UNIQUE COURSE ON MID EAST CLASH BRINGS TOGETHER COLLEGE
STUDENTS, H.S. TEACHERS, AND ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN EXPERTS
FLUSHING, NY, October 14, 2004 -- The city’s most powerful response to the September 11 attacks may be taking place 15 miles away from the World Trade Center site, on the Queens College campus in Flushing. That’s where history professor Mark Rosenblum—a Middle East expert and behind-the-scenes peacemaker who has met with Ariel Sharon, Yasir Arafat, and President George W. Bush—is conducting his newest course, “The Middle East and America: Clash of Civilizations or Meeting of the Minds.”
The pilot project brings together 15 Queens College undergraduates—five Jews, five Muslims and five Christians—for research and discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They are joined by an assistant principal and seven teachers from five Queens high schools who teach Advanced Placement courses in World Studies and History. The teachers, keenly aware that the Middle East conflict is a volatile topic, especially to those committed to one side or the other, will use course resources and their experience in the course to create their own programs.
Designed by Rosenblum and fellow Queens College professors Jack Zevin and Michael Krasner, the 15-session course includes films, readings, and lectures by guest speakers representing different viewpoints.
On Tuesday, October 19 at 3:10 pm, Omar Dajani, who previously served as a senior legal adviser and member of the Palestinian delegation at Camp David in 2000 and 2001, will address the class and engage in discussion with all participants. (High School teachers will join the class at 3:45 pm.) Dajani is an Assistant Professor at the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific. “I encourage students to be direct in their communication,” says Rosenblum, so I expect a frank exchange.” On October 12, Janine Zacharia, Washington bureau chief for the English-language Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post, who covered both Middle East negotiations and American policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict, spoke with the class. The class, which takes place in Powdermaker Hall, Room 153, continues to 6 pm.
What makes this course unique? “The participants are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-generational (non-matriculating senior citizens participate, too),” says Rosenblum, director of the Michael Harrington Center for Democratic Values and Social Change at Queens College. “And to our knowledge, no one has tried to integrate high school teachers into this kind of college course and curriculum. Here, we draw upon the widest range of responsible viewpoints while challenging each participant to reflect critically on his or her most basic assumptions. The whole class will experience conflicting narratives and conflicting resolutions.
“Our hope is that by both participating and observing the student interaction in the classroom,” Rosenblum continues, “the high school teachers will learn how to best teach this important subject.”
A critical component of the course is an assignment Rosenblum calls “Walk in the Others’ Shoes,” which he describes as a “mind-enrichment exercise, not a heart-transplant.” After taking a test that reveals their personal outlook on Middle East issues, the students must spend the next 10 weeks conducting research and, ultimately, presenting a persuasive case for the opposite perspective.
Says Queens College student Shariful Khan, a Middle Eastern Studies major: “The subject matter is personal to me—I’m a Muslim American. Intellectually, the subject isn’t a problem; emotionally, it is. This is a high-intensity class to sit through. It’s really important for me to understand the perceptions of Israelis and American Jews. After the class, I always end up in discussions with some of the non-Muslim students."
Adds Michael Kohan, a political science major: “I’m very interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I identify with the Israeli side and it’s been a challenge to see the other point of view. I’m getting material from this class that I can’t get anywhere else.”
“This approach is Rubik’s cube education, looking at many angles,” says Rosenblum, who hopes that his work will also spur an ongoing dialogue among different communities beginning in Queens, and eventually beyond.
Mark Rosenblum has been directly involved in Middle East conflict resolution since the 1980s. His efforts include organizing and moderating six international conferences with PLO and Israeli leaders; hosting a U.S. televised discussion series, “From the Battlefield to the Negotiating Table; founding the Israeli-Palestinian Youth Dialogue program; and authoring a series of highly regarded insider reports, “Negotiations Watch” and “Jerusalem Watch.”
In February 2003 Rosenblum traveled to Israel, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, and Jordan, where he met with Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, King Abdullah II, Yasir Arafat, Syrian cabinet members, and Foreign Ministry officials, as well as peace activists, business leaders, and representatives of non-governmental organizations. In a subsequent trip to Israel and the West Bank, Rosenblum met with Israeli officials and negotiators and members of the reform Palestinian cabinet. His frequent meetings with American policy makers include a two-hour discussion with President Bush on America’s Middle East policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1999 the Forward newspaper named Mark Rosenblum one of the 50 most influential American Jews. He was also the first American Jew to be interviewed in Syria for a half-hour t.v. “newsmaker” show.
The Michael Harrington Center for Democratic Values and Social Change at Queens College is an outreach-oriented social science research institute. It exists to promote public, democratic discussion of social issues, to advocate for social change and to work in partnerships with others to build a more just, equitable and democratic society.