Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Final Course Evaluation

The Living Jerusalem course was one of the most unique and interesting courses I have taken so far at Indiana University. I took this course because I thoroughly enjoyed your (Professor Horowitz) Human Rights class last semester. In addition, I wanted to learn about Israel, Jerusalem, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. By nature I am Jewish, but have never considered myself religious. While my family celebrates holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover, I have never attended services or engaged in the “religious” aspect of Judaism. I think this class did a great job of teaching me the background of the historical roots of Jerusalem and made me feel more acquainted with my own culture. I’m going to start this evaluation by discussing all the parts of the course that I found interesting and/or exciting (in no particular order), and finishing with the components of the course that I think could be altered. Furthermore, I will include various recommendations for how I think the course can be improved in the future.
            First of all, I think the reading responses for each class are a crucial component of the class. They serve to keep the students engaged each and every day, and let us express our thoughts. There were many readings where I thought to myself, “how am I going to write about this? What connections can I make? I’m so confused.” However, the responses challenged me to try my best and come up with something…anything. I found myself thinking deeply about topics I had never before considered. For example, for one response we were asked to give our views/position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. I didn’t have one-so I thought. After critically thinking about the issue and conducting outside research, I found that I could develop an opinion about a topic I knew nothing about just ten minutes before.
            Another aspect of the course I am a proponent of were the class discussions we held near the end of the semester. I think it was a great idea to discuss our blogs rather than comment on them. The entire semester I was hesitant to comment on classmates’ blogs. I was afraid of being judged or being ‘wrong.’ However, as soon as people started opening up and discussing their blogs (as well as others’) I felt more comfortable. I would recommend that throughout the semester there be more class periods dedicated solely to discussion between the students. Each discussion I got more and more comfortable listening, questioning, and evaluating others’ opinions. Furthermore, I learn far more about the material, as well as my fellow classmates by discussing our thoughts (vs. commenting on their blog posts). They bring up points I never would have considered myself.
            One of my favorite elements of the course was my classmates. I’ve been a part of many classes where I never really get to know anyone else in the class. In fact, I’ve had classes where I never had the opportunity to get to know anybody’s name. We just show up to class, take notes on a dull PowerPoint, and then regurgitate six weeks worth of material back onto a piece of paper. This class was different. The structure of the course allowed me to get to know the other students in the class, thus giving me a further appreciation for Living Jerusalem. Also, I don’t think I’ve been part of a course where the students were so engaged and enthusiastic about what they’re learning. I was really impressed with the level of knowledge my classmates possessed in regards to the issues we discussed. Although I didn’t know about many of the topics we talked about throughout the semester, I was still able to learn because of the caliber of the students in the class.
            Yet another part of the course I enjoyed were the final presentations. When the project was first introduced, I was really excited to hear about the liberty we would have in choosing what we wanted to research. The first thing that popped into my head was “sports,” and I stuck to it. I found it fascinating that sports could help improve the Arab-Israeli conflict. It gave me hope for the conflict. It showed me there are so many ways the conflict can be reduced. I highly recommend keeping the final project as part of the Living Jerusalem course. Just as important were the other presentations. It was an opportunity to see our classmates’ creativity, viewpoints, and passion for various subjects. In addition, the final presentations allow for people to communicate and connect with other individuals. For instance, I learned about the backgrounds of multiple people in my group. I learned why they took this course, and what they were looking to get out of it. While there are many fantastic components of the course, there are also parts I would look to improve for the future.
            As I briefly mentioned above, blog commenting created a nuisance for myself. From the very beginning, I felt uncomfortable critiquing others’ work (especially when I didn’t know them). It made me feel as if I was disrespecting their opinions. For some reason, it made me feel a little awkward when I walked into class the next day. They knew my name, they knew what I looked like, and they knew what I had said about their work. Also, seeing that we didn’t discuss our comments in class, I felt they weren’t necessary. If we were to discuss our comments in class, I think I would have put in more time and would have tried to connect on a deeper level. With that being said, I would recommend holding some sort of a “verbal in-class blog comment discussion,” where students could ask questions about what others wrote. On top of this idea, I would make it optional to talk about your blog (after all, classmates can read their blogs online if they wish).
            One of the biggest pieces I felt was missing from the course were current events. There were a handful of times where we talked about current news regarding the conflict, but not nearly enough. I think it would be a great idea to start off the day (maybe 10 minutes) discussing any news in regards to Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, the conflict, etc. History is great, but it doesn’t replace what’s currently going on overseas. I think the discussion of current events serves many purposes. First of all, it makes students more engaged. It makes us feel like we can make a difference, and that we can still influence others to take action. This is one of the reasons I became so engaged with our final projects. The organization I studied (Football 4 Peace) was currently helping bond Arabs and Jews together to help reduce the conflict. It made me want to keep researching and finding out more. I wanted to help!
            For each class period, I think it would be a good idea to assign one student to report to the class about any current events pertaining to Jerusalem. This way, not each and every one of us has to attempt to keep up with the conflict on a daily basis. Rather, we can put trust in our classmates to come to class prepared to share their findings. This is a change to the course that would be very simple to implement, wouldn’t alter the structure of the class, and would provide students with the most up to date information regarding the topics we are studying.
            The only other part of the course I would advise to be fixed was the constant syllabus changes. While I understand that it’s not easy to plan out every class over a 16-week period, it also caused a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. There were times where I would complete entire reading responses, just to find out that I read the wrong set of articles. I would then have to read a new set of articles and complete an entirely new response. In addition, there was multiple times where I didn’t turn in a response on time because the due dates on the syllabus didn’t match up with what was announced during class. While this is a very minor critique, it would make the course more clear and less frustrating.
            Again, I want to reiterate the how great this course was. I would recommend it to anybody who is looking to challenge themselves, likes working with other students, wants to learn a lot, and likes to have fun while doing it. I’m excited to the changes made to the course and where it ends up in the future.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Weblog Journal

I think my position in regards to Jerusalem has definitely changed. Coming into this course I was extremely uninformed about events in Jerusalem. I knew very little about the Israeli-Palestine conflict. When I did my first blog post at the beginning of the course, I talked about the conflict and said that I didn't think any action was being taken to try and fix the conflict (granted, I didn't know very much at this time). However, as the course went along I realized that there are many individuals, and groups of individuals, who are working diligently to help reduce the level of animosity between the two groups. A fantastic example of this was the Divan Orchestra. Both Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim were/are courageous individuals who have found a way to reduce hostility through music. Even though it's not a permanent cure to the conflict, it still acts as a mediator.

In addition, the Jerusalem Open House was made for both Israelis and Palestinians. Although we discussed in class that the JOH may have been biased towards the Israeli side, they are still welcoming of both groups.

Also, I think my classmates have helped change my views. Our class has many people who are very well informed about Jerusalem, the conflict, as well as Israeli and Arab cultures, beliefs, etc. Our in-class discussions have helped foster an understanding of Jerusalem as a whole. In addition, reading others' blogs has undoubtedly helped me learn and see things from various perspectives. Even though not everything in our blogs can be taken as fact, it gives me a great understanding of how different individuals see the same side of the coin.

I really enjoyed the course and would recommend it to anyone regardless of their background.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reading Response # 18

The most difficult issue for me during the semester was by far the blog posts/comments. I had never been in a course structured quite like this (even the Human Rights class was laid out a little different!). It takes a while to get used to the transition between simply summarizing a block of text, and diving in deeper. Sometimes it was difficult to voice my opinion on a controversial topic such as religion or politics. At the beginning of the semester I was worried about being judged. However, as the course went along I began to feel much more comfortable posting to my blog. After a while I realized I wasn't the only one who felt a certain way in regards to a topic. Others in the class have the same opinions as me (many have different ones, too). Commenting on blogs was also a bit uncomfortable in the early stages of the course. I was always worried that someone would judge me if I disagreed with something they said. It's just something that you have to get past, however, if you want to get the most out of this course. Similar to the blog posts, after a few weeks I realized that no-one is judging... at least they aren't admitting to it. I've gotten to the point where I don't think twice about submitting a comment; I just do it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reading Response # 17

The Jerusalem Open House blog was extremely interesting. Even though the blog didn't provide us with dense information and facts, it was great to hear experiences from individuals our age. For example, one of the posts was written by a Junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst majoring in Judaic Studies. Hearing from the perspective of someone who is in the same shoes as us allows me/us to relate to them. The Jerusalem Open House seems to offer something for just about everyone. As one intern put it, "The Jerusalem Open House truly does offer something from every person, regardless of age, religion, or language spoken."

When I visited the Jerusalem Open House website, I was intrigued and drawn to the LGBTQ Bill of Rights. I think it's great that they have taken the initiative to really stand up for what they believe in. Within the Bill, they provide some great points in regards to lesbians, gays, gender, sex, and orientation.   For those who are not informed on the topic of LGBTQ, the Bill provides wonderful insight about how "these types of people" are being discriminated against. Even in areas regards to healthcare and identity,  these individuals are being treated as "aliens."

The first thing I saw when I visited was, "Palestinian Queer Party." I think what alQaws is doing is spectacular. I am a strong proponent of breaking down the barriers that exist in regards to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans-genders, and queers. Seeing that the "LQBTQ Palestinian community is still in its early stages," it is warming to see that they are already taking action. They are engaging in initiatives that make them feel welcome and included. I look forward to hearing from our guest speaker, Elinor Sidi (and/or Haneen Maikey) to learn more about these types of organizations in the Middle East.


1.) How long have these types of organizations been in existence?

2.) What measurable progress has been made over the last 20 years? 10 years?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reading Response # 16

These readings were surprisingly pleasant to read after coming back from spring break. It was nice to hear stories told by a group of unique individuals. The article, "The Promised Gas Masks,"was a wonderful article as a whole. However, one part in particular stuck out above all the rest. On page 89 it talked about the Israelis forcing the Palestinians to stand in straight lines. From what I have seen in films and learned about in history courses, this was strikingly similar to what occurred during the Holocaust. While reading, it actually gave me the chills. I remember watching films where the German Nazis forced the Jews to stand in line. Sometimes they would do nothing but taunt them; but other times they would shoot them down one by one. Although the Israelis may not be gunning down the Palestinians, there is undoubtedly a resemblance (in my personal opinion).

While reading the chapter, "A Dog's Life," I was disturbed by the fact that a dog (Nura) could acquire a Jerusalem ID while a human could not. I'm not arguing that a dog's life isn't valuable, but to deny a human being an ID, while giving one to a dog, isn't right. At the bottom of page 115, there is a short passage that reads, "The Israelis would not give her a Jerusalem ID because her father had a Palestinian Ramallah ID, and the Palestinian Authority would not give her a Palestinian ID because her mother had an Israeli Jerusalem ID." Rather, I think she should be allowed to have two ID's instead of none. Also, near the end of the chapter I was amused by the encounter between the girl and the soldier at the checkpoint. She used Nura's Jerusalem passport as a means of getting by the checkpoint, despite the fact that she herself did not possess one. She used the excuse that the dog had a Jerusalem ID and could not drive herself. The soldier let her through.

I enjoyed these stories because they were insightful, yet humorous at the same time. There haven't been many occasions where we have had the opportunity to laugh while doing the readings. It was nice to be able to appreciate the readings from a slightly new perspective.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Reading Response # 15

The link titled "Channels of Rage: Dissecting the Inner Conflict," was engaging to read. The two main characters, Subliminal (an Israeli-Jew), and Tamer Nafar (an Israeli Arab) were the best of friends. However, in the movie, the conflict is too strong and their friendship is lost over their "inherent differences." Each of these men talks about the violence and conflict that takes place through rapping.

I thought the segment about the media was the most intriguing, personally. We all know that the media has the ability to blow things out of proportion. In this case, "sound bites that contain shocking views polarize and distract, and give media outlets the opportunity to misrepresent and sow fear for the sake of ratings and profits." It shows that we can't take everything we hear as the truth. We have to be able to develop our own opinions.

As I began reading the background on Israeli hip-hop I was surprised to see that "they imitated black rappers with admiration and even envy, but without perceiving the world from a black perspective." In other words, Israeli rappers try and mix in their Jewish/Israeli culture with the stereotypical American "ghetto black culture." I thought the article made a really interesting comparison. So often people don't associate rapping with the Israeli culture (due to ethnicity). However, here in America, one of the greatest rappers is Eminem, a white man. They argue that if Eminem can be successful with his music, then so can Israeli rappers.

I really enjoyed the interview by Jewish rapper Subliminal. He is known as the Jay-Z of Israel, yet most Americans have never heard of him. He even said himself, "I want to get my music outside of Israel." His lyrics, beats, and music videos were very good. I think he (along with other Israeli rappers) could be successful in the American markets if people accepted Israeli rappers more openly.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reading Response # 14

The first news article I came across was written just four days ago by Larry Abramson. It is titled, "A West Bank Story, Told Through Palestinian Eyes." Before I started reading the article I took into account that the article was most likely written with a biased tone (obviously in favor of the Palestinian side). It reminded me of our discussions regarding Karen Armstrong and how hard it is to write without any biases.

Anyways, the article portrays the West Bank separation barrier as favoring the Israelis. According to Abramson, the Israelis say that the barrier has helped prevent attacks by the Palestinians. On the contrary, the Palestinians are complaining that the barrier separates them from obtaining key agricultural land. The article specifically focuses on the Palestinian village, Bil'in (located extremely near an Israeli settlement). Even further, it narrowly focuses on Emad Burnat, a resident of Bil'in. Emad created an Oscar-nominated documentary titled "5 Broken Cameras."Ironically, Burnat and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi are co-directors of the film. You may be wondering why the film is called "5 Broken Cameras." While filming the protests, Israeli settlers smashed/shot not one, not two, not three, not four, but five of his cameras. How Burnat escaped injury and/or death in these encounters will continue to perplex me.

I also found it interesting that Burnat has become a main target of Israeli settlers and soldiers. Israelis have targeted him because his film has inspired courts to take action. The Israeli government was forced to move the fence off of the agricultural land. The film has sparked a so-called "camera war." Israelis have countered by attempting to document their own footage that depicts Palestinians mistreating the Israeli settlers. I thought this article was good for this response because it's informative, amusing, and symbolic of what is going on between Israelis and Palestinians.

While this article was the main focus of this response, I also found some other news/articles that I think are worth taking a look at. Here are the links to those articles: