Students learn lessons in counterterrorism in Middle East trip

by Caitlin McCarthy | 1/17/20 2:05am


The War and Peace Fellows visited Jerusalem during the trip.

Source: Courtesy of Benjamin Valentino

Over winter break, 12 students in the War and Peace Fellows Program — a program run through the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding that allows students to directly interact with leaders in government and foreign policy — traveled to Israel and the West Bank for a “field seminar” in counterterrorism.

The students were accompanied by Dickey Center director Daniel Benjamin as well as War and Peace Studies program coordinator and government professor Benjamin Valentino.

“My hope was for the students to appreciate just how complicated the conflict in the Middle East is, and just how intertwined the problems are,” Benjamin said.

The trip, which was organized in collaboration with the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, connected Dartmouth students to different perspectives on counterterrorism through small-group meetings. The Interdisciplinary Center, a private research university, organized most of the trip’s events, including a day of lectures at the beginning of the trip as well as a half day of lectures at the end of the program. In between the lectures, Fellows traveled to the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip surrounding with experts from the Interdisciplinary Center. In addition, the Dickey Center coordinated a visit to the West Bank. 

During the trip, the group met with such experts as Justice Aharon Barak who served as attorney general of Israel and president of the Israeli Supreme Court. The students also met with Major General Nidal Abu Dukhan — commander of the Palestinian Authority’s National Security Forces in the West Bank — Noga Tarnopolsky, a freelance journalist reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and former director general of Mossad Shabtai Shavit. In Ramallah, the group met with Palestinian students at the Arab American University and Ibrahim Jibril Dalasha, executive director of the Horizon Center for Political Studies and Media Outreach.

Lucas Bienstock ’20, one of the participants, said he appreciated “the fact that we had everything from academia to military to intelligence to news on both sides of the issue, not just Israel but Palestine, as it related to counterterrorism.”

Sydney Kamen ’19, who also went on the trip, said that the group was supposed to travel to Gaza but the trip was dropped due to security reasons. Despite the lack of travel to Gaza, Kamen said she was impressed by how much the trip accomplished in a short period — all of which helped her understand the complex issues in the region better. 

“When you gain any kind of realistic exposure outside of the classroom you realize how much more complicated an issue is,” Kamen said.

 Carson Smith ’20, who had traveled previously to Washington, D.C. and Qatar with the War and Peace Fellows program, noted his satisfaction with the trip. Smith said that he was particularly impressed with the opportunity to meet key figures such as Shabtai Shavit and Barak.

“[Barak] also was the negotiating lead at Camp David, which is one of the most influential foreign policy events of the 20th century,” Smith said. “To have undergrads get that kind of access to these types of figures doesn’t really happen in a lot of other universities in the country.”

The War and Peace Fellows program operates independently of any academic department, and attendees of the trip had majors including geography, mathematics, Middle Eastern studies and government. The trip was paid for by anonymous donors, according to Valentino.

Valentino said that the program has about 50 members and offers opportunities for members to personally connect with speakers that visit campus. 

“The students really get a lot out of [the program] in terms of learning about major issues in international affairs and coming into contact with really an extraordinary array of people in places of great responsibility,” Benjamin said.