Hillel led a mission of San Diego State University student leaders for an educational fact-finding mission to Israel and the Palestinian Authority over winter break. Most trips to Israel focus on bringing Jewish students Israel. However, the purpose of this trip was to educate any SDSU students in positions of leadership on campus about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by shining an intentional light on the complexities and nuances, in an immersive and experiential fashion.
This was the second such trip organized and staffed by Hillel’s Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow Gal Winrebe. In May, we brought 18 students on a mission modeled after a similar trip organized by UCLA Hillel. The goal was not to convince participants to become pro-Israel advocates but rather to help them see the conflict as much more than what the discourse on campus would have them believe.
The summer trip had a profound impact on the participants, and as news spread of their experience, nearly 50 students applied for the heavily subsidized 10-day winter mission. In January, Gal brought 24 student leaders including five students active in Israel advocacy efforts on campus to meet with Israelis and Palestinians and learn first-hand about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The group met with various government officials, grassroots activists, and citizens from various perspectives of the conflict who shared their personal narratives. As one student said, “Their narratives helped me and my fellow students come to our own conclusions and form our own perspectives about Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the conflict.”
Participants were selected based on demonstrated leadership experience on campus, such as leaders in student business organizations, student government, fraternities, sororities, media and other groups. During the mission, they were encouraged to ask difficult questions, with no question being off-limits. Participants brought back their experience to campus and shared what they learned with other students.
Many of the participants joined the mission with very little knowledge about Israel and the Middle East, and what they did know was often a result of misinformation. The mission helped shape their understanding of the region through the context of the religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity of the region.
As one student said, “what surprised me about Israel is how my perspective on the Israeli settlements in the West Bank completely changed. Although the global community, and recently the United Nations have condemned the Israeli settlements as both internationally illegal and an impediment to peace, I no longer see it that way.”
When visiting various settlements throughout the West Bank, students were surprised to see how many Palestinians benefited from employment opportunities and social benefits.
SDSU Hillel hopes to organize a third Fact Finders mission next year.