Master of International Relations student Elizabeth Lawrence reflects on the immense potential for learning beyond the classroom to be gained from an international internship. Here she shares her experiences of interning in the Middle East at the Palestine-Israel Journal.
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Lawrence
As part of my Masters of International Relations I travelled to Jerusalem for a two-month internship with the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ), a non-profit publication founded in 1994 by two prominent journalists, Palestinian and Israeli respectively. The journal aims to open the channels for dialogue between both sides of the Palestine-Israel conflict in order to encourage support for the peace process. Each issue focuses on a particular topic related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and contains analyses, opinion pieces, book reviews, interviews and other articles written by an equal number of Israeli and Palestinian authors. I had used numerous articles written for the PIJ while undertaking research for essays and policy papers for my degree, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to a publication I revered.
Challenging editorial tasks
As an intern, my main task was carrying out initial edits of articles that had been sent through to the editors. The up-coming issue was titled Religion and the Conflict, and so I had the opportunity to read articles from authors of different backgrounds and perspectives with a focus on many aspects of religion. Reading and editing these articles made me question and re-evaluate my previous notions and perspective on religion, and how religion relates to politics, society, culture, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the condition of the broader Middle East.
I also attended a number of conferences with other interns from the PIJ that related to religion in the conflict. While there was some agreement that religious leaders were crucial in facilitating dialogue between difference religions in the process in theory, there was limited discussion or debate about the logistics or difficulties in practice. Each conference was different and interesting, but I can also see how these kinds of discussions are limited in their reach and effectiveness: it is impossible to have all areas of society affected by the conflict be present and participatory. This could be due to conscious exclusion, disinterest, lack of awareness, or probably a mixture of all three. Despite this limitation, I felt that I learned a lot from these conferences, both in terms of the discussion topics but also about how those directly affected by the conflict conveyed their stories and opinions.
The most rewarding part of my internship
The most rewarding part of the internship for me was my own interview project that I carried out as a representative of the PIJ. I travelled around the region with another intern to meet and interview various politicians, activists and academics in order to gain a broader scope of the different perspectives of the conflict. I was in an advantageous position where I could be half-journalist, half-student and pick the brain of these influential people to better understand the state of affairs in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Collating these interviews allowed me to appreciate the wide range of opinions about the conflict, both as it currently stands and how it may affect the future of the region. I used the information I collected to write a final report that would count towards my degree, thus combining analytical skills I had learned in Melbourne with new primary research conducted in Jerusalem. Conducting these interviews was definitely the most challenging but most rewarding aspect of my internship, and I am grateful that the editors of the PIJ gave us the chance to carry out personal projects while also working for the Journal.
I worked for four days a week, and so I had the opportunity to travel as well. Within Jerusalem, I visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, explored the Old City and climbed the Mount of Olives. I travelled to Tel Aviv to relax on the beach and swim in the Mediterranean. I also visited other areas such as Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Eilat, the Golan Heights and even took a weekend trip to Wadi Rum and Petra in Jordan, so there was definitely a touristic element to my trip. I was lucky enough to stay with a Palestinian family that lived in the Old City, and I learned so much from them like useful Arabic phrases and how to cook traditional Palestinian dishes, but I also learned of the personal challenges they face living in such a tense, and sometimes dangerous, city. It was these stories that really resonated with me and made me realise that there is a lot to be learned outside of the lecture theatres. My time in Jerusalem and at the Palestine-Israel Journal allowed me to combine all that I had learned during my degree with a new-found perspective and understanding about politics, religion and conflict, and how important these components are in shaping international relations.
This article was originally published in the University of Melbourne’s articulation. https://articulation.arts.unimelb.edu.au/?p=5215