A Ph.D. student who grew up surrounded by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is studying at NAU’s Martin-Springer Institute, learning about reconciliation.

Wala Maaitah, a Palestinian earning a doctorate in social psychology at a university in Jena, Germany, is spending six weeks at NAU. The philanthropic Open Society Foundation funded the trip, allowing Maaitah to study with the Martin-Springer Institute’s Director Bjorn Krondorfer and other NAU academics.

Krondorfer has facilitated reconciliation seminars in numerous places, including Israel, Palestine and Germany and has written a book discussing post-Holocaust reconciliation efforts focused on Jewish-German relationships.

The Martin Springer Institute and Krondorfer’s peace-building education is similar to Maaitah’s area of study. “I am working on the topic of defining emotional barriers to reconciliation and better academic performance of adult Palestinian students,” Maaitah said.

Maaitah is from East Jerusalem, which is part of the territory contested between Israelis and Palestinians and where residents are regularly exposed to violence.

Maaitah recognizes that Palestinians and Israelis see each other as enemies and changing those longstanding relationships will be a difficult process. “We as Palestinians define ourselves through the conflict and the same goes for the Israelis,” she said. “I want to introduce ideas to help us redefine our relationships in a positive way, using a grassroots initiative.”

After finishing her Ph.D., ­­Maaitah would like to bring curriculum to Palestinian students that introduces emotional and social skills through complex case studies, including the Holocaust. This project would incorporate many ideals and skills she has learned during her time at NAU.