Winter in the Holy Land

More than 20 Portland State student leaders from diverse backgrounds will leave this winter break to explore Israel and the Palestinian territories under the guidance of the Jewish student leadership organization Hillel.

The trip is designed to show the diversity of the region and provide perspectives to the conflict beyond binaries. Students will learn about political issues, cultural traditions and history throughout the ten days of travel, gaining insight into the various cultural groups within Israel and Palestine.

PDX Hillel and the Cultural and Historical Association for Israel planned the 10-day trip, which will be led by PDX Hillel’s Israel Fellow Hagit Ojalvo. This will be the program’s second year.

During the trip, students will meet speakers covering different topics in Israel and the Palestinian territories in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Within Israel, they will travel to Tel Aviv, Sderot—avcity bordering Gaza—and the Negev—the southern desert region. Within the West Bank, the group will travel to Ramallah and Bethlehem. They will also have a stop in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and spend a day at the Dead Sea.

While traveling around Israel and the West Bank, students will have a chance to learn about topics central to a given area. “Going into specifics, like going into the West Bank and talking specifically about Palestinians and the conflict, [they learn] everything that has to do with [the] Palestinian narrative,” Ojalvo said. “When you go into settlements and you get to talk to the people and Jewish settlers you also get to hear their narrative. So it depends on where you are going. You talk about the issue that is most relevant to that place.”

Cole Keister, one of the student leaders for CHAI, recounted his group’s experience with one of the guides. “The entire time we were with her we were asking her constant questions, which was really awesome to see everyone asking everything they were curious about,” he said.

“Last year we met an Arab-Israeli journalist who represents the Arab-Israeli community in Israel,” Ojalvo said. “This year we’re hoping to meet the Ethiopian Jewish community [who are] also a big part of Israel.” Additionally, the group will have a chance to meet with Bedouins of the Negev, who are semi-nomadic Arabs, and members of the Druze community, a distinct ethno-religious group mainly residing in the north.

PDX Hillel is currently in the final steps of their application process. After the term, students will leave Dec. 14 and return Dec. 24.