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.