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Research amidst rocket fire

Crouched behind a metal Dumpster near the Gaza Strip, the sound of rockets exploding nearby, political science professor Bill Miles flashed back to his childhood, when he was a third-grader during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“I distinctly remembered the duck-and-cover drill that I practiced in elementary school, of being under my desk with my arms wrapped around my head,” Miles said. “Never in my 40-plus years of doing research—at times, in dangerous regions of the globe—did I ever need to run for cover.”

He did on Dec. 30. Locked out of the high-rise apartment he was staying in, Miles ran for cover as rockets exploded a short distance from his Ber-Sheva, Israel, apartment. “They were hitting a 10-minute walk from where I was staying,” he explained.

In Israel for a three-week sabbatical and research project at Ben Gurion University, Miles experienced hiding out, alone, in a shelter. “That was a little creepy, because most everybody had gone,” he said. “The students were gone and a lot of businesses were closed.”

Yet, he didn’t feel right about leaving himself. Knowing a friend’s 25-year-old daughter was sticking it out, and that others were as well, it felt “unseemly” to him to head back to the states because of his own “personal level of apprehension.”

Besides, he said, “I never felt there was a rocket with my name on it.”

Miles was hoping to study how “border issues” are taught to schoolchildren living in a 60-year-old country lacking the stable borders of countries like the United States. “The U.S., for example, has had a longtime relationship with neighboring Canada,” Miles said.

Instead of studying classrooms — schools were closed — Miles lived the experience of border tensions.

“The reality of what I found there was an ironic link to my research,” he said.

Miles describes his experiences in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, “An Unquiet Sabbatical,” published Jan. 23, and plans to do more writing about his experience.

“You learn to listen for different sounds,” Miles wrote in the Chronicle. “Gadi, an army paramedic and the son of a high-school friend, alerts me to the sound of an overhead helicopter. ‘When you hear that,’ he explains, ‘it means they’re heading for the hospital and carrying either traffic-accident casualties or wounded soldiers. These days, it’s probably soldiers from Gaza.’ Since then, I have been hearing helicopters.”

The sound of a jet engine was a relief to him Jan. 30. “I was very happy to land in Logan,” he said.

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