Winter 2007 Vol. V, No. 2
A Global Approach during Times of War: IIPES 2006
Zahra Hankir BA 06
Just two hours before Lebanons airport was bombed
for the first time, Omar Chatah, Akl Fahed, Ghassan Yaacoub, and I (all
AUB students) left for Greece to take part in an international program
that was described as an educational, cultural and social exchange.
Before departing from Beirut Airport, I frantically called my mother and
told her I would not leave given that the situation was rapidly deteriorating.
She refused to let me stay, telling me that by proudly representing Lebanon
abroad, Id truly be serving my country. Nonetheless, I was disturbed
by the idea of discussing conflict resolution with Israelis in Crete while
my country was being shelled and my loved ones were being brutally threatened.
I left Beirut with a lump in my throat, as did the entire Lebanese delegation.
The goal of the International Institute for Political and Economic Studies
(IIPES), which is organized and funded by Georgetown University and the
Fund for American Studies, was to open our minds and change our lives.
No small feat. Former IIPES alumni, many of whom were AUB students, had
convinced us to apply to the program for these very reasons. But our thoughtsand
realitywere elsewhere. The classroom was as global as one could
get, with students coming from countries as diverse as Serbia and Syria.
But we werent sure if this global approach to international
issues would really prove effective. Ideally, one must learn to distinguish
between the flag and the person. In the context of war, can that really
When we first met the Israeli students on the program, we initially approached
each other with curiosity. As we got to know each other, anger, rage,
and frustration would often prompt heated debates that forced us to think
critically. No topic was off limits, and these debates challengedand
sometimes strengthenedmany of our previously held beliefs. Discussions
ranged from Israels right to exist, to Hezbollahs
intentions in Lebanon.
My greatest dilemma emerged when I read an article that one of the students
had published in Haaretz. Entitled Coffee with Lebanese, the
piece wrote of the writers experience at IIPES. Yet the fact that
he felt that Israelis were very similar to the Lebanese
particularly in terms of the delicate fabric of sub-groups in the
society, the strong connection to the West, politically and culturally,
and the nonstop coastal cities and an intense desire for economic prosperity
and peace, bothered me immensely. I saw that his message of prosperity
and peace really had underlying political points that were part
of a larger political agenda. The Lebanese student that the author wrote
about in the article, M, was vehemently anti-Hezbollah. His
views were clearly considered sober and reasonable. Despite the hatred
for Israel as a constant enemy of the Arab world, he shows a lot more
hatred for Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran. Such a statement clearly seemed
to me to be part of an attempt to condone Israels disproportionate
and horrendous aggression. The article disturbed me: maybe the political
situation was bigger than we were, and maybe, just maybe, by engaging
in dialogue with Israeli students, we were not transcending the situation,
but rather fuelling it.
I decided that although we were essentially pawns of the same game, we
were all indoctrinated with certain mind frames that would not shift drastically,
even at IIPES. The scope of change would have its limits. Nonetheless,
this gave way to interactions that did not revolve around politics.
We subsequently got to know each other as human beings, and not political
pawns from the other side. Some of us became drawn to one
other, possibly feeling that it was necessary that we reach constructive
conclusions rather than simply disagree. In some strange manner, we became
unexpected friends. Inevitably, some other members of the group could
not understand this, particularly those who felt it was offensive to agree
with the enemy on particular contentious issues. While the
most atrocious events were taking place in Lebanon, Israeli students consoled
the Lebanese. Some of them even apologized, as if they assumed some responsibility
for the war. After a rigorous process, we were finally dealing with one
another as people, not as Lebanese or Israelis.
In our world of realpolitik, it is quite easy to be skeptical of a feel-good
global approach. Three weeks of dialogue, exchange, and soul
searching still left me skeptical as to what effect the approach could
truly have on the ground. I expressed this to one of the Israeli students.
Were powerless, I said. When you get back to Israel,
you might be asked by the IDF to serve on my land, against my people.
Surprisingly, my Israeli colleague told me that he had already been summoned
army, but that he would not return until the conflict was
over. And he didnt. IIPES had changed him in the same way it changed
all the Lebanese and Israeli students on the program, and in the same
way it has changed me. Ultimately, it proved that a commitment to critical
thinking, particularly in terms of approaching international issues, can
certainly translate into empowerment and a desire to end aggression
regardless of differing political views and agenda.
Ultimately, despite the reality of Lebanons current volatile situation,
the desire to serve my country has strengthened. IIPES motivated me to
aim higher and challenge myself further despite the ailing status quo,
helping me come to the realization that the key to creating a global community
is education and global awareness. The choice to leave Lebanon and pursue
a higher education in the West was not as difficult as it would seem.
Essentially, what keeps me motivated is the firm belief that I am away
from home temporarily in order to get the best education possible so that
I can return and truly make a differenceon the ground.
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