URCA students conduct research in Palestine

Three political science students spent a week and a half in Palestine during winter break to conduct research with the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem as part of the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) program.

Three political science students conducted research in Palestine during winter break, including senior Charmaine Burrus (pictured). Photo courtesy of Denise DeGarmo.

Seniors Tyler Urish, Charmaine Burris and Robert Wann joined Political Science Department Chair Denise DeGarmo and political science professor Laurie Rice from Dec. 15 – 25 to continue their research in support of DeGarmo’s work on human security in the occupied Palestinian territories. The occupied Palestinian territory is in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where Israeli military control a large portion of the West Bank.

Urish and Wann have been studying how the walls that separate the West Bank from the rest of Israel are a “form of political communication.” They will compare and contrast them with murals in Northern Ireland to determine the “general mood of the area,” according to Urish.

Urish said Wann and he gathered “a lot of interesting data” from the wall while they were in Palestine, such as information about the wall itself and “how it takes land.”

Senior Charmaine Burrus, who knows DeGarmo through her time in the Honors Program, said her aspect of the research focuses on food security and sovereignty, meaning how Israeli occupation of the West Bank affects growing food. Burrus has been investigating limitations in the water supply, movement of farmers and hunger and nutritional values of food, among other topics.

Burrus said when researching another culture it is important to be involved in understanding the opinions and perceptions of people in those cultures.

“I feel like as outsiders conducting research it’s really easy to get this really western-centric [idea] …,” Burrus said. “I feel like we really need to hear first-hand account of people and see it on the ground.”

Being on the ground in Palestine helped Burrus compile “a lot more statistics.”

“It’s really hard to come by numbers in Palestine,” Burrus said. “Like, there’s just not a lot of on the ground research. Sometimes it’s hard to find just on the Internet, through email. We worked with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem. They were really, really helpful in getting us the stats we need, previous reports…”

Urish said he wanted to conduct research in Palestine because of the importance of understanding the human condition first-hand.

“You can read so many things and do so much research, but don’t really understand the gravity of these things until you go there and see them yourselves,” Urish said.

After being on the ground in Palestine, Urish said his research will have “a lot more emotions tied to it.” “I think while I was really concerned about it in the first place, I think going there and seeing it firsthand makes it more important,” Urish said,”… Now I’m more emotionally tied to the research, which will make me work harder [and] put my nose to the ground.”

Urish said the most challenging aspect of researching in Palestine was the danger and restrictions on obtaining information.

“There are security risks everywhere and you’re in contested area where things aren’t very well liked…,” Urish said.

Burrus said she had been interested in studying abroad in the past, but her interest in Palestine specifically began when she took an Arabic class.

“I wasn’t very educated about [the issues in Palestine], then I met my friend [senior political science major] Nasir [Almasri], who is Palestinian,” Burrus said, “and I met several other Palestinian faculty and students and just from talking with them about their history and their culture and also looking more on the political side of things [I become more interested.]”

Uris said it is important for people to understand the “severity of the situation” in Palestine and become more informed on the subject.

The students expect to present their research at an upcoming conference.

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