Following my very fruitful meeting today with Ir Amim, I had two others; the first with a director at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and the second with a representative of Encounter, a program which brings primarily American Jewish groups into the West Bank to meet Palestinians.
This first meeting was remarkably productive. My contact, who has long been involved in politics and political activism in Israel, had a lot to say about my research agenda and a number of avenues with regard to literature and contacts I should explore.
Should I be able to interview these people, they will be able to provide incredible insights into my research. Each have been either deeply involved in the Israeli settlement movement since its inception, or are noted scholars on the topic. My host also introduced me to a number of people around the Begin Center and invited me to attend the lecture series held at the center in September/October for international interns and students working there over the year.
My second meeting with the representative from Encounter was also interesting, although I discovered not directly relevant for my research. As I am exploring the internal narratives and discourses relating to territory as expressed by Israelis, a program targeted at educating Americans about Palestinian civil society is not terribly helpful. That said, the program as a whole is a fascinating idea. The target audience is largely rabbinical students and Jewish educators whom the organization hopes will learn the tools to explore and discuss the Palestinian perspective of the conflict through their program.
Encounter runs two-day-long monthly trips consisting of between 25-35 participants to Bethlehem. There participants are given a tour of the Security Barrier on the Palestinian side and learn about the geopolitical situation from a Palestinian perspective. From here, the group engages in group discussions with a wide variety of Palestinians from all walks of life recruited by the organization in a number of venues and formats. Included in the trip is an optional home-stay with Palestinian families in the city which my friends who have participated have told me is the highlight of their trip.
In selecting speakers for the tours, Encounter draws from a wide network of personal connections, referrals, and recommendations. Largely they rely on word of mouth and try to avoid those who are deemed to be on the speaking “circuit”. Additionally, they are careful to select speakers to which participants are most likely to listen, avoiding those who use overly combative or terminologically contentious language to discuss their lives, livelihoods, and political affiliations.
Of the trips run by Encounter, I will likely attempt to attend their October trip to Bethlehem as well as their November tour of Areas B and C of the West Bank. The latter tour is geared toward Israeli citizens who are not legally allowed to enter Area A, territory controlled entirely by the Palestinian Authority. Because the trip involves Israelis, it is also likely to be more useful for my own work beyond personal interest.