Danielle Back had read about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and studied the history of that region of the world.
This summer she had a chance to experience what was happening there firsthand.
Back, a junior at Arizona State University spent three weeks in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, as part of a delegation organized by Interfaith Peace-Builders and the American Friends Service Committee. The delegation met with Israeli and Palestinian groups representing a wide cross-section of both societies.
She said her trip helped make the things she had read or heard about seem real.
“To go there it affects you so much,” Back said. “You hear about these things, but to actually see them, it makes your realize that the Palestinian plight is not exaggerated.”
Back, who spent much of her childhood in Chandler, has no real ties to the Middle East. She said her interest in the Palestinian cause has grown out of studying the U.S. government and its influence in world affairs.
She’s a member of the Barrett Honors College at ASU and is majoring in economics while pursuing a certificate in Arabic studies. Her first trip to an Arabic country was in summer 2009 when she traveled to Morocco to study the language on a scholarship from the U.S. State Department and the Council of American Overseas Research Centers.
While Back’s sympathies lie more closely with the Palestinian point of view, she said the trip also allowed her to see the Israeli side of the conflict more clearly.
“Going there, I definitely sympathize with their fear and with the pain that they have suffered. It did humanize the conflict for me, but the fact still remains that the situation is not equal.”
Back said the difference in resources available to the Israeli government – due at least in part to the support of the United States – made it hard for the two sides to negotiate on an equal level.
Back said they learned of issues such as home evictions in the Palestinian community and the fear Israelis have of rocket attacks.
“It’s more frustrating now because I know people there,” Back said. “We had home stays with Palestinian families. We had a home stay in a city close to Jerusalem with an Israeli family as well. I made friends with a (Israeli) soldier I met on a bus. I have friends on both sides.”