Frequently Asked Questions Regarding OTI

These are a few of the commonly asked Questions about OTI. Please feel free to contact the OTI office at 949 824-9062 or write to us at: info@olivetreeinitiative.org for any additional questions.

The Olive Tree Initiative is an educational initiative that has a policy of not making any political comments, policy claims, statements, or directives.  It is a student-directed initiative in such a manner that students of very differing biases get to express themselves and challenge others.  We make every effort to address all student concerns and our trip itinerary is informed and developed by the students with the support of faculty and staff.  We aim to communicate all narratives that make-up the current reality of the conflicts we study so that students can develop a complex knowledge-base and understanding of the nuances involved in solving them. As a purely educational initiative, OTI does not engage in advocacy or political activism, but we encourage our students to become active on their own or in the context of other organizations.

How is OTI Funded?

The Olive Tree Initiative is a University of California based program with its headquarters at UC Irvine. UCI gives OTI institutional and academic support including office space, supplies and partnerships with various academic departments.  Student trips are typically paid for as follows, (depending on the campus): One third is paid with funds raised from private donors through fundraising; one third is provided by the campus in support of experiential education; and a final third is covered by each student, who may do additional fundraising to raise their share.  Grant monies from foundations, burden-sharing payments from other universities and general donations go to cover administrative and staff costs and to help with capacity building. OTI accepts no funds from foreign governments or political institutions.  

OTI is grateful for the generosity of the institutions, foundations, individuals and university offices that support our work. 

Who Joins the Olive Tree Initiative?

The Olive Tree Initiative is and will remain non-partisan and apolitical. The membership of the organization shall consist of those willing to challenge their biases and preconceptions in order to expand their point of view by gaining meaningful knowledge through experiential education.  The membership tends to consist of those interested in a rigorous, academic study of conflicts in order to procure real change here and in the region.  Membership is open to any and all members of the student body, regardless of race, gender, religion, political views, and sexual orientation.  Diversity is encouraged.

 

How Does OTI Address Security Concerns on the Trip(s)?

Security is our primary concern and OTI does not put students in harm’s way.  We work hard to produce a safe, secure and mutually respectful, educational setting.  Creating a safe, secure and respectful environment is the cornerstone of the Olive Tree Initiative’s success.  By collaborating with experienced guides, U.S. and local governments and agencies, politicians, religious leaders, legal experts and consulting cultural rules and protocols, OTI succeeds in creating a safe, secure and mutually respectful environment for OTI members to learn.

As a program comprised of a majority of U.S. citizens, and as a program sponsored by the public university systems, OTI is bound to adhere to all U.S. laws. This includes following all official U.S. policies regarding meeting with representatives of groups deemed as terrorist groups by U.S. law.  Since 2010, the material support law under the U.S. patriot act makes meetings with people in any form related to groups deemed as terrorist groups by U.S. law virtually impossible. In one instance on the 2009 trip a scheduled appointment with a Palestinian Authority representative for the group was cancelled at the last minute, and the students were offered a substitute meeting with Dr. Aziz Duwaik in his capacity as the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) at the PLC office in Ramallah (very safe location next to UN offices).  Dr. Duwaik is also a political representative of Hamas in the West Bank.  As the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Aziz Duwaik holds an official position in the Palestinian governing structure and has been accessible in this capacity to many visiting groups. The on-site leadership and students agreed to the meeting, which was outside the planned itinerary. The meeting should not have happened.  This was discussed at length with the Olive Tree Initiative leadership and board after returning to the United States, and scheduling policies were tightened to prevent this from happening during subsequent trips. The meeting was arranged though a local Palestinian contact (there was no previous contact between Aziz Duwaik and the OTI leadership) and was never kept secret. It was published in all itineraries about the 2009 OTI trip, including the Impression/Expression journal from 2010.

The Olive Tree Initiative has developed a comprehensive set of security procedures and will ensure that they are followed. OTI will always maintain a safe and secure location for its participants (please review our OTI standards, ethics and policies document). Olive Tree Initiative participants must sign a Safety Instruction and Risk Acknowledgement contract, a Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk, and Indemnity Agreement as well as a health information document provided by the Olive Tree Initiative. Besides the mandatory university insurances, the Olive Tree Initiative also provides additional health and travel insurance for all participants if needed.  The safety of the group will always be the first priority in all situations.

How does OTI address religious affiliation(s)?

The Olive Tree Initiative is not a religious organization.  The membership demographic of the group, however, is filled with students from all different religious backgrounds. The Olive Tree Initiative respects all religious practices, holidays, and customs of its participants and the countries to which we travel. All participants have the opportunity to observe their specific religious practices. The Olive Tree Initiative embraces the religious diversity of its participants and sees the learning about it as part of the cultural and educational experience OTI seeks to provide.