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A study in conflict

USC student from Lugoff heads to Middle East

Posted: January 6, 2012 4:01 p.m.
Updated: January 9, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Danya Nayfeh of Lugoff always knew she wanted to study in the Middle East.

The University of South Carolina (USC) student’s father is Palestinian and spent his early years in the West Bank before the 1967 Six-Day War forced his family to Kuwait and Jordan and eventually the United States.

“I’ve always been interested in the Palestinian conflict and culture. I knew I was going to travel and study in the West Bank when I was in college,” said Nayfeh, a junior in USC’s Honors College majoring in international studies with a minor in Islamic culture and civilization. “I hope to gain a lot of insight into how internal politics work. There’s no other conflict that’s quite like that one.”

She left in December to attend a winter break session, “Two Nations and Three Religions in Israel and Palestine,” at Galilee International Management Institute near Nazareth in Israel. She then will spend the semester attending Birzeit University in the West Bank.

And part of the scholarship funding for her trip is coming from what might seem at first an unlikely source:  the USC Jewish studies program.

“I think that it is exceptionally significant that our program’s first study abroad scholarship is going to a Palestinian-American student for study in Israel,” said Stan Dubinsky, a linguistics professor and director of Carolina’s Jewish studies program. “The Jewish studies program is not, at its roots, a program for Jewish students only, or even Jewish students primarily, although many Jewish students are advantaged by our having this program on the campus. No, the mission of Jewish studies is to bring educational opportunities to all of USC’s students.”

Nayfeh’s scholarship for travel comes from the Jewish studies program along with the College of Arts and Sciences and the political science department.

“In being able to participate in a positive way, in response to Danya’s desire to broaden her horizons, we are doing precisely what we were commissioned to do,” Dubinsky said. “Our program’s contribution to the pursuit of knowledge and mutual understanding on the part of one enterprising Honors College student is something that we can all be proud of, insofar as it is emblematic of the spirit of cooperation and pursuit of peace that I believe underlies our university’s institutional character.  “

Nayfeh, 20, was born in Virginia, attended elementary school in Charlotte and moved to Lugoff in fifth grade.  She said she is looking forward to the chance to become fluent in Arabic along with gaining deeper understanding of the Middle East.

“I hope to do international law, from the human rights side, after I graduate. So this is a great place to be thinking about those things,” she said.

“I think it’s awesome that it’s funded by Jewish studies. Those labels -- Jewish, Muslim, Palestinian -- we automatically think they don’t cooperate. I think it’s been incredible to be able to really talk with Dr. Dubinsky. We have slightly different opinions, but we always manage to have a nice, cooperative discussion. It makes me feel great that the Jewish studies program is open to this and done so much to help. It’s a good example for other programs and universities.”

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