DeGarmo researches human security in occupied Palestinian territories

When Political Science Department Chair Denise DeGarmo first visited the occupied Palestinian territories in 2011, what she discovered was not quite what she learned about in her studies.

Photo courtesy of Denise DeGarmo

“I’d read about it. I studied it as an international relations scholar, but what I had learned is very different from what I saw on the ground,” DeGarmo said. “And I was just terribly concerned at the status of all of these people, both Christians and Muslims, behind these walls and how they were actually existing under a very, what I think is, extreme military occupation.”

After that first trip to Palestine, DeGarmo decided the “one thing” she could do was execute a study on human security.

“I think given that Europe is so far ahead of the United States in term of their understanding of the Palestinian condition that maybe if we have some really good empirical evidence and we have some better case studies of the individuals that are actually being impacted by the occupation, maybe people could learn more about it and have a more objective point of view of what’s going on, and maybe help or change policy,” DeGarmo said.

DeGarmo returned to the Palestinian territories over Christmas break, where she spent three weeks compiling data to use in research about the Palestinian region. She received a Seed Grant for Transitional and Exploratory Projects, or STEP grant, from the Graduate School that allowed her to travel to Palestine-Israel.

“I applied for this grant to be able to work with the Applied Research Institute- Jerusalem on a project involving human security, determining how the relationship, if you will, between the Israeli military orders, which are used for the sole purpose of occupation and how they have really impacted the status of human security,” DeGarmo said.

DeGarmo – and four undergraduates – will look at the following aspects of human security: food security; personal security; community security; economic security; and political security. DeGarmo said she will perform a “very complicated statistical study, in addition to some case studies, to put a face on the people that we’re actually trying to help.”

During the three weeks DeGarmo spent in Palestine over Christmas break, she downloaded data from the Applied Research Institute- Jerusalem (ARIJ) and put a team together to execute surveys and conduct interviews while she is teaching.

The four students who will work DeGarmo on the research – Matthew Boyer, David Eldridge, Erin Gross and Bryan Skorczewski – will do so as part of the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) program. They will be able to Skype with people at the Institute and conduct interviews via Skype, according to DeGarmo. They will also assist DeGarmo in going through 11.2 gigabytes of data.

Boyer, a senior political science major, said the work they are doing is not just “dumping information into a computer and having it spit out trends us.”

“We’re individually going in to each one of these documents and hand coding the documents where we actually have to pay attention and see the trend, and so it’s giving us tons of valuable research skills…,” Boyer said.

As of last week, Eldridge, a senior political science major, said he went through 50 documents in three days out of more than 5,000 documents. Eldridge said the most enjoyable part of the work is making correlations between what was going on in Palestine and the United States at the same time.

“It’s just really neat to put it all together and actually see what’s going on instead of just, ‘This is what you’re taught…,’” Eldridge said. “I’m actually being able to learn and see what’s going on.”

With Palestine’s recent acceptance as an observer state, Eldridge said it is important to go “toward this research with a completely unbiased view toward Israel or Palestine and find out what’s the best from the human security standpoint of figuring out what’s necessary for Palestine to be efficient and effective as a state, as a collective.”

Erin Gross, a senior political science major, said her role is to comb through the data that pertains to environmental issues, specifically relating to water, between Israel and Palestine.

DeGarmo will return to Palestine toward the end of May to continue her research and have further discussions with the government, the board, people at the research institute and “individuals across the West Bank.”

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