CMC Summer Intern Pulls “Double Duty” in Jerusalem

A proficiency in Arabic learned at CMC has allowed William Brown ’12 to do double duty in Jerusalem this summer where he’s been interning at an Israeli-Palestinian think tank and volunteering at an orphanage. Read his story here, the fifth in a series of articles profiling CMC students and their summer internships.

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Name: William Brown

Major: Middle East Studies

Summer Internship: From late May through August 1st with an organization called the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) that facilitates track-two diplomacy between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

Future Plans: “I am thinking about the Foreign Service, but I won’t do that immediately after graduation. For the moment, I am going to keep learning Arabic until I am fluent. I’ve done some traveling around the West Bank, and I could see myself coming back here to spend some time. Specifically there is a developmental consulting group called DAI based out of Washington, DC that does work in the West Bank and Gaza. If I improve my Arabic more next summer (I’m hoping to get a State Department Critical Language Scholarship), then I could see myself spending a few years out of college doing consultant work in Ramallah and the West Bank.”

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CMC: Tell us a bit about your IPCRI internship.

William: One of my good friends at CMC, Jake Wyrick ’11, worked at IPCRI last summer. I am interested in Middle Eastern politicsspecifically the question of Israel and Palestineand I’ve been studying Arabic for the past two years at CMC. Jake knew of this interest and he recommended that I look into working at IPCRI. After speaking with him and emailing David Kellen ’02, also a CMC graduate who works at IPCRI, I decided that working there would be a great experience for the summer. It would allow me the opportunity to both apply the Arabic I’ve learned in the classroom and to engage rigorously with the internal workings of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Interning in Jerusalem also gave me a good mix of both worlds. I didn’t want to dive directly into the Arab Middle East because that seemed like it might be a little overwhelming. CMC provided me with financial support through the Uoroboros Fellowship Program, which enabled me to come work in Israel for the summer.

CMC: What exactly are you doing at IPCRI?

William: My official internship position is “special assistant” to Dr. Gershon Baskin, the Israeli CEO of IPCRI. Several months ago, the President of Lebanon, Michelle Suleiman, commissioned a study to find out what countries “in the neighborhood” (Israel, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and the US) think about Lebanon’s future and present role in the region. Dr. Baskin was given the opportunity to write the Israeli position paper for this study. To prepare for this paper, Dr. Baskin did 15 interviews with Israeli academics, defense ministers and other relevant government personnel.

My first assignment was to read all of these interviews (they were 20 or more pages each) and to fill in an outline for this 50+ page position paper that Dr. Baskin is presently writing. I’ve also worked directly with the track-two diplomacy arm of IPCRI. Every two months, IPCRI hosts Strategic Thinking and Analysis Team meetings in which they bring together Israeli and Palestinian experts (current and ex-government and military officials, political consultants, journalists, statisticians) to discuss different aspects of the conflict. My role in these meetings is note-taker. I take down the notes and then, during the week following the meeting, write summaries of each individual session (there are six 1.5 hour sessions over two days) and then a large overall summary of the conferences as a whole. In addition, I’ve headed a team of interns in organizing a two-day Peace Education Conference and I’m currently working on writing grants for IPCRI.

CMC: In addition to your internship we’ve also been told that you’re volunteering at an orphanage in East Jerusalem?

William: I have been volunteering one day a week at an orphanage which has two branches in East Jerusalem, and one in Ramallah, the most metropolitan city in the West Bank. Many of the children at the orphanage still have their parents. More often than not, they are at the orphanage because their parents are fiscally unable to support them. This fiscal instability has been caused (both directly and indirectly) by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which makes employment in Israel very difficult for many Palestinians.

CMC: The Arabic you’ve learned at CMC must be the lynchpin to all you are able to accomplish in Jerusalem.

William: The two years of Arabic I’ve taken at CMC have been truly instrumental in getting around here. If it weren’t for the vocabulary that Professors Frangieh and Ramadan had drilled into my head, I would have had a lot more trouble getting around East Jerusalem. Also, my Government 70 (introduction to International Politics) class with Professor Haley was hugely informative in drawing up the outline for Dr. Baskin. What I learned about Realpolitik actionsspecifically the concept of creating deterrencebetween states informed my judgment of what was and was not relevant in creating the Lebanon paper outline for Dr. Baskin.

CMC: What do you see as the biggest impasse in relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

William: It depends on whether you are talking about relations between the citizenry or between the respective governments. On the Israeli side, the largest impasse is security. The Israeli government remembers the all-too-recent days of the second intifada. For this reason, 100% security and no more terrorism are a sine qua non for the Israeli Government. On the Palestinian side, it is settlers and continuing settlements. Despite the Netanyahu “settlement freeze,” Palestinian houses are still being torn down in East Jerusalem to make way for new Israeli settlements.

I think, between the citizenry, the largest impasse is simply that Israelis don’t have a human faceother than that of Hamasto apply to the Palestinian population in the West Bank. I’ve had countless conversations with Israelis who swear that they won’t go to Ramallah or Bethlehem because they will be kidnapped or mugged or killed. Quite simply this is not true; I have on many occasions been offered tea, dinner, and coffee by Palestinians I’ve met. However, Israelis are not legally allowed to travel to the West Bank, which makes it hard to replace the face of terror’ represented by Hamas and generalized to all Palestinians with the face of generosity and kindness that I’ve been lucky enough to experience.

CMC: Can you tell us a couple of stories relating to your volunteer work at the orphanage; stories that have particularly affected you?

William: I have two stories, one which is heartbreaking and another that is also sad, but which I consider a testament to the human will. The heartbreaking story is as follows. There is a boy at the orphanage named Abdullah. Both of his parents are alive, but they are financially unable to support him. His father used to work in Israel where wages are higher (the per capita GDP in Israel 28,400 vs. 2,900 in the West Bank). However, he was fired from his construction job because he was not consistently on time. The reason: lines at checkpoints leaving the West Bank. His job loss, and subsequent inability to effectively support his children, is a casualty of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The most upliftingor in my opinion uplifting storydeals with the father of another boy named Mahmoud. His father is 32 and still has not graduated from college and earned a bachelor’s degree. The reason: he believes in free speech. He has been put in jail eight times over the past 10 years for periods ranging from three to nine months for speaking out against the Palestinian leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. I know this is not exactly uplifting but I find it admirable that he is un-phased by imprisonment and continues to exercise his inalienable right to free speech despite the consequences.