A concrete, bullet studded wall, 25 feet high in some places, cuts through Jerusalem demarcating the border of the occupied territories which lies in the West Bank. For some, the structure symbolizes safety—for others, displacement. As Samantha Lowe, a Trinity Western University alumna from Powell River BC, filed through a checkpoint in the barrier, she was impacted by the reality of the political and cultural complexities that she was finally viewing with her own eyes.
A week after Lowe finished her undergraduate degree in December 2009, she boarded a plane to Tel Aviv as a recipient of an all-expenses-paid trip with the Israel Young Leaders Program to tour Israel and the Middle East. The International Studies major was one of 11 students chosen from across Canada for the prestigious award, funded by the Israel Scholars Network. The program trip ran from December 26 to January 3.
For Lowe, who wrote her undergraduate Honours Thesis on Palestinian national identity and gender, the opportunity to witness the issues she had studied was one that she could not decline. “I thought that there was a one a million chance that I’d get chosen because it is a competitive program. The students were from schools from across Canada; it was a great honour to be able to go.”
The initiative provided Lowe with the opportunity to travel the country and meet with Israelis and Palestinians who have studied and lived through the conflict. “Many people in Israel are Holocaust survivors or direct descendents of survivors, such as the guide on our trip. In one of our meetings, we were able to talk with the best friend of Anne Frank who survived the camps and hear a part of her story. It causes you to realize how deeply the history of WWII affects the general mind-set of the area,” Lowe recalls.
Lowe and the other students also met with Palestinian representatives and foreign affairs journalists who presented alternative perspectives to the region’s complex politics. “They wanted us to develop a deeper understanding of the conflict and the multi-faceted nature of it. You can’t look at it in a cut and dry manner. It reminds us that we have our own cultural assumptions about the issue that we bring into our study of the area, but you have to try and look at the bigger picture.”
For Lowe, travelling across Israel and the surrounding areas emphasized the significance of the land dispute and its relationship to the three major monotheistic religions involved— Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. “From one spot in Jerusalem, I could hear singing from people at the wailing wall, the call to prayer from the Al-Asque Mosque, and the bells from The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.”
TWU Professor of International Studies Paul Rowe, who served as Lowe’s honour’s thesis supervisor, says, “There is a new dimension that comes with tangibly seeing the things that one studies in class. The ability to speak first hand about the places and people we study in class is invaluable to really get a handle on a topic. Doubtless, Lowe will be able to make reference to her experiences in the years to come.”
For Lowe, witnessing the politics and culture of the region has solidified her goal to continue to study Israeli and Palestinian politics. “In graduate school, I now want to focus on security issues concerning the region, and I hope to be able to study for a semester in Israel or Egypt.”
Of the experience, Lowe concludes, “You go with a certain idea of what it is going to be like because you have read so much about it, but I realized that the issues are a lot more complicated than I thought. Being able to see it changed my perspective deeply and opened my eyes.”
Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C., is a provincially chartered, independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university, enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 42 undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include nursing, counseling psychology, marriage and family therapy, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.
Last Updated: 2010-03-05