Venturing into the Heart of Conflict
Megan Madison of Chester, Virginia is a senior politics and music major at Converse College, and she serves as the Student Body President. A four-year member of the Converse Model Arab League delegation, she has won awards as a debater and chair, and she presently serves as the head delegate of the Converse team as well as the Secretary-General of the National Model NATO.
The following interview conducted by Nick DeRatto was published in the Chesterfield, Virginia “Village News,” August 27, 2008. A few minor factual errors were corrected in this reprinting. At the end of the article, Ms. Madison’s addendum expands upon the experience.
A guard tower stands starkly against the crisp, blue sky, looking out over the barbed-wire lined brick wall dividing Palestine and Israel. Below, dozens of people patiently wait to pass through one of many checkpoints as they make their way to work, winding between the chain link fences like cattle in a chute. What would garnish complaints and protests if taking place here draws barely a murmur of dissent, and not just because of the watchful eyes of armed guards. For those stuck within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s just a way of life.
Media coverage offers only the barest glimpse of a conflict that has raged for decades, lighting upon only one or two threads of a vast blanket of issues. The only way to truly understand the currents raging underneath this sea of unrest is to visit the region, meet with the people there, and experience a slice of their daily lives.
A senior and head delegate of the Model Programs at Converse College (Spartanburg, S.C.) Megan Madison did just that as she received one of only a few scholarships to participate in the International Program from July 6 to August 7 at Galillee College in Israel. Madison lived in a Jewish commune in Kibbutz Mizra to get a first-hand look at the conflict.
“It’s a very complex issue. You can’t just divide it into two sides. What we see here in the media is just the Israelis and Palestinians, but there is so much more than that,” says Madison. “There are Zionists who believe the land is only for them, ultra-orthodox religious settlers, ultra-orthodox settlers who are against Zionism, economic settlers who are completely secular, militant Islamic movements, Palestinian refugees, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Muslims against Palestinian Christians, IDF Soldiers, Hamas, Fatah, and suicide bombers.”
Majoring in politics and music, Madison first became interested in the Middle East while still in high school. There, her Spanish teacher, Khadijah Luqman, taught the class that language was more about passing tests and knowing how to talk to people; it’s about breaking down cultural barriers and understanding the world, a lesson that resonated with Madison. Last year, she received her first taste of what that meant as she spent part of her summer studying Arabic in Morocco. However, nothing truly prepared her for her trip to Israel.
“It was so emotionally draining, especially towards the end,” says Madison. “In every class, another layer was added; it became really heavy. You feel almost helpless because you want to do something, but you realize that you have to be in a certain position to be able to help in that capacity.”
Not content with just the classroom experience, Madison organ