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Joint speaker series aims to provide a fundamental history of Israel and Palestine

Sessions will offer a deep dive into history many people know little about
Israel & Palestine joint speaker series
The seven scholars in the joint speaker speaker series on Israel & Palestine. Starting top left: Awad Halabi, Arie Dubnov and Elizabeth Thompson, Nadim Bawalsa, Shay Hazkani, Leena Dallasheh and Maayan Hilel.

Professor Wendy Pearlman urges students, whether they have strong opinions or not, to seek more knowledge about history.

“There are so many ways people are engaging personally, politically and emotionally with the current crisis,” said Pearlman, interim director of Northwestern's Middle East and North African (MENA) Studies Program. “It affects all of us. Information and context can only help. Those who know little should have a place to start. And even those who know a lot can learn more.”

Since last fall, many departments, groups and stakeholders at Northwestern have hosted panel discussions, teach-ins and initiatives to support students’ understanding and informed conversations about violence since October 7.

The latest initiative, “Israel & Palestine: Joint Speaker Series Exploring Fundamental History,” is being co-sponsored by the MENA Studies Program, the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies and the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs at Northwestern.

A series of talks by renowned scholars of the region, seven sessions will be held April 4 to May 29 on the Evanston campus and are open to Northwestern students, faculty and staff. For session dates, descriptions and scholar bios visit the speaker series events page.

Organizers arrived at the topic areas based on their own academic expertise and in response to the most common questions they hear from students and the public. Many questions, or misperceptions that people hold, relate to the early history of the region.

"The speaker series was meticulously crafted to offer a basic understanding of the most pivotal moments in the modern histories of Israel and Palestine while also delving into the intricate nuances essential for a far-reaching comprehension of current reality," said Maayan Hilel, assistant director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies. "It's an opportunity to move beyond surface-level perceptions and learn about the complexities that shaped this land."

“The historical roots of the ongoing violence go back more than a century and a half—but not everyone has access to detailed, sophisticated scholarship on the Ottoman era, or the British Mandate, or the events of 1948,” said David Shyovitz, associate professor of history and director of the Crown Family Center. “Incomplete information or inaccurate assumptions sometimes circulate more widely than academically vetted data. This series provides an opportunity for students to attain the kind of wide and deep knowledge that a university education is uniquely equipped to provide.”

The series features scholars from a wide range of personal and academic backgrounds. However, the organizers say the series is not designed to be a debate between different viewpoints, but an opportunity for Northwestern community members to acquire foundational knowledge from acknowledged experts. It offers fact-based learning in accordance with scholarly standards of excellence, which is the foundation of Northwestern’s mission and is necessary to understand the roots of the situation today.

“Our aim is to bring highly accomplished scholars to campus to offer the most recent research to Northwestern students, faculty and staff,” said Deborah Cohen, executive director of the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs and Richard W. Leopold Professor of History at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “We hope this series gives our audiences opportunities to learn, to ask questions and to hear different perspectives. We’re very grateful to the Crown Family Center and MENA for their intellectual partnership.”

“There are many ways that people can respond to what is happening now,” Pearlman said. “As an institution of higher education, Northwestern’s obligation and our opportunity is to facilitate education. This series is an attempt to make expert knowledge and analysis available to people so they can then decide for themselves how to act.

“This series is the equivalent of the best class you could imagine on the topic, taught by an all-star cast. Come and listen. Ask questions and then keep learning more.”

Registration for these events is encouraged but not required.