This trip, this experience, was essential to my lens of justice. Before I went, I intellectually understood the concept of settler colonialism; now, I hold a holistic understanding, in my heart and in my core. Our visit, both tragic and uplifting, inspires me to teach (and live) from a place more deeply connected to Indigenous culture and resistance.
—Alvin A. A. Rosales, June Jordan School for Equity, San Francisco
Alvin was one of 13 elementary, middle, and high school teachers who traveled to Palestine in June as part of Teach Palestine, a project of the Middle East Children’s Alliance. They spent ten days learning about the occupation first-hand. All are committed to creating, implementing, and sharing curriculum about Palestine.
“It was an extraordinary group of teachers,” says Jody Sokolower, coordinator of the Teach Palestine Project, “and the trip had a profound impact on all of us. Our focus at Teach Palestine is on making specific connections between issues faced by youth in the United States and those in Palestine. Throughout our visit, we were blown away by the similarities: displacement and exile, criminalization of youth, borders and walls, the impact of colonial conquest on the environment, efforts to bury Indigenous history, and—of course—resilience and resistance. Two members of our delegation are Native American, and they showed us again and again how understanding the United States and Israel as settler colonies illuminates both situations.”
The delegation spent time in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Hebron, Ramallah and Haifa. They visited refugee camps, destroyed villages, and cultural centers. In Hebron, for example, the group walked down the deserted, shuttered streets of what used to be a thriving center for Middle East trade, now choked by the security “protecting” the Israeli settlers. “It’s a dystopian reality,” one teacher wrote, “worse than anything I imagined.”
The teachers met with teachers, youth, community and environmental activists, and organizations working to support Palestinian political prisoners, fight discrimination against Palestinians inside 1948 Israel, provide lively children’s literature, and promote gender and sexual freedom in Palestinian communities.
Everywhere, the teachers made connections to the struggles faced by their own students and communities. As delegate Stephen Leeper wrote:
At the beginning of every school year, the first unit of my 8th-grade Ethnic Studies class is auto-ethnographies. The goal of the project is twofold: 1. Get to know an ancestor through their experiences and 2. Understand the systems of power that shaped their experiences.
When I define auto-ethnography for my students, it feels abstract and foreign to them. To make the project more concrete, I created an audio-recorded autoethnography focused on my maternal grandmother, Hannah. She grew up a “fair-skinned black woman” in the Jim Crow South. She and her nine siblings lived on a farm. Like many Black families across the South, they were sharecroppers and thus perpetually in debt—a distinctive feature of this form of labor. Owning the farm was never an option. They worked the land, but it did not belong to them, could not belong to them.
Despite the exploitation and violence my grandmother and her family experienced, they chose not to leave the Carolinas. They were among the Black folks who stayed behind during the Great Migration. The ones history books tend to leave out. We celebrate the courage and strength of those who left, but not those who chose to stay and make a life in the only land they’d ever known. They didn’t choose the warmth of other suns. They chose to remain under the blistering heat of the one they knew all too well.
I understood that this project would be difficult for some of my students. Because, though the examined life is one worth living, Malcolm X’s corollary to the Socratic dictum is also true—the examined life is painful. For people in the most marginalized communities from Monroe, North Carolina, to Silwan, Palestine, these realities are starkly visible.
Visiting Palestine made me think a lot about the Jim Crow South: The arbitrariness of life under an ethnic and racial caste system. Knowing that your house could be burned down or demolished at a whim. Knowing that you could be swinging from a tree or shot down in the street for the slightest resistance against your oppressors.
At Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, we saw graffiti all over the walls. Resistance art as slogans like “Palestine will be free,” symbols like the key of return and Handala, and portraits of martyrs—residents murdered by the state for political activity or for just existing. Existence is resistance for both Black people in America and Palestinians under occupation in part because their narratives are an existential threat to an entire society constructed on lies and distortions.
Returning from Palestine, I feel an even greater sense of obligation as a Muslim of African ancestry to teach about the connections between the colonial violence of Israel and the United States, as well as the legacy of resistance we have inherited. I draw strength from knowing that my grandmother refused to leave. Understanding that that defiance is why I can stand and teach today.
Palestinian mothers and grandmothers have also been vanguards of the movement. They continue to stand in the streets, in front of separation walls, boldly proclaiming to the world that “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” When that day comes, Black grannies and Palestinian sittiswill lock arms and sing praises to the ancestors and to God most high about how we’ve overcome. Insha’Allah