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Members of the St. Norbert delegation with one of their guides, in Jerusalem

Fresh Look at a Fraught History

Open minds and recognized expertise – expertise not just in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but in Middle East history and water ecology – accompanied SNC encounters with Israeli and Palestinian communities this summer.

In designing the perspective-sharing trip, group leaders Robert Pyne (Norman Miller Center) and Robert Kramer (History) drew on their contacts and experience in the region. Kramer says, “Our underlying ethos was to highlight all of the historical background to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but do it without judgment, and expose the participants to as many points of view as possible.” Israeli and Palestinian guides offered parallel perspectives on the sites and artifacts the group encountered.

Andrew O’Connor (Theology & RS), whose research field is Islam, notes how much the past is still fought over in Jerusalem, how relevant it is seen to be to the rhetoric of today, and how history and artifacts can be used by either side. “History is not neutral,” he says.

The group was “blessed with encounters with all kinds of perspectives, including very controversial positions,” adds Craig Ford (Theology & RS), who gathered insights for his Introduction to Peace & Justice course this semester.

Ford says: “When you go there you can understand why this very small piece of land on planet Earth takes up the international energy that it does. Theologies are created to help human beings think through how they can most faithfully reflect God’s intention on Earth. Questions about our relationship with God and each other have very real applications in the region, they are not just private questions for the individual.” He’s still corresponding with the rabbi who met with the group.

For Derek Elkins (Emmaus Center), SNC’s Protestant chaplain, spirit of place was key to the experience. “There is something special about being in the places where Jesus walked. You can sit on the Mount of Olives and breathe the same air. That will stay with me, and I will share it with students.”

Water ecologist Carrie Kissman (Biology, Environmental Science) recognizes water rights as key to the group’s mission to focus on human rights and civil liberties. (The visit was partly funded for this purpose by the Menard Center for the Study of Institutions & Innovation.) “The question of who controls water and who has access to it,” she says, “is hard to grapple with when you’re in Green Bay on the shores of the largest freshwater resource on the planet. As ecologists we study all organisms and how they interact. In my classes I show that, if we recognize that we humans are part of the ecological community, that will affect our actions.

“It was a heavy learning experience, with the scale of the injustices we were hearing about, but also rich and rewarding.”

Sarah Parks (Music), Jaime Edwards (Philosophy), Kathleen Gallagher Elkins and Tom Bolin (Theology & RS), Marc Hammer (Business Administration), Angel Saavedra Cisneros (Political Science), and Jill Olson (Norman Miller Center) completed the delegation from SNC.

Oct. 31, 2022