DeGarmo’s eyes opened in Palestine

It’s not just anyone who can say their eyes are opened in a “terrorist” country.  Denise DeGarmo, associate professor and chair of political science at SIUE’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), can, and did, say just that.

DeGarmo was fortunate enough to be selected to travel to Palestine this past summer on an all-expenses (save international travel) paid trip.  The Palestine-American Research Center, or PARC, invites U.S. university faculty members to participate in their mission.

Denise DeGarmo (third from left) sits with the other PARC fellows in Old City of Jerusalem, May 2011. photo courtesy of Denise DeGarmo.

According to the PARC website, their mission is “to improve scholarship about Palestinian affairs, expand the pool of experts knowledgeable about the Palestinians, and strengthen linkages among Palestinian, American, and foreign research institutions and scholars.”

One of only 10 faculty members selected to travel to Palestine from the U.S., DeGarmo believes that her PhD in international relations, specifically security policy, from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor helped in being selected by PARC.  DeGarmo also stated that she believes her work in nuclear security, human rights and terrorism studies played an integral part in being selected.

The trip was a 12-day seminar, from May 19 to May 30, where faculty members “participated in Jerusalem-based activities that will include lectures,  workshops and visits to local universities and other related institutions in the West Bank. Through these activities, participants will learn about the region, deepen their knowledge of their particular fields of interest as they relate to Palestine, and build  relationships with Palestinian academic colleagues,” according to the PARC website.

Graffiti on the Separation Wall, May 2011. photo courtesy of Denise DeGarmo.

DeGarmo’s friends, family, and colleagues attempted to talk her out of going to Palestine.  She stated they thought her life would be in danger.

“I had no idea what to expect because based on U.S. scholarship and news coverage, Palestine is full of terrorists lurking behind every building,” DeGarmo stated.  “This was not the case at all.”

DeGarmo said that she never felt threatened in the West Bank, even though she traveled in some of the most contested areas, such as Hebron.  She felt that she was treated with dignity and respect.  She said that in Jerusalem, it was a different story.

“The only time I felt threatened was in Jerusalem where I was constantly disrespected and intimidated by Israel Occupation Forces.  The IDF would often aim their rifles at you because they could,” said DeGarmo.  “I had dirt and rocks thrown at me by Jewish settler children in Hebron.  I saw a young man simply walking down a street in Jerusalem and for no reason, the Israeli Occupation Forces and Police tasered him–they threw him to the ground and kicked and punched him.  It was terrifying.”

DeGarmo stated that she visited the Old City of Jerusalem; Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem; the Institute of Palestinian Studies and the Al-Amiri Refugee Camp in Ramallah, Palestine; Bethlehem University, the Church of the Nativity, and the Separation Wall in Bethlehem; along with many other sites.

During her journey, DeGarmo said that she learned the U.S. is complicit in violations of International Law and human rights committed by Israelis against the Palestinians.

“In its close alliance with Israel, the U.S. provides $3 billion in military aid and despite U.S. legislation prohibiting the transfer of arms to countries who use those arms against civilians, the U.S. continues to fund  Israeli weapons and military.  The Israelis continue to build settlements in the West Bank although these settlements are a violation of International Law and the U.S. does nothing to encourage they stop construction” DeGarmo stated.  “The U.S. government and U.S. press is not providing objective and unbiased reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and therefore, Americans have no idea what is going on in Palestine.”

Israeli settlers living on Israel Occupation Force Base in Hebron, a violation of the Geneva Convention, according to DeGarmo. photo courtesy of Denise DeGarmo

DeGarmo plans on bringing what she learned during her trip back to SIUE.  She is involved in two large research projects with Jad Isaac from the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem and Zakaria Qaq, Professor and Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Al Quds University.  She plans on teaching a course on the Politics of Occupation in 2012 that will focus on the politics of Palestine.  She hopes to give her students a different view of the conflict.

“I hope they will get a more informed look at the Palestinian situation and a more balanced presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” said DeGarmo.

Kevlar vested dove, sign at entrance to Bethlehem, May 2011. photo courtesy of Denise DeGarmo

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