Two perspectives on the Middle East

by Julia Ernst

The conflict in the Middle East is something that the media covers everyday, but it’s not often that these stories are heard from people who experience them firsthand.

Students were given a closer look at the conflict when the paths of Dr. James Castagnera, associate provost, and Dr. Jonathan Mendilow, professor and chair of the Political Science Department, crossed at Hillel’s “Speech on Terrorism.”

Mendilow spent 17 years teaching at the college level in Israel, while Castagnera stayed in the country for 10 days over the summer as part of a fellowship with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.

“It was the kind of thing you can read about, but it’s not until you’re on the ground that you can really appreciate it,” Castagnera said. “It’s a lively, rough-and-ready kind of political system.”

Castagnera studied at Tel Aviv University during his trip, in addition to traveling around the country and attending workshops on terrorism. It was through these experiences that the associate provost learned about how Israeli society operates.

“You live in this high-security environment,” Castagnera explained. “In Israel, every able-bodied young man and woman is required to serve in the military. It’s almost as if the whole nation is armed and ready.”

However, he also explained that this high-security society and way of life does not mean that the people of Israel are unhappy or unable to lead varied lives.

“By necessity, a culture has evolved in which the high level of security is a source of political and social freedom,” said Castagnera.

Those in attendance agreed with the associate provost when he drew a tie between the situation in Israel and how the United States may eventually change its policies on terrorism and defense.

“Israel is turning 60 this year,” said Matt Semel, Hillel’s president. “It’s important that we take a step back and look at peace in the Middle East, specifically Israel.”

Mendilow elaborated on the situation in Israel and added factual background after Castagnera shared his perspective as a visitor.

The political science professor explained that the biggest problem in the Middle East is the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“There are radicals on both sides,” Mendilow said. “To the Palestinians, Israel may not be the fulfillment of their dreams, but they will have to put up with it. A Palestinian state may not be to the liking of the Israelis, but already the absolute majority of them agrees that it must be set up.”

Despite the conflict, Mendilow elaborated that both sides wish to find closure.

“There is a vital urge within those states to bring an end to the Palestine-Israeli clash,” he said. “In the end, there will be a solution. The question is how to overcome the present.”

Junior Jessica Schiowitz gained a new perspective on the Middle East after hearing Castagnera and Mendilow speak.

“It left me feeling better informed about the Israeli conflict,” she said. “Students hear about it on the news all the time in brief, but this presentation gave a more thorough explanation of the Middle East.”

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