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February 15, 2023 3:41 pm

‘Best Ten Days of My Life’: Forty College Students Travel to Israel and United Arab Emirates


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

ICC Fellows in the Dubai Desert. Photo: Israel Campus Coalition.

A cohort of 40 elite college students took a ten day trip to Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in January.

Chosen by the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) Geller International Fellowship, the visit provided the students a chance to experience Israeli and Emirati culture and see first-hand how the relationship between the two countries has changed since they normalized relations with the signing of the 2020 Abraham Accords.

“We’ve never really run a student trip before, so this was a new thing for us,” ICC CEO Jacob Baime told The Algemeiner. “One of the things that I think was special about it was that we selected these student leaders from all over the country, from all different campuses, and all different types of campuses too. Everything from Ivy League campuses to large public universities to historically black colleges and Hispanic serving institutions. And so, it’s a pretty diverse group actually, and they’re all students who have just exercised strong leadership.”

In Israel, students visited the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at the University of Tel Aviv, met with Israeli leaders, and were given a tour of Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank. Seeing Israel and the West Bank on the ground exposed a gap between media headlines about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reality on the ground, Keron Campbell, a self-described “Black Zionist” and senior at Morehouse College said.

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“Sometimes, we think the Middle East is just chaos and destruction,” he explained. “I saw Israelis and Palestinians that want peace and to coexist.”

Another student, Mason Quintero of Amherst College, said it was “remarkable” to meet non-Jews who are interested in studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It was a really phenomenal trip,” he continued. “I don’t get to meet a lot of non Jewish Zionists, so that was super invigorating. I’m really glad they did it that way.”

Alexandra Ahdoot, a Duke University sophomore and president of the school’s Students Supporting Israel chapter, extolled the trip’s stops at different sights in the UAE, including the Museum of the Future, the Burj Khalifa, The Frame, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

“There was such a diversity in the people that were there, and I even heard people speaking Hebrew behind me when I was there. That’s just a reflection of the UAE in general,” she said.  “Something that I learned is that only 10 percent of the Emirates population is actually Emirati citizens. So, when you go there you’re jumping into a huge melting pot.”

Adhoot added that she was “proud to be a Jew there” and called the experience “the best ten days of my life.”

“That’s just to put it bluntly,” she continued. “I really learned so much. I got to see the Middle East through an entirely different lens and develop new perspectives.”

ICC, which was founded in 2002, is planning several more trips to Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Applications for next year’s will be available on its website on March 6. Motivated by knowing that “American support for Israel is not self sustaining,” CEO Jacob Baime is hoping to attract as many interested in students as possible

“This is the first of many cohorts,” Jacob Baime said. “When students complete the program, they become senior fellows, and we’re going to support and nurture them in perpetuity. We’re going to try and provide them support as they graduate from college and as they begin to pursue their careers. A lot of the students are interested in running for office. A lot are interested in starting businesses. So yeah, we think that this is a really important investment for the future, for the next generation.”

Baime added that the students he met this year are natural leaders and inspire hope about the future of the world.

Follow reporter Dion J. Pierre at @DionJPierre.

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