When Michael Gizzi placed his hand on the Western Wall in Jerusalem, he knew students needed to have the chance to do the same.
“Israel is a place with more than 8,000 years of history, architecture and thought,” said Gizzi, who is an associate professor in Criminal Justice Sciences. “It is the center of three Abrahamic faiths, and the focus of a great deal of work in conflict resolution.”
Gizzi traveled to Israel for two weeks in February to help lay the groundwork for a possible study abroad program for Illinois State students to Israel and Palestine in 2016. In his exploration for sites and centers for students to visit, Gizzi journeyed to Nazareth, Galilee, the Golan Heights, Jaffa, Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah on the West Bank – all places impacted by the ongoing struggles between the two areas since the creation of Israel in 1948 in what was once Palestine.
Past the lush green of Galilee and the surprisingly modern look of Ramallah, Gizzi said students have much to gain from talking with a variety of people from the area. “You can see pictures of the settlements or landscapes, but it is everyday life happening in these cities, and each of these people have a narrative that helps complete the picture,” said Gizzi, who will teach conflict resolution as part of the Peace Studies minor. “And we are not just talking Jewish and Palestinian – but secular Jews, orthodox Jews in settlements, Arab citizens who live in Israel, and people from all sides involved in peace making. It’s important to hear their perspectives, challenges and the issues they face.”
The study abroad would be through the Peace and Conflict Resolutions Studies Program. Gizzi’s journey included visits to Hand to Hand Center for Jewish-Arabic Education, the Haifa University Peace Studies Program, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the World Holocaust Museum and the Peres Center for Peace Studies, where he spoke with a former chief policy advisor for Israeli President Shimon Peres. “Israel and Palestine are approaching 50 years of conflict and wars, but there are people who are working hard toward co-existence and to improve life,” said Gizzi, who noted a study abroad program to Israel is vastly different than one to Europe. Gizzi said he is keeping the safety of students in mind when he is planning the program.
Gizzi has been active with interfaith initiatives for years through the Presbyterian Church, and has been the advisor for the Hillel student organization for the past two years. His work has brought him into a leadership role with the Friends Forever program in Bloomington-Normal, which pairs Jewish and Arab students from Israel together for a few weeks in the Twin Cities. During his recent travels, he was reacquainted with students who have been part of the program. “I was able to ask them pointed questions about their time in Bloomington-Normal, and what elements of conflict resolution have worked for them.”
Helping Illinois State students develop conflict resolution skills is one of the goals of a possible study abroad trip to a region that has seen conflict for the past millennia. “This is a complex place, but it is a place where people share more in common than they sometimes want to admit. It can be a challenge to get past the noise and be part of a quest for a greater understanding,” said Gizzi. “A trip like this could be a good first step.”
Read more about Gizzi’s travels in his blog, or hear him speak on the journey at an event from the American Democracy Project. Seeing Israel Through Different Lenses: Multiple Narratives and the Challenges for Conflict-resolution, Co-existence, and Peacemaking will be at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14, in Schroeder 244.