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Students Reflect on Time Detained in Israel

By David Song, Crimson Staff Writer

Just over a week after Israeli security personnel detained a group of Harvard students and affiliates, many said the experience gave them a small insight into the everyday tension between Israel and Palestine.

I think it’s one thing to understand the historic context between the Israeli and Palestinian people,” said Sushma S. Sheth, a trip member and a student at the Harvard Kennedy School. “But it’s another thing to wrap your head around the application.”

Some students said that, when being detained, they wondered whether the trip organizers were aware of the possibility that they might attract the attention of the Israeli military.

“My own views were a bit mixed,” Nancy Y. Xie ’13 said. “At the outset, I thought maybe [the guide] knew this was going to happen—was it our fault for inciting the Israeli military?”

While saying the probability of their detainment should have been low, trek organizer and Kennedy School student Ali H. O. Abu Kumbail said the region is volatile.

“[The detainment] was not part of the intention.... These things are not predictable at all times,” Abu Kumbail said. “This shows how volatile things can be and how risky things can be for ordinary Palestinian people and visitors on the ground.”

While he was not present at the incident, Abu Kumbail, who was previously involved with the Office of the Quartet Representative to the Middle East, contacted representatives from both the U.N. and the Quartet to receive confirmation that the group was permitted to be in the area.

Abu Kumbail said that the large number of people on the bus and recent demonstrations at the location may have prompted the soldiers’ concern.

Students said that even the soldiers, when questioned, were not clear about their jurisdiction when they detained the bus.

When a security car pulled up to block the bus, many members of the trek felt confused and worried about the situation.

“At no point along this journey...did I ever feel threatened, except for when the Israeli forces came,” said Blake, a member of the trek who wished to keep his last name anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue. “And it’s hard to not feel that way when they had fully automatic weapons on their side the whole time.”

Blake noted that several officers made physical contact with him and other students when forcing them back onto the bus. Students in particular noted the mutual concern for students in the group.

“What was hard for several members of the group was that while the Palestinians who hosted us...were worried about our safety, frankly we were worried about theirs,” Blake said. “On a regular basis, they could be detained arbitrarily.”

Blake said that, for him, it was important to keep in mind the Palestinian perspective.

“Imagine bringing people to your own neighborhood and showing them...something bad is happening to one of your neighbors—you’re not breaking any laws,” said Blake. “The army shows up, tells you can’t be there and arrests you, in your own community. That would never happen here [in America].”

—Staff writer David Song can be reached at

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