Three IR Students Travel to the Middle East


The three student leaders of the Israel-Palestine Peace Month, Mathilda Nassar ’15, Shaina Lidd ’15, and Leah Weinstein ’18, traveled to Israel and Palestine over spring break. Although they each went for different reasons, they all returned to Roanoke with a stronger motivation to work for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Mathilda, who is writing her senior honors paper on the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and the role that the U.S. has played, received a research grant to return to Palestine and Israel and interview former and current government officials and others who have been involved in the negotiations. Mathilda interviewed Dr. Gershon Baskin, Dr. Itamar Rabinovich, Dr. Saeb Erekat, Dr. Xavier Abu Eid, and Dr. Nabil Shaath, as well as Arieh O’Sullivan, who is the news anchor at Israel Television’s IBA English News. Dr. Baskin is an American-born Israeli who negotiated the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006 and released in 2011. Dr. Rabinovich is a former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and was also involved in the Syria negotiations in the 1990s. Dr. Erekat is the sitting Palestinian chief negotiator, and Dr. Shaath was the very first Palestinian negotiator. Mr. Abu Eid works at the negotiations office in Ramallah, Palestine. Mathilda says she received an incredible insight into the politics of the negotiations, and now realizes that the complexities are much deeper than a will for peace. In her time there, she visited Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv for the various interviews. Mathilda hopes to return there in September to work for the Tent of Nations, which is an organization that promotes coexistence.

Shaina, who is writing her senior religion thesis on the contradiction between religious secularism and orthodoxy in Israel and how that affects women’s rights in public prayer, went to the Middle East for a different reason. She and Leah participated in trip sponsored by the Jewish National Fund to promote sustainable development in Southern Israel. They volunteered at a kindergarten class in the Central Arava and the Halutza Region, and visited a Jewish-Arab bilingual school called Hagar. In addition to volunteering, they spent their time speaking to local Israelis about the problems and challenges that they face, and what can be done to alleviate them. They visited the Western Wall, where Shaina was able to observe her studies in reality. Shaina felt that the trip was inspiring and gave her a chance to connect her classroom education with the real world. In September, she will be moving to Israel to work with an NGO on peace and coexistence. Leah benefitted from the trip in the sense that she learned about sustainable development in the Israeli Negev, a part of Israeli culture that she had yet to study.

The three are now back at Roanoke and are getting ready to kick off the Israel-Palestine Peace Month. Mathilda, while she was in Palestine, added a message to the Separation Wall, pictured below. Please consider supporting their initiative by coming out to Peace Month events!