Children’s Books About Palestine

By Katharine Davies Samway

This article appeared originally in Rethinking Schools, vol. 27, no. 2, winter 2012–13.

 

It was a beautiful fall day for the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival and I was volunteering at a booth devoted to Palestine and the impact of the Israeli occupation. Crowds of people passed by the booth and many of them stopped to look at the posters and pick up handouts. But what really captured my attention were the children, 9 or 10 years of age, who were riveted by one particular image—a photo of an Israeli soldier pointing his gun at a Palestinian child of about 5.

“Mami, Mami! Come and look!” Children pulled their parents and older siblings into the booth to look more carefully at the photo and talk with me about it. They were horrified that such a young child had such a frightening experience.

Talking with the children and their families, I learned that they didn’t know much, if anything, about that part of the Middle East. As I tried to explain some of the key events that led to the photo, and why it is important for Americans to be informed, I realized that we had no information written for children. I should have brought some books and an annotated booklist to hand out, I acknowledged to myself. But I could think of less than a handful of possibilities.

Maybe, I thought, there are good books out there for K-8 learners that I’m not familiar with, and so I began to scour my local libraries. I ordered books through interlibrary loan, read books recommended by friends, and reread books that I already owned. What did I learn? I discovered that there are several nonfiction books about life in ancient Palestine. There are also many nonfiction books about modern-day Israel that serve as propaganda for Israel and do not treat the plight of Palestinians honestly and comprehensively. These books tend to be dense, with a lot of complex historical information jammed into a few pages and a springling of photos.

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Independence or Catastrophe?

Teaching Palestine through multiple narratives By Samia Shoman This article first appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine, summer 2014. Introduction Long before I was born in 1975, the course of my life had been drastically altered by history. When David Ben-Gurion declared the creation and independence of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, my identity as a Palestinian was shaped, along with the history of this region. Throughout my life, I have borne witness to and experienced the ways this day in history changed not only my life, but also the lives of millions of Palestinians and Jews all over the world. My most recent trip to the region was in July 2013. As always, I felt saddened and overwhelmed as I reflected on what the events of 1948 had caused: an institutionalized system of oppression and apartheid in what some believe is historic Palestine and others see as Israel. This difference in perspective and personal truth is among the many factors that have kept the conflict ongoing into its 66th year. In my teaching, I use an approach that exposes students to the idea that Palestinians and Israelis have different narratives about the same historical events. The approach encourages critical thinking and allows students the space and opportunity to decide what they think for themselves. At least in my district, it is an approach that has enabled me to build support among a broad range of parents, students, and Middle East scholars—even when I have been challenged by…

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Advocating for Arabic: An interview with Lara Kiswani

By Jody Sokolower An earlier version of this article appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine, spring 2017. A few years ago, the Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), the Vietnamese Youth Development Center, and Arabic- and Vietnamese-speaking families in San Francisco organized a successful campaign to add Arabic and Vietnamese to the many languages taught in the city’s public schools. Despite unanimous school board approval of the resolution, for three years implementation met obstacle after obstacle In fall 2018 Lara Kiswani, executive director of AROC, talked with Jody Sokolower about the successful organizing effort and the ways that racism and xenophobia kept the Arabic and Vietnamese language pathways from being rolled out. Arabic is unbelievably beautiful and rich. When you read, write, or hear Arabic, you are learning and engaging with a deep history. Jody Sokolower: What is your own history with Arabic? Lara Kiswani: Arabic is written in my history, identity, and culture. I was the first of my siblings to be born in the United States, and I was raised speaking both Arabic and English. I went to English-Only schools and was put in English language learner classes because of my knowledge of Arabic and because I spoke Arabic at home. I learned a lot about my family history and our Palestinian culture in Arabic from my grandma, who lived with us as I was growing up, Also, on Friday evenings I attended a community-run Arabic school, and on Sunday mornings I attended a community-led Islamic school to learn to read…

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