This week’s summer highlight is from Alissa Fromkin, an incoming student into the M.A. in Middle East Studies. Alissa graduated from Boston University and recently had an incredible opportunity to spend her summer in Israel. Check out her story below!
A Different Side of Israel
This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Israel. My trip, however, was nothing like that of the average American Jew. For the second summer, I lived in a small Druze village called Peqiin, which is nestled in the mountains of northern Israel. In my community of 5,000 I lived with a family of five. Every weekday started off the same: wake up, drink Nescafe, study Arabic for four hours with my teacher, who over my last visit became a great friend, and then spend the rest of the day with him and his family. The first time I traveled to Peqiin I had no idea what to expect, but for two months between my junior and senior years of college my teacher, Salman, and his wife, Rodaina, became like family. Before my first trip I was thinking about quitting Arabic–the classes had become hard, I was one of the few who hadn’t spent time abroad, and I often sat in class feeling lost and confused. My time in Peqiin not only reinvigorated my passion for the language, but also gave me insight into a community that gets left out of many people’s experience of Israel.
The Druze are a small religious minority whose faith is shrouded in secrecy. They have an interesting place in Israeli society because of their history of persecution by Muslims and the alliance they made with the Jews before the 1948 war. Since Arabic is their native language, they study in Arabic language public schools with Palestinian Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel. However, unlike their classmates, they serve in the Israeli Army. Many have a right wing political disposition and have a strong distrust of the Muslim citizens due to their historical persecution. Instead of reading about this in a textbook, I got to learn the importance of these aspects of Druze politics and culture over dinner at the home of a Druze member of the Israeli Knesset. He is part of the Israel Our Home party, one of the right wing parties in Israel.
In addition to learning about Israel, this trip also offered me a unique lens into the international relations of the Middle East. If I wanted to watch the news while in Peqiin, I had a few options. Since I do not speak or understand Hebrew, the Arabic channels were Al-Jazeera, the Israeli Arabic News, Jordanian News, Egyptian News, Lebanese News. I could also watch Press TV in English sponsored by the Iranian government or Al-Jazeera English. This was a great introduction into propaganda, different on each station, especially during the search for the three teens that we either “kidnapped,” “missing,” or not mentioned. I also heard a lot about the Israeli military operation in the West Bank, which was also portrayed in varying lights. Being a Middle Eastern Studies major I took many classes that focused on the relations between the different states and groups in the region, yet these intricacies were never so clear to me until this experience.
At the end of the summer, I was sad to leave Peqiin and return to the United States. I arrived four days before the fighting broke out in Gaza, and ten days before a rocket from Lebanon fell next to Peqiin. Given my experience of a different side of Israel, I wish to expand my knowledge about the effect of religion on political ideology, especially amongst minority religious groups and factions. As I make the move to Washington, DC to start my graduate studies, I am empowered to learn more about this ever-changing region and hope that peace can soon be found.