By BENJI AZIZA
Instead of taking summer courses at the University of Manitoba this summer, I decided to apply for an internship at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.
After living in Israel for almost six years and missing the country terribly (especially the food), I was searching for an excuse to spend an extended period of time in the country.
The International Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT) is an open source think tank, specializing in analysis of terror events, national security, homeland security, national defense, security strategies and more.
It is one of the leading academic institutions for counter-terrorism in the world, facilitating international cooperation in the global struggle against terrorism.
As a student in the Political Studies department at the University of Manitoba, terrorism is a common theme brought up in many of my lectures and most of my term papers have been based on either Middle Eastern security challenges or Canadian counter terrorism efforts. Having served in the IDF during several of its military operations, I gained an appreciation for the people who dedicate their time and effort to better understand why terror events occur and how they might be prevented.
As counter terrorism is a field I would like to pursue professionally, I figured that the ICT would expose me up-close to the world of counter terrorism in a country that has had to, via necessity, become expert in the field.
After being accepted into the program, I was not entirely sure what to expect from the experience. I essentially showed up at the campus where the ICT is housed not fully knowing what I would be doing for the next three months or whom I would be working with. However, after having just completed my first month of the internship I can say that this experience has exceeded my expectations and has been incredibly rewarding.
I sit at a desk in an office with ex-high ranking officers from the top intelligence units in the IDF, along with a former head of the Mossad, and the director of the program, someone who essentially revolutionized the way the world analyzes and bases their counter-terror efforts: Dr. Boaz Ganor.
Every week we have guest speakers, including a representative of the FBI stationed in Israel and a former head of the Israeli Prison Service. In addition to attending lectures, interns are given a personal project which could be described as a thesis paper. With guidance from my advisor, I began researching and writing my paper, focusing on the recruitment and radicalization of Somali and other youth in Minnesota and their association to both al-Shabaab (al-Qaida in Somalia) as well as the Islamic State.
Outside of my time spent in the internship program, I have made a concerted effort to acquire a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After having lived in the region for almost a third of my life and having taken numerous Middle Eastern political science courses at the University of Manitoba, I continue to expand my understanding of the difficulty in grasping the full complexity of the Israel-Palestinian situation.
In my attempt to appreciate more fully the Palestinian narrative, I have spent time over the last month in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The opportunity to meet and hear stories directly from Palestinians I met has provided me with a perspective that was lacking in my long held views of the conflict.
As a frequent visitor to Israel and then, as an Israeli citizen, it was far easier for me to avoid going to Palestinian populated areas of the country and to live daily life as if severe problems did not surround me.
However, although challenging, it has now become vitally important for me to hear all sides of the story, whether I agree or not. Perhaps when an attempt is made to gain a holistic picture of the situation, along with the needs, goals and challenges faced by both sides of the conflict, maybe just maybe, peace in Israel can seem possible.
By the time my internship finishes at the end of August, I hope to have my thesis finished with the possibility of being published. As the Institute for Counter Terrorism only publishes only a third of interns’ completed works, this will not be easy to achieve, but I feel that the research that I am doing is fairly innovative and relatively unexplored. It could possibly shed light as to why Minnesota has the highest number of jihadist fighters who travel to foreign nations to fight in the name of their religion.
I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to experience Israel through the lens of this internship in counter terrorism. It has expanded my knowledge base, my perspective and has further enhanced my appreciation for the complexities and challenges that are today not just facing Israel, but the entire world as well.
For information on ICT’s annual counter terrorism conference (September 2016) that features international representation of leading experts in the field or if you have questions about the ICT or would like to acquire their publications please visit the ICT website at www.ict.org.il