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Minicourse open to the MIT community gives context to the Middle East crisis

Attended by more than 500 students, faculty, staff, and alumni, with more sessions planned, the course offers a jumping off point for constructive discussions.
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Caption: A new course open to the MIT community gives context to the crisis in the Middle East.
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Yellow foliage in Killian Court, with The Great Dome in background.
A new course open to the MIT community gives context to the crisis in the Middle East.
Image: Jake Belcher

MIT community members can learn more about the Israel-Hamas conflict through a recently developed online course organized by Middle East and North Africa (MENA)/MIT at MIT’s Center for International Studies.

The three-session course, titled “Israel, Palestine, Gaza before and after October 7: Understanding historical context and contrasting narratives,” was first held between Nov. 29 and Dec. 13. More than 500 community members attended those sessions, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

The course instructor is Peter Krause PhD ’11, an associate professor of political science at Boston College who is also a research affiliate in MIT’s Security Studies Program and an expert on Middle East politics. Krause spent multiple years living in the region to conduct interviews with Israelis and Palestinians for his dissertation and first book, which focused on the history of the Zionist and Palestinian national movements.

“We wanted to create a jumping off point for constructive discussions in the MIT community,” Krause says. I want people in the community to be able to have more engaging and informed discussions with each other. Providing this knowledge can allow people to understand each other better.”

“We all could use more understanding”

The sessions were split up into the history of Israelis, Palestinians, and their national movements; conflicts and peace in the region between 1948 and 2023; and a look at the current conflict and the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The next session of the course will feature recordings of the first three sessions as well as a live Q&A with Krause, and will run between Dec. 18 and Jan. 3. Community members can register with their MIT email address.

More than 1,100 community members registered for the first session, including many alumni and faculty members.

“I don’t worry too much about headcount; I think even if we impact a small number of people, but impact them deeply, that can change the world,” says Associate Professor Richard Nielsen, MENA/MIT Faculty Director who is also member of the Security Studies Program and was involved in creating the course. “That said, a sizeable portion of the MIT community is seeking more information on these topics. We all could use more understanding and more ideas about this conflict. MIT is all ideas. When we think about making an impact at MIT, it has to be through education.”

Krause says he sought to provide context to the daily news updates on the conflict and to counter what he calls the “junk food information” snippets common on social media.

Building empathy

“One of the most important things that I hope comes out of these sessions is the building of empathy,” Krause says, which is why he focused the sessions on the narratives of Palestinian and Israelis, not just events. “I think if you have the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes and in some small way understand what they’re experiencing and how they see things, that’s the basis for more positive engagement, not just in the MIT community but at large.”

Krause acknowledged that many community members aren’t able to take a semester-length course on this complex subject. The condensed course tries to accurately depict not just one Israeli perspective or one Palestinian perspective, but the range of opinions within each of those communities.

“When you start to break it down and show the diversity of opinion and experiences on each side, not only does that deepen understanding, but you also start to see the real stakes and the real people behind the news headlines,” Krause says. “I think that’s really important.”

Additional sessions with new updates are also being planned in February. The course is one of the Institute’s many initiatives aimed at bringing a deeper level of understanding to the MIT community.

“I hope whatever attendees’ political preferences are, they can learn from this, which will ground whatever feelings they have in greater knowledge,” Krause explains. “I believe greater knowledge is going to lead to not just greater understanding, but also better research, better policy, and then hopefully better relationships with people around us, because we understand each other more.”

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