Minicourse offering context on Middle East crisis available to MIT community

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

The course, titled “Israel, Palestine, Gaza before and after October 7: Understanding historical context and contrasting narratives,” consists of three sessions. The first three sessions took place between Nov. 29 and Dec. 13, and over 500 community members, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni, attended.

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

“Our goal was to provide a starting point for constructive discussions within the MIT community,” says Krause. “I want community members to have more engaging and informed conversations with each other. By providing this knowledge, people can better understand one another.”

The sessions covered the history of Israelis, Palestinians, and their national movements; conflicts and peace in the region from 1948 to 2023; and an analysis of the current conflict and the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

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

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

Associate Professor Richard Nielsen, MENA/MIT Faculty Director and a member of the Security Studies Program, who was involved in creating the course, believes that even if they impact a small number of people, but impact them deeply, it can change the world. Nielsen said, “A significant portion of the MIT community seeks more information on these topics. We all could use more understanding and more ideas about this conflict. MIT is all about ideas. When we think about making an impact at MIT, it has to be through education.”

In designing the course, Krause aimed to provide context to the daily news updates on the conflict and counter what he refers to as “junk food information” commonly found on social media.

A focal point for Krause was building empathy. He says, “One of the most important things I hope to achieve through these sessions is the development of empathy. That is why I focused on the narratives of Palestinians and Israelis, not just the events. I believe that if you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand, even in a small way, what they are experiencing and how they perceive things, it lays the foundation for more positive engagement, not only within the MIT community but also on a larger scale.”

Krause recognizes that many community members do not have the opportunity to take a semester-long course on such a complex subject. The condensed course aims to accurately represent not just one Israeli or Palestinian perspective, but the range of opinions within each community.

“By breaking down and showcasing the diversity of opinions and experiences on both sides, not only does understanding deepen, but people also start to see the real stakes and the real individuals behind the news headlines,” explains Krause. “I believe that’s incredibly important.”

Additional sessions with new updates are being planned for February. The course is one of the various initiatives undertaken by the Institute to foster a deeper level of understanding within the MIT community.

“I hope that regardless of attendees’ political preferences, they can learn from this course and ground their feelings in greater knowledge,” Krause emphasizes. “More knowledge will lead to greater understanding, improved research, better policies, and ultimately, stronger relationships with those around us, as we gain a deeper understanding of one another.”