My year as a Fulbright Fellow at Al-Quds University has come to an end.   I am writing this post en route to the United States, nine and-a-half months after my arrival in Jerusalem.  I’m sentimental about this departure, but I will be maintaining a significant commitment to the American Studies program and to Al-Quds University more generally in the year (and the years) to come.

I put my students through a challenging final few weeks.  First they had to complete their research projects for “Leadership in American Life,” papers of 20-40 pages that analyzed the life and work of an individual or an organization.  Then they sat for their exam on “Diversity, Justice, and Injustice,” in which they had to try to make sense of the American experience through the lenses of race, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality.

With American Studies student Helda Ereqat and the gifts that the students gave me.

After they finished writing and I finished reading and grading, we celebrated.  First we put some finishing touches on the American Studies library, which is now reasonably well organized into coherent sections. We’ve still got some cataloguing work to do in 2017-18, but at least now a student can reasonably well browse sections on literature, foreign policy, gender, popular culture, religion, and so forth.  (Yes, some books have stickers indicating multiple categories.)

Then we headed in a caravan to the town of Beit Jalla, adjacent to Bethlehem for a year-end celebration.  The original plan was for a barbeque in a public place called Solomon’s Pools, but the students thought better of it.  With Palestinian prisoners into the fifth week of a hunger strike, the spectacle of a group of young people enjoying cooked meats in the open air seemed insensitive (and might have aroused an angry response from others in the area).  So we opted for a lunch at a restaurant called Makhrour, in a dramatic setting on a remote hilltop.  We talked over how far we had come during the year, enjoyed lunch together, and then the group presented me with two beautiful gifts – handmade tile and glass works, one framed for the wall, the other mounted on an organizer for my desk.  I was touched and honored by their thoughtfulness.

We also discussed their upcoming summer study tour.  I felt from the beginning that some kind of guided experience in the United States is a crucial element of American Studies for students from overseas.  So we have managed to organize a two-week tour in mid-July.  I had been hoping for a more extensive program, but it was difficult to raise the funds.  (There was no way that most of them could begin to afford this without a subsidy.)   Eventually I managed to cobble together enough from various sources to manage a short visit to Boston, New York, and Washington D.C., and they are excited about the opportunity.

My last three days were absorbed in part by a conference that Al-Quds University hosted under the title, “Jerusalem: Fifty Years of Occupation.”  This month, Israelis are marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day Way by celebrating the “unification” and the “liberation” of Jerusalem.  In fact today Israel is celebrating “Jerusalem Day,” since this is the date on the Hebrew calendar that the Israeli army succeeded in re-taking the city from Jordan.

Al-Quds University, in cooperation with some of the leading Palestinian-Israelis in the Knesset, wanted to showcase the Palestinian perspective.  The focus over three days of speeches and papers was on the experience of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.  Those families feel both hemmed in and neglected by what they perceive as a steady and systematic half-century effort by Israeli to “Judaize” the city and displace its Palestinian residents.  Palestinians in Jerusalem have an anomalous status – residents of the city, but not citizens of Israel, which puts them at a disadvantage for jobs, services, education, and which, by many accounts, undermines their dignity.  I’ll try to give a fuller account of the complexities of Jerusalem and the messages of this conference in a later post.

Of course, my last days also coincided with the visit of President Trump.  I’m afraid that in the whirlwind of my own preparations for departure, I did not have time to follow closely and think about the impact of his visit, much less really talk about it in depth with my students, friends, and colleagues.  This will have to be done from a distance, as both he and I have cleared out of town!

I don’t have time today for a longer consideration of my experience of this academic year.  And perhaps, too, I need a little time for more thoughtful reflection over the summer.  But the good news is that my connection to the students and the university will continue in a concrete way.  As I mentioned, I will be hosting the American Studies students in July in the U.S.  And during the next academic year, I will be spending a total of 12-15 weeks at AQU, where I will be helping students with their Master’s research projects, as well as continuing to help put the program onto a solid footing.  I will also do part of that work from the United States – one of the big challenges is to raise a substantial sum over the medium term and long term to support tuition scholarships for the students, as well as to be able to bring in U.S. faculty members to offer a truly outstanding program.

I am leaving in a swirl of conflicting feelings, but the most powerful among them is gratitude. Above everything, I was extraordinarily well cared-for this year by two of my closest friends in the world, AQU president Dr. Imad Abu Kishek and my 20-year AQU counterpart, Dr. Khuloud Khayyat Dajani.  My immediate colleagues in the Global Studies Institute, Dr. Amneh Badran and Dr. Mohammad Abu Koash, were everything that I could want from partners in an effort to raise intellectual standards and academic output.  I was glad to be able to continue a program started with great effort over many years by Dr. Mohammed Dajani.   The American Studies students whom I came to know over the course of year inspired me with their scholarly commitment, their personal resilience in the face of tough circumstances, and their fierce loyalty to one another.  Newer friends like Ghassan Al-Deek and Adel Ghaith made sure that I took some time to enjoy the country between periods of intense immersion in work.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning Arabic this year with Saed Mashal; any shortcomings in my progress are entirely my own fault, not his!  To former AQU President Sari Nusseibeh, whose intellect and courage have always inspired me, I am grateful for two decades of friendship, sometimes through choppy waters. My Brandeis colleagues Dan Kryder and Sue Lanser, with whom I have worked on AQU projects together for more than a decade, made invaluable contributions through multiple visits over the course of the year.  My co-workers at the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life at Brandeis University successfully hid their frustrations at the extra work that fell to them during my absence; I’m particularly grateful to Cynthia Cohen for serving as acting director this year.  Gina Cabrera-Farraj and her colleagues in the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem made me comfortable and proud to serve with the support of the United States government.  In Jerusalem, my neighbors Ellen and Dov Spolsky and Howard Rosen and Ron Kronish hosted me regularly, and made me feel that I always had a home for holidays and Friday nights. David Benninga made sure that I was comfortable and well-settled in my wonderful house with its beautiful garden.   Also in Jerusalem, I’m grateful for that James and Tina Snyder took me under their wing; their friendship will be one of the great legacies of this journey.   Many other friends and colleagues too numerous to list made time for stimulating conversations in many corners of Israel and Palestine, helping me see a region that I have visited regularly for more than twenty years in a new light.  My son Theo and his fiancée (!) Shelly Alchanati, based in Tel Aviv, took care of me with a thoughtfulness that far exceeded what any father can reasonably expect from his children.  Finally, without the support and love of my wife Maggie, none of this would have been possible.  She patiently endured my absences, obsessions, and distractions, and then uprooted herself (and our dog Phoebe!) for more than half of the year so that we could share this extraordinary experience together.

After an extended family get-together in California (happy birthday, Susan Terris!), I will be back at Brandeis by early June.  But attachments to Al-Quds University – and to the city from which it takes its name – are stronger than ever.