Prof. Jeremy Pressman will be offering “The Arab-Israeli Conflict” (POLS 3464) in May term at UConn (Storrs). It is a 3-credit course. For further information, email jeremy.pressman at uconn.edu . We spoke with him about the course.
How do you teach about such a long-running and controversial conflict?
My aim is to present a variety of viewpoints in variety of formats. I love to mix it up. One day we will watch the Oscar-winning satire, West Bank Story. For a more serious treatment of competing perspectives, we’ll read Sandy Tolan’s fabulous book, The Lemon Tree. It’s a non-fiction book about a house and the Israeli and Palestinian families that live(d) there; it reads like a novel.
What makes this course different from a history course?
I do find it challenging to cover the entire history of the conflict and the trends, findings, and analysis. When I first started teaching the course, I did lean toward covering the entire run of history from 1881 to the present. (My now-dated version of the history up to 2005.) Now, I focus more on 1948 and after. That leaves a lot of room for analytical social science pieces about topics like nationalism, identity, suicide bombings, and the like.
What is the best part of the course?
Students love the simulation of an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference. In real life, it remains to be seen if Secretary of State John Kerry can bring the Israelis and Palestinians to an actual peace conference. But in my classroom, we simulate debates about the future of Jerusalem, territory, security, refugees, settlements, borders, and every other core issue that the parties battle over. Good luck to the U.S. delegation trying to mediate these complex and controversial matters. Students almost always come away with an appreciation for the nuance and challenges the negotiators face.