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Looking East: Student in Renee Crown Honors Program travels to Middle East to study Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Andrew Renneisen | Staff Photographer

Amanda Claypool, a senior international relations, political science and history major, holds the scarf she received as a gift while traveling abroad in the West Bank last December in order to do first-hand research for her capstone project on the Israeli-Palenstinian conflict

Scrolling through her Twitter feed, Amanda Claypool checks for updates from accounts such as the U.S. Department of State, CNN and Al Jazeera on an hourly basis.

Although Twitter is used by many for casually browsing the news, Claypool is specifically looking for information to help write her thesis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A triple major in international relations, political science and history, Claypool is not a typical senior. As part of her honors capstone within the Renèe Crown University Honors Program, she is researching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and traveled to the West Bank in December as a part of her project.

Claypool decided to travel to the West Bank once she was awarded the Crown Scholar grant, which allots money to capstone students to use in various projects, she said. The intensive application process for a Crown Scholar grant involves compiling a 10-page proposal that outlines an action plan, a thesis and what the idea will generate.

“Over the course of three or four months, you gradually tune into your idea by doing extra research,” she said. “The proposal that you submit is somewhat like a business plan.”

Claypool submitted her proposal in fall 2012, during the time Palestine went to the United Nations to argue for recognition as a state.

“There was a great deal of deliberation going on in Palestine during that time,” she said. “I realized through my research on the conflict that if Palestine were to be recognized as a state in the same way that Israel is, it might level the playing field.”

The conflict of statehood and land ownership between Israel and Palestine is one of the most intractable conflicts of the modern era, said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

The division extends even within Palestine itself, Boroujerdi said. Palestine remains divided because Palestinian Authority has control of the West Bank, while Hamas rules the Gaza region. This has fostered some serious political differences, he said.

“While we often speak of establishing peace between the warring parties, the conflict may be better resolved by divorce between the sides,” Boroujerdi said in an email. “It is a complicated dispute concerning territorial claims, and religious and national sentiments.”

To expand on her research, Claypool traveled to the West Bank for two weeks in December 2012. While there, she met with experts on the conflict and interviewed local citizens to help direct her research.

“I spent half of my time in Israel, specifically Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the other half in the West Bank of Palestine,” she said. “I had lined up about 20 individuals that I planned to meet with, and from those interviews, I had hoped to gain more insight into the ramifications of statehood for Palestine.”

Upon arrival, Claypool quickly learned of the vast differences between the West Bank and Israel, such as the transportation systems, security and language.

“The language barrier was very difficult to navigate,” Claypool said. “In Israel, English and Arabic are the two national languages. In Palestine, I knew how to speak formal Arabic, but the people there speak a different dialect with much more casual idioms.”

Going into Palestine, Claypool also struggled with many of the safety stigmas associated with the West Bank created by Americans, she said. Though Nablus, a city in northern West Bank, has only made its transportation hubs public within the last three years, it continues to be welcoming toward international visitors.

“A lot of people have that perception of the Middle East being extremely unsafe,” she said. “Because of this, SU Abroad has actually terminated a lot of their options in the Middle East. I find it very disheartening, because it’s simply untrue for some areas like the West Bank.”

Claypool cites this misconception as one of the many reasons Middle Eastern dialogue is essential student-wide, she said. To help strengthen awareness, Claypool became a board member of LIME: Learning about Israel in the Middle East, a student-run organization that works to increase campus dialogue on issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Emma Goldbas, a fellow board member of LIME and junior international relations and anthropology major, described LIME as a dialogue group of mixed backgrounds. Claypool, she said, provides a unique point of view.

“Amanda provides a special perspective to our group because she doesn’t necessarily have a demarcated space on a political, social, religious or cultural spectrum,” Goldbas said. “Her experiences in traveling to the West Bank and Israel will help bring her understanding of the conflict full circle.”

Claypool gained even more understanding about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when she interned for the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington, D.C., through Maxwell in the fall of her junior year, she said. The program involved in-depth studies of international events across various news sources. When Claypool wasn’t studying international conflicts, she visited think tanks on Capitol Hill.

“I made a lot of connections just by always talking with people at think tanks,” she said. “Sometimes people forget the importance of asking questions and sharing thoughts. It’s a great way to learn.”

Claypool’s final step in her capstone project is to write a 50-page paper with a looming deadline of April 24. The paper will include a detailed description of her thesis, facilitated by her extensive research and the conversations she had with experts in Palestine.

Reflecting on her trip, Claypool said she hopes to take the knowledge she learned to further facilitate dialogue on campus and beyond about Middle Eastern conflicts. After college, Claypool said she plans to study Arabic in Jordan, go to graduate school and eventually work in national security for the government.

“I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to travel into the midst of what I’m studying,” Claypool said. “I would hope that maybe some students would look at what I’ve done and become inspired to do something similar.”

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