In 2007, when UCI students from Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Druze backgrounds began discussing the idea of traveling together to Israel and Palestine, they raised nearly as many eyebrows as they eventually did dollars to fund the trip.

As leaders of Anteaters for Israel, Muslim Student Union, Hillel, Society of Arab Students, Middle East Studies Initiative and Model United Nations, they had often found themselves at opposite corners from one another due to their varying religious, political and cultural differences. They recognized a need for change. They wanted to create a forum where they and others could openly discuss and learn about different perspectives on the situation in Israel and Palestine. And thus, the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) was born.

"This was the first time that many of these students had sat together in the same room," says Paula Garb, co-director of the School of Social Sciences' Center for Citizen Peacebuilding where the initiative is housed.

After spending a year discussing the issues and raising money for their trip, the OTI students embarked on a two-week fact-finding mission last September to learn more about the conflicted Middle East region first-hand. Their goal: to build better understanding among themselves and those in their communities by experiencing the area and its issues themselves rather than relying on stories recounted in media.

 

 

Upon their return, the group held more than 40 events on and off campus in synagogues, churches, mosques, retirement communities and community centers to share their experiences. Last spring, they received the Community Leadership Award from the Orange County Human Relations Commission for their efforts to spread knowledge and understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The trip was such a success that this September 2, the second group of students will embark on a similar journey where they will hear perspectives from Israeli and Palestinian academics, community leaders, and other figures with first-hand knowledge of the conflict.

They have again raised nearly $60,000 in funding for the trip, and, prior to their send-off, are hosting a silent auction fundraiser featuring an all-you-can-eat taco bar at Taleo Grill on 3309 Michelson Drive in Irvine on August 30 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Members of the community and UCI campus are invited to attend and visit with the students before they fly out for their journey.

Learn more about this year's students and their planned trip online at http://www.olivetreeinitiative.org/.

 

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