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22 A Field Geologist in Politicized Terrain Jill S. Schneiderman Vassar College has seen some ugly anti-Israel incidents in recent years, including hosting, to great applause, Professor Jasbir Puar’s infamous 2016 lecture accusing Israel of deliberately maiming and stunting Palestinians and harvesting their organs. In 2014, geologist Jill Schneiderman’s class trip to Israel/Palestine to study water issues was itself subject to a smear campaign, simply because it dared to include Israel in its itinerary. Schneiderman, a leftist critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights, had aimed to “promote respectful dialogue among students before, during, and after the trip so that our students might be able to participate in ongoing work toward a just peace.” Instead, anti-Israel activists campaigned to have the class canceled, picketed the class meetings, harassed class members, sponsored a hostile public forum that put the class on trial, and regularly depicted the situation in terms of a conflict between privileged white Jews and marginalized people of color. Such a toxic atmosphere feeds anti-Jewish hostility, strongly discourages the open exchange of ideas on campus, and produces a climate of fear inconsistent with academic values. In March 2014, I led a study trip to Israel/Palestine. The trip elicited strong reactions from my campus community, reactions that could be characterized as anti-Zionist bullying. The kind of behavior that resulted from the controversy threatens academic freedom. This chapter recounts and comments on these events. Introduction In March 2014, two colleagues and I led a two-week study trip to Israel/Palestine, “The Jordan River Watershed.” The trip was the centerpiece of a course designed to engage the hydropolitics of the Levant from a geoscientist’s perspective. In response to the annual call for proposals to lead Vassar’s International Studies (IS) Program study trips for the 2013–2014 academic year, I worked with the director of the IS Program as well as other faculty members throughout the 318 | Jill S. Schneiderman 2012–2013 academic year to develop the course. My study trip would follow the format of previous IS study trips to locations such as Germany, Russia, Vietnam, and Cuba in which six weeks of classroom instruction were followed by travel to the region of focus. As conceived, after six weeks of book learning, my students and I would travel mostly within the Jordan River watershed to try to appreciate the hydrogeological reality of life in a region of hydrologic and topographic extremes.1 As a newly minted professor of geology at Pomona College in 1987, I had learned the imperative of a pedagogical approach of this nature from taking students to observe water distribution and engineering projects in Las Vegas and the Mojave Desert. Likewise, I surmised that in the Middle East it would be difficult for students from water-rich places to appreciate the situation of West Bank villagers sharing meager water supplies from springs, while Israelis enjoyed recreational opportunities like swimming pools in the desert, or to imagine solutions to these problems without seeing the situation on the ground. I was motivated to propose and teach the course because, from my perspective as an earth scientist, I understand how daily and future access to clean water in ample supply is one of the key issues about which people in the region fight. It is also a problem on which Arabs, Jews, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis have worked together with integrity and compassion. Vassar’s curriculum committee approved the proposal as endorsed by the faculty members of the IS faculty steering committee. I was delighted. The trip epitomized the methodology of the field sciences, as well as the “go to the source” approach that has long been a defining feature of a Vassar education.2 Although I am a geologist by training, I am also an interdisciplinarian with scholarly publications in science studies. As a student of the late geologist and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould (who claimed to shun the politics of science), I am well versed in the truths revealed by studies at the intersection of science and society. I was inspired partially to teach the IS study trip by the work of Munqeth Mehyar, Nader Khateeb, and Gidon Bromberg, respectively, the Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli codirectors of EcoPeace Middle East (formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East), a nongovernmental association of Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians that works to solve environmental challenges in the Middle East, especially water supply and sanitation problems. The use of diplomacy on...


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