Professor Tours Palestinian Universities

June 11, 2012

Professor Tours PalestineHistory Professor Jack McTague recently traveled with a diverse group of American university professors on a 12-day seminar tour of universities in the West Bank region occupied by Israel––a special learning opportunity that will ultimately translate into richer educational experiences for Saint Leo students.

As Saint Leo’s Mideast scholar, Dr. McTague teaches the undergraduate course “Palestine and Israel,” an elective offering that gives students a detailed historical and contemporary examination of the conflicts between Arabs and Jews in Israel. The story of the West Bank is part of the larger, ongoing power struggle. The region is bordered by Jordan on the east, and Israel to the north, west, and south, where the city of Jerusalem is located. Israel captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 war, and now controls much of the land, though partial Palestinian control is permitted in some areas. This territory of 2.5 million inhabitants––mostly Palestinian Arabs with a growing Jewish minority––has been plagued with violence and tensions, and has also been the object of ongoing diplomatic efforts to foster peace and justice not just in the immediate area, but throughout the politically interconnected Mideast. “It is always important to travel to the places you are teaching about,” said Dr. McTague. “You pick up little nuances that you can’t get from a textbook.” And students in the classroom tend to want to hear––and will recall––personal experiences and reflections from travel, he has learned. That fits well with the mission of the group that sponsored the faculty exchange, the Palestinian American Research Center, which is trying to encourage the breadth and depth of knowledge concerning Palestinian culture and affairs.

This trip, for instance, gave Dr. McTague an opportunity to visit five Palestinian universities in the West Bank, all of which were founded in the 1970s. One, Bethlehem University, is a Catholic university, like Saint Leo, and the others are secular.

Typically, students attending the universities are commuters from nearby, Dr. McTague said. Even though the West Bank is geographically only a limited region inside a small country, Israeli government security checkpoints throughout the region make travel beyond the checkpoints difficult, and subject to frequent delays. Consequently, residents tend to enroll in the university closest to home. Even with those challenges, Dr. McTague said, the governing authorities have created institutions with good quality facilities, employing faculty with doctoral degrees typically earned in the United States or Britain, with the goal of promoting education.

Dr. McTague’s course on Palestine and Israel will be offered again in Fall 2013.