker, the trip will be a homecoming. Her parents and most of her family still live in the violence-ridden nation. She served in the Israeli Defense Forces - service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens once they turn 18 - before going to law school and becoming a human-rights activist.
"To me, being pro-Palestinian means being pro-Israeli. Israel will never live in security and peace unless Palestinians live in security and peace and that's how I teach the conflict," Miss Olesker said. "I always say I used to violate human rights and then I went and studied them."