I am now ten days or so into my stay in Israel and the West Bank as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar for 2016-17. I am in residence at Al-Quds University (AQU) , a Palestinian institution, with which I have been associated for many years. My main job for the year: to teach in and to help develop the university’s M.A. Program in American Studies. The program was founded in 2003; it has been in transition since its founding director left AQU in 2014.
Over the past year or so, I have been working with the faculty of the Regional Studies Institute at AQU to re-design the program. Two colleagues from Brandeis University – Sue Lanser and Dan Kryder – have also been participating in a significant way in this effort, along with AQU faculty colleagues Drs. Amneh Badran, Mohammad Abu Koash, and Awad Mansour. The new curriculum builds on the program’s traditional attention to U.S. history, culture, and politics, but is also intended better to meet the needs of Palestinian professionals through an emphasis on conceptions of leadership and entrepreneurship and a focus on the study of American institutions. The Regional Studies Institute will also, thanks to our work together, become the Global Studies Institute (if the University’s governing authority approves the change this week!).
I will be teaching American Politics this fall, as well as working faculty and administration closely on building resources and relationships that will be of long-term benefit to the program. Among other things, the program design calls for many courses to be taught by U.S. faculty in an intensive format. Identifying those faculty and helping to generate the resources and environment to make their stay at AQU as productive as possible is a big part of my job for this year. Of course, it will also be quite interesting to be in a classroom this semester with young Palestinians trying to make sense of American democracy and the election of 2016!
In my first ten days, I have been settling in, as well as helping to recruit students for the incoming class. Because the program has been less active in recent years, we are undertaking a process to spread the word among the Palestinian community that the program has a new emphasis, and will also potentially offer students the opportunity to study in the U.S. as part of a customized summer program. We will be conducting interviews of applicants in the coming days, and the semester will start in earnest for this program during September.
It also seems that I will be involved in a variety of university-wide initiatives. I have worked closely for many years with Dr. Imad Abu Kishek, AQU’s talented and very active president. Dr. Imad, as he is known, has a lot of plans for expanding AQU’s research capacity, its English language curriculum, and its international profile, and I expect to be involved as part of a team in some of these areas.
I am living in Jerusalem, in a small house on a dead-end street owned by an Israeli-born physicist who grew up there and now uses it only in the summers. I am composing this post on a balcony overlooking a verdant and pleasantly overgrown garden that shields me from the small apartment buildings that hover around me. (My house is, as far as I can tell, the only remaining single-family dwelling for blocks in every direction.) My own neighborhood is very quiet, but it’s only a fifteen minute walk to the busy center of town, or, in another direction, 15 minutes to the café life of the German Colony, and only a ten minute walk up the slopes of a valley to the front gate of the Israel Museum.
Commuting to the AQU campus is a bit of a schlep. Al-Quds (“The Holy”) is the Arab name for Jerusalem — so to the Palestinians, AQU is Jerusalem University. And AQU does have some operations in East Jerusalem proper. But the main campus is in the village of Abu Dis, in the West Bank. I have a car for the year, but it’s still a bit of a trek. Because the security barrier (a concrete wall in Jerusalem) blocks the direct route, I drive north across the heart of downtown (passing Jaffa Gate and Damascus Gate of the Old City), through the tunnel under Mount Scopus, down towards the Dead Sea, and then loop around by the huge settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. There I pass out of the Israeli security zone and into the Palestinian villages of Al-Azaria and Abu Dis. (Those villages are not exactly Palestinian-controlled either – a subject for another post.) The roads in the villages are crowded and chaotic – but in the mornings, I arrive at the Abu Dis campus in about 30 minutes door-to-door . . traffic isn’t too bad. The afternoons have been a different story. The Israeli army has been setting up temporary checkpoints in Al-Azaria and Abu Dis recently, which can clog up traffic, so it’s sometimes taken more than an hour to return.
I have also been spending some time in Ramallah, visiting NGOs and other individuals whom I know there, trying to spread the word in person about the American Studies program. I will doubtless be traveling to other areas of the West Bank in the weeks and months to come, as time and security considerations permit.
So far I’m on my own here. My wife Maggie is back in Concord, Massachusetts preparing for the opening of a show of her work at the Arsenal Arts Center in Watertown, MA early in September. She will spend the rest of September here, after the show’s public opening on September 10. But I have the pleasure of being close at hand to my son Theo and his girlfriend Shelly, who live in Tel Aviv . . .and it’s been a pleasure to share the last two Friday evenings with them (one at my place, and one at theirs).
As time goes on, I’ll try to be less general and give more textured portraits of the university what I see and do.