From the Northwest to the Middle East
"It is a profoundly enriching experience for students to have to adjust to a different culture and to make their way around in it – literally and culturally – and to see that what they have learned in the Israeli/Palestinian course has prepared them to some degree but not completely because the conflict is so complex," said Diane Baxter, director of Oregon Law's Middle East Internship Program. "In Israel and Palestine, there is a level of intensity that we just don't have here, and to experience what that means shifts the way people look at life. Every student comes back changed in some way."
Mathias Zeumer, a 2012 graduate of Oregon Law's conflict and dispute resolution master's program, conducted a five-month internship with the Center for Democracy and Community Development in East Jerusalem and is a prime example of Baxter's characterization.
"I was very interested in an internship in Israel/Palestine, as I wanted to understand more of the obvious and nuanced mechanisms that keep this conflict so alive with a solution so seemingly distant," said Zeumer. While abroad, he frequently facilitated meetings between Israelis and Palestinians to encourage dialogue and to garner support for the Arab Peace Initiative (API) in Israel and the Arab region. He also helped to organize an international conference held in Istanbul, Turkey.
"The internship has certainly served to give me an insight not only into the intricate nature of a conflict zone, but also into the intricate and challenging work of conflict resolution through and within NGOs," Zeumer said.
Katie Behel, a 2013 master's degree candidate, spent four months working and living in Beit Sahour in the West Bank and in Jerusalem. "Interning in the West Bank for a joint Palestinian/Israeli organization opened my eyes to a side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict I could never have learned in books or through mainstream media. It taught me what it truly means to be part of a joint struggle."
Baxter, instructor in the conflict and dispute resolution program and senior lecturer of anthropology, has established ongoing relationships in the region through annual visits to internship organizations. As the Middle East internship program director, she works with students to arrange placements on specific projects that align with their interests, skillsets, and career goals; helps them prepare for their travels; and maintains close contact with students while abroad.
Prior to placement, students must complete two preparatory courses: The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict, which covers the history and current circumstances of the conflict; and Working Abroad, which addresses the cultural, socio-political, and practical elements of dispute resolution work overseas.
During the two years since its inception, five Oregon students have conducted substantive internship work in the Middle East. Behel echoes Baxter's sentiments about the power of the experience. "If there was one experience I would never give up, it would be my four months living in Palestine."