BY VALERIE ORLEANS
From Dateline (September 30, 2004)
Students to Develop Peace Plan For Arab-Israeli Conflict Course
“In my family, we did not talk about
how my parents arrived in America – only about where they
came from,” said George Giacumakis, professor of history and
director of Cal State Fullerton’s El Toro Campus. “My
father came from Crete, and my mother came from the Sparta area
of Greece – but we have no record of how it was they entered
this country. Perhaps they entered legally or perhaps they didn’t.
We will continue to research, even if we only have limited information.”
So what does this have to do with the upper-division
history course, Arab-Israeli Conflict, that he teaches?
“It’s the first lesson,” says the
historian with a smile. “To understand the Arab-Israeli conflict,
you need to understand the emotion and history behind immigration.
It’s all about who has the legitimate rights to an area. Is
it those who were there first? Those who are current caretakers?
And, more importantly, who decides who is right? By making it more
per-sonal – students write their own immigration history –
students often have a better understand-ing about how some of these
“The purpose of looking at their own histories
helps students understand the positions of both sides,” he
adds. “I have them imagine that a neighbor moves into their
house or the house owned by a grandparent. How would that make them
Students in Giacumakis’s class are asked to
describe their own family histories, with particular attention to
how they got to California.
“I follow that up by asking, ‘What gives
you the right to live here?’” he says. “Some have
families who lived here for decades. Others are new to the area.
Often the responses I receive are, ‘Well, I’m a citizen
and it’s my right to move here.’ But yet, if we go back
a few hundred years, this area was part of Mexico. We are a land
of conquests. We have historically taken over areas that belonged
to others. Does that make it ours? Theirs? Who decides?”
As part of his class, students are required to write
a proposed peace plan for the controversial Israeli-Palestinian
“Many students come in with very strong views
and opinions on the conflict. My job is to challenge those views
and make them deal with them from a position of logic,” says
Giacumakis strives to make students aware of their
preconceived biases and be understanding of those with different
“We look at the histories and culture of Palestinians
and Arabs, as well as Israelis. We study Middle Eastern systems
of law – ancient to Islamic law.
“Then, we research the past peace proposals
over the decades. The last three have failed. So we look at the
reasons why they might have failed. Frankly, it is often a very
frustrating process for the students,” he admits.
“These are complex problems and there aren’t
easy solutions. Both sides have legitimate claims. My job is to
make students understand these claims and work toward a mutually
Students also pay close attention to what’s
currently happening – not only in the Middle East, but also
in the world community – and how that affects Middle Eastern
“For instance, the European Union recently
condemned Israel for building the fence,” Giacumakis notes.
“I’m not sure if building a fence is the right strategy
or not, but it is a little disingenuous of Europe to condemn it
when they themselvesare building fences against some Eastern European
nations to keep illegal immigrants from streaming into Western Europe.”
Students bring these topics to class where they are
discussed and used as background for developing their own peace
“My goal is to have the students develop their
knowledge about the Middle East, be able to analyze situations from
a point of logic, and recognize the realities they must address.”