04 November 2016

Intern experience: researching education in Israel and Palestine

By Mona Bieling, Master student in International History. 

This summer, I interned with a Palestinian organisation called Baladna – Association for Arab Youth in Haifa, Israel. Since my semester abroad at Haifa University in 2014, my studies have focused on Israel and the so-called Arab-Israeli Conflict, and I have been fascinated in particular by the history of Haifa and its Arab districts. Haifa is one of the ‘mixed’ cities in Israel, meaning that Jewish Israelis and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship live side by side. I have always been interested in dynamics within Israel itself and how the Jewish majority and Palestinian minority interact in this complex society.

The internship with Baladna offered the opportunity to go back to Haifa and spend time in Israel to experience it firsthand. During the six weeks I spent there, I carried out individual research on the Israeli education system. I wanted to find out whether the education system can be seen as a political tool of the Israeli government to sow divisions between different Palestinian communities. To this end, I conducted several interviews with people involved in this issue, for example the General Director of the Follow-up Committee for Arab Education, the Director of the Arab Cultural Association and researchers from different institutions working on this or related topics. In the end, I wrote two reports about my findings: a detailed one that has been distributed by the organisation via its website and social media and a shorter one that has been published in essay form on middleeasteye.net.

The internship taught me various things. For example, it was the first time I conducted interviews for my research. Doing this in a foreign environment, in a foreign language and about a relatively sensitive topic only added to improving my research skills and heightening my awareness of my own role in the process. While I am convinced that, as a researcher, you should be personally familiar with  the area you are writing about, I was always very aware of being an outsider in the region. On a more practical level, the internship taught me to be persistent if I really wanted something to happen: from scheduling interviews to preparing my work for publication, this involved writing many e-mails and making lots of phone calls while realising that no answer did not necessarily mean someone was not interested.

I am now planning to include parts of the work I did during the internship in my master thesis, which I would like to focus on the Israeli education system, this time in a historical context. Moreover, I am preparing my research proposal for my PhD, during which I can hopefully take a closer look at one particular group of people in Israel, namely the internally displaced Palestinians.