In the last issue of al-Majdal, we explored legal avenues for holding accountable Israeli perpetrators and those complicit in violations of international law. All the pending cases discussed in that issue have since been dismissed, whether through legislative intervention (as with the Daraj case in Spain), or findings that the cases were not justiciable or the plaintiff did not have standing (as with the al-Haq case in the U.K. and the Bil'in case in Canada). Once again, Palestinian victims were denied effective remedies because challenging Israeli impunity was judged to be too politically sensitive for the courtrooms of the richest and most powerful countries in the world.
In the same period, however, Israeli impunity was challenged by another judge who delivered his team's assessment of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel and Hamas during Israel's military offensive against the occupied Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. At the end of September, the U.N. “Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict” headed by Judge Richard Goldstone submitted the Mission's meticulously researched report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, including a set of practical recommendations aimed to ensure that Israeli perpetrators will be held to account for the first time. The “Goldstone Report” is assessed in Reem Mazzawi's commentary for this issue of al-Majdal
While the Goldstone Report and its recommendations were ultimately adopted by the Human Rights Council, it is important to note that the Council had initially decided to defer the vote on it to its next session in the spring of 2010. Such a course of action would have stripped the report of much of its value in securing redress for the Palestinian victims. The news that came out of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva was that the official Palestinian delegation played a major role in initiating the scandalous deferral. It was at this point that Palestinian civil society came alive; phone calls to officials, press releases, articles in various Palestinian and international media outlets, and demonstrations erupted in protest, and ultimately played the central role in pushing the Palestinian Authority and the PLO to give the Report their full backing. As a result, the Human Rights Council resumed debate of the Report in its 12th Special Session and ultimately endorsed the report and its recommendations on 16 October 2009.
By passing this test, Palestinian civil society proved its mettle in defending the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. The individuals running the organizations and networks that make up this civil society are largely a generation of Palestinian activists raised in the 1980s and the first Intifada, which was a period marked by intensive popular political education among Palestinian society. This education has enabled them to continue the struggle for the rights of the Palestinian people until today, despite the severe constraints posed by Israel's occupation, apartheid and colonization and the fragmentation of the Palestinian people.
One of the questions often raised is whether future generations of Palestinians will be able to continue and develop the struggle for justice and freedom – a question that forces us to examine the current state of Palestinian education. Specifically, we need to look at how children and youth learn about the history, geography, society, politics, and culture of Palestine, and about Zionism and Israel's colonialism, occupation and apartheid, which constitute the root cause of the ongoing Nakba of the Palestinian people. The importance of understanding the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing and destruction of Palestine - stems from the need to challenge and reverse it. This issue of al-Majdal examines current educational efforts which some authors in this issue have called Palestinian “National Education,” “Teaching Palestine,” or what we call “Nakba education.”
Nakba education is not new to the work of Badil. Our Youth Education & Activation Project is currently in its fourth year, supplementing the education of over 300 Palestinian refugee children aged 14-17, throughout historic Palestine as well as in Syria, each year. Through the program, children learn and discuss the contemporary history of Palestine, the living conditions of displaced Palestinians in other parts of the world, and the rights of Palestinian refugees. Youth participants visit their places of origin, contribute to annual Nakba commemorations, and develop ideas on how to defend their rights.
Nakba education is not limited to Palestinians. The growth of international solidarity with Palestinians has shown time and again that the most successful form of solidarity starts with self-education and the education of others. The tools and methods for such education and awareness raising have varied, but there is still much work to be done to share the experiences and lessons learned on how best to sensitize activists and the broader public to the Palestinian Nakba – a topic that has been neglected far too long.
For Palestinian citizens of Israel, Nakba Education means more than challenging a “sensitivity” or breaking a taboo. Nakba education is anathema to the Israeli system itself. A law bill currently under discussion in the Israeli parliament, for example, proposes to effectively criminalize the commemoration of the Nakba,1
and consecutive ministers of education have made sure that public schools in Israel would teach Zionist history and concepts and exclude the history and experience of the Palestinian people. Thus, for example, Israel's current Minister of Education Gideon Saar announced on 1 September 2009, that his Ministry would launch yet another initiative for “entering Zionist concepts into the Arab education system” and to “begin teaching a new subject containing Zionist principles such as the Hebrew calendar, the Israeli national anthem, and the centrality of Jerusalem [to the state of Israel]” as part of the curriculum in the coming school year.2
His ministry has also pulled the new history textbook "Nationalism: Building a State in the Middle East," from the hands of history teaches until the chapter on the Nakba is modified to remove any mention of the expulsion of Palestinian refugees.3
The authors in this issue of al-Majdal, are directly involved in the process of Nakba education in various places, directing their work at different communities, and cover various aspects of the topic. Rami Salameh looks at education in Palestinian elementary and high-school classrooms and the need to develop the pedagogical methods in Palestinian Authority schools. Said Barghouti examines the way Israeli history textbooks over the past forty years have presented the history of the land to Palestinian students. Dan Walsh examines the way the “Middle East Conflict” is taught to U.S. high school students, suggesting that Palestinian poster art can be used to present this topic in a more accurate and student-empowering way. Also in the U.S., members of the Palestine Education Project describe their work with students in Brooklyn to learn about the experience of Palestinians and draw connections with their own lived experiences. Nidal al-Azza shares his reflections on teaching Palestinian refugee rights under international law to Palestinian law students. Also looking at education in the classroom, Amaya Galili describes How do we say Nakba in Hebrew? a recently launched resource packet developed by Zochrot in Hebrew for teachers wishing to engage Jewish-Israeli students about the Nakba.
Other authors focus on Nakba education outside of the classroom. Khaled al-Azraq, a political prisoner for the past twenty years, tells us how the Palestinian prisoners' movement has educated its cadre. Mo'ataz al-Dajani looks at the efforts of al-Jana Center in Lebanon to engage Palestinian children and youth in the writing of their own history by engaging with older generations and with their surroundings, while Rich Wiles describes the educational activities of refugee community centers in the Bethlehem district.
While the articles in this issue provide a small sample of the forms that Nakba education can take, the experiences and work described by these authors offer a useful guide for others engaging in this field. Sharing and learning from the experiences of others is one of the ways educators can learn, and this issue of al-Majdal aims to be a contribution to this shared learning process.