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APSU history professor contributes to new scholarly work on Israel

            CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Early in the morning on May 31, 2010, a group of Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship in the Mediterranean Sea, filled with pro-Palestinian activists. The boat was part of an aid-flotilla, seeking to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The commandoes planned to bring the ship into the nearby port of Ashdod, but a scuffle soon broke out between the soldiers and the passengers. When the shooting stopped, nine activists were dead and several soldiers were wounded.

            The incident sparked an international crisis, with media outlets across the globe picking up the story. Dr. Christos Frentzos, an Austin Peay State University associate professor of history, watched the ongoing news coverage from a unique vantage point. He was in Israel during those tumultuous days as part of a counterterrorism fellowship, sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

           “We were there watching BBC news and CNN news, and you could see it was very slanted coverage,” Frentzos said shortly after he returned. “All you heard about is how the Israelis have this illegal blockade. They didn’t really put it in the larger context that Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, was now in charge of Gaza, and they’ve been using their position to launch rocket attacks into Israeli settlements across the border.”

            A few days after the incident, Frentzos and the other counterterrorism fellows were riding on a bus as it headed through downtown Tel Aviv en route to their morning lecture.  Along the way they passed the Turkish embassy and witnessed dozens of Israelis protesting outside the building.  Those on the bus started up a conversation about the flotilla incident and the talk quickly turned to collaborating on a book of essays about Israel and the current crisis.

            “We were on the bus, and we started jotting down notes about what we could talk about, different chapters and essays,” Frentzos said. “And from there, we got back to the states and started emailing everyone, and we each selected a chapter we wanted to write on.”

            Last month, Lexington Books published the essay collection, “Drawing a Line in the Sea: The Gaza Flotilla Incident and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” The book features 14 essays by members of the 2010 counterterrorism fellowship, including a chapter by Frentzos on current American and Israeli relations.

            “The book focuses on the Gaza Flotilla Incident, but also includes articles that discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general,” he said. “There are discussions about some of the groups involved, such as Hamas. My chapter deals with the foreign policy of the United States and Israel since Barack Obama took office in 2009 and culminates with the Arab Spring in early 2011.” 

         During the 10-day fellowship last summer, Frentzos and other scholars from universities across the country attended lectures by Israeli Defense officials and visited undercover police units as they conducted anti-terrorism training. These experiences, according to a product description on amazon.com, resulted in a book that “explores the (flotilla) incident in more detail than mainstream media coverage has allowed—explaining the background, key players, and the incident itself—enriched by the authors having had unique access to senior Israeli officials in the immediate aftermath of the event.”

           On Nov. 3, Frentzos will travel to Washington, D.C., for the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa’s National Conference, where he’ll deliver a paper that expands on some of the themes in his essay.

            “The fellowship was a wonderful experience that not only afforded me the opportunity to participate in this collaborative work, but it has also greatly enhanced my classroom teaching,” he said. 

            The book is now available for sale on amazon.com. For more information on the book or Frentzos, contact him at frentzosc@apsu.edu.