Education Under Occupation: East Jerusalem

An interview with Zakaria Odeh

This interview, by Jody Sokolower, first appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine, spring 2016.

When Israel declared itself a state in 1948, it forcibly ejected 750,000 Palestinians, who became refugees. The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, ended up under Jordanian control; Gaza under Egyptian control. Almost 20 years later, as a result of the June 1967 war, all those areas were conquered by Israel. Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, but it annexed East Jerusalem—in the face of universal opposition from the international community and in defiance of international law. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were issued special Jerusalem ID cards, which identify them as “permanent residents.”

Now the Israeli government and the illegal settlers are determined to push all Palestinians out of Jerusalem; they have declared it the capital of Israel. As a result, the houses of Palestinian Jerusalemites are demolished; trees and crops are destroyed; children as young as 10 years old are repeatedly arrested and tortured; more and more Israeli settlers have moved into the area, taking over Palestinian homes and land. This interview explores the impact on Palestinian children and their education.

Zakaria Odeh is executive director of the Civic Coalition in East Jerusalem. This interview was conducted in November 2015.

Jody Sokolower: How is the escalating violence in East Jerusalem, and throughout Palestine, affecting children?

Zakaria Odeh: This violent situation didn’t start with the recent escalation. This is the result of all the various policies that Israel has been implementing over many years in the occupied territory in general and in occupied East Jerusalem in particular: land confiscation, house demolitions, settlements, revocation of Palestinian residency in East Jerusalem, constant arrests of our children.

Our youth have found themselves, as a result of the prolonged occupation, in a situation where there’s no opportunity, there’s no future or hope for them. For example, several months ago, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave instructions to the police to use live ammunition against demonstrators and against the children who they claim are throwing stones at Israeli soldiers or settlers. After that, we have been seeing a lot of deliberate killing. In Jerusalem especially it is deliberate execution that has been taking place against Palestinians. In cold blood. Although the Israelis claim that in all the cases there has been an attempt to stab an Israeli, witnesses say that sometimes there is a knife, but in most instances there are no knives. Or sometimes they have seen the military throw down a knife later.

There have been massive arrests and detention, and a lot of those who are arrested are children. You can’t imagine the psychological impact on the children of what they see on the street and see on the TV. They don’t want to sleep by themselves. They don’t want to go outside because they are worried they might be killed or might be arrested.

East Jerusalem is like a military compound these days. First the Israelis brought in 5,000 more troops and then another 1,400 police and special forces. If you walk in the street, you feel the tension: Everywhere you see police and military vehicles.

Of course, the teachers are affected by these restrictions too, especially the teachers who come to school from outside the city, from behind the separation wall and checkpoints, and the non-Jerusalemites who come through special permission. The whole permission system has been stopped.

JS: So if a teacher comes from a West Bank city like Bethlehem or Ramallah, they’re not able to get there?

ZO: Yes. And then there is the problem of those who live in the outskirts of Jerusalem. The center of Jerusalem, what they call the municipality border of Jerusalem, is surrounded by checkpoints and the separation wall, which was built after 2005. There are 80,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites who live outside the wall. They are holding Israeli-issued Jerusalem ID cards, but now they have to go through this checkpoint process every day.

JS:  What is the current impact of the occupation on education in East Jerusalem?

ZO: To give you a little history and background: Before 1967, Jordan ruled the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, so the textbooks were written in that context. When Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, education came under the control of the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality. One of the first things they did was try to impose the Israeli education system on schools in East Jerusalem. But there was a lot of resistance from the schools and the community. For two or three years, there was no continuous education here because of that conflict. Finally, the municipality agreed to keep most of the old curriculum and textbooks.

When the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established in 1995, it developed a new Palestinian curriculum that was based on the Oslo Agreement—it called for peace, peaceful coexistence, and “no incitement.” They started teaching this curriculum by 2000.

Then, in 2011, the municipality informed schools that they would not allow them to use the PA curriculum or textbooks. They printed new textbooks and started forcing the schools to use them. The new textbooks took out everything related to Palestinian history, Palestinian resistance, the occupation, land ownership or control—all of that was removed.

For us as Palestinians, this is one of the most dangerous policies that Israel is using, because this is the occupation of the mind, the occupation of the way people are thinking. It is changing the story, the narrative of Palestinian culture and history. The Israelis are right. This is the Palestinian national identity.

Last year the municipality went one further step. They started imposing on us the curriculum that has been taught in Israel. They have been threatening to withdraw funding as a way to force the public schools to use this new textbook.

For Israel, education is one of the main issues. They have tried ever since the first day of the occupation to control it. This is how the people will think, how they will view their culture, their history, their future. So, for the Israelis, it’s very important to control our education system in order to control what Palestinian children will learn.

For us as Palestinians, this is one of the most dangerous policies that Israel is using, because this is the occupation of the mind, the occupation of the way people are thinking. It is changing the story, the narrative of Palestinian culture and history. The Israelis are right. This is the Palestinian national identity.

This is more dangerous than the demolition of homes. If you demolish a building, people can rebuild the house or the school. But if you destroy the way people think, this is difficult to rehabilitate. It’s very difficult to go back.

JS: Can you give an example of the problems with the Israeli textbooks?

ZO: The Israeli curriculum doesn’t recognize Palestinians as a people at all. We have some experts who did research on these books. They found that, in the Israeli curriculum, they talk about Palestinians as “other minorities.” They talk about us as “Christians and Muslims,” as “people from the Negev,” or “people from the north.” There is no acknowledgement that there is a people who are called the Palestinian people.

JS: Really?

ZO: Yes, this is very clear. They teach about the Zionist leaders, about figures who are part of Israeli history, but they never teach about Palestinian leaders, our long history, or the Nakba. The Nakba is something taboo. In fact, a few years ago, the Israeli government decided that any school or person who commemorates the Nakba, it’s a crime, so they could be punished, they could be arrested and imprisoned.

And always they say that historically Israelis were the ones on the land. The Palestinians—they don’t say Palestinians, but the “others”—they were just passers-by, they came from the desert, they are not from here, they just came to work. Can you imagine the effect when you teach children these kinds of things?

JS: What other problems do you have in terms of education?

ZO: Israel makes it impossible for us to build schools. In East Jerusalem, if you build a school or a house without a permit, it is demolished. But it is very difficult for Palestinians to get a permit. Of course, this has caused a shortage of classrooms. According to research last year by an Israeli human rights organization, there is a shortage of approximately 2,200 classrooms for Palestinian students in occupied East Jerusalem. Between 8,000 and 9,000 students don’t have a seat or are not eligible for a seat in the schools in East Jerusalem.

Because of this lack of schools, approximately 60 percent of the schools in East Jerusalem are in buildings that were meant to be houses. But what does that mean in regard to overcrowding, hygiene, and ventilation? Mostly, especially in the Old City, a lot of these buildings are very, very old houses, and the access to sunlight and fresh air is not good. It’s rare that you can find a facility with a basketball court, a volleyball court, a playground, anywhere for children to play. Because we have no financial resources, schools rarely have computers or a science lab.

Coordination is another problem. Nearly 48 percent of the schooling is run by the Israeli Jerusalem municipality.  About 30 percent are private schools, some of which are church-affiliated and some are independent; 3 percent or less are run by the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Another 16 percent are run by the Awqaf (Islamic Trust), which is supported by the PA. And there is a new type of school, which started only 10 years ago, which we call subcontracted schools. Anybody who has money, he or she can open a school and go and get subsidized by the municipality of Jerusalem.

JS: That’s what we call a charter school in the United States.

ZO: Yes. So part of the problem is all of these umbrellas of management, and the coordination between them is very weak.

We also have a severe shortage of teachers in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem used to rely on teachers who came from the suburbs and from all of the West Bank. Since Israel closed Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank in 1993, nobody can enter Jerusalem without a military badge and without permission from the military administration. And that is very difficult to get. As a result, there has been a shortage of teachers, especially in subjects like physics, English, and math.

JS: I know the situation with arrests and detentions of children in East Jerusalem has been an ongoing crisis. Can you talk about that and how it affects the children’s education?

ZO: From the beginning, children have been a target for detention and arrest. You can’t believe the way that the Israelis confront any peaceful demonstration, any march, even any cultural or sports activity by the Palestinians. Most of those who are subjected to arrest and re-arrest are children under 18. Just last week, the legal system in Israel decided that they could arrest and sentence Palestinian children as adults when they are 14; before they had to be at least 16.

They often come to arrest the children at 4 in the morning. They blindfold them, handcuff them, and drive them to a police station or an interrogation center. They hold them for four hours or it could be one night or two nights. For many hours, they don’t let the children drink or eat, or even go to the toilet. We talk to the families and the lawyers, and they say they make the children do it in their pants. You can imagine the psychological impact.

Some neighborhoods where there have been a lot of protests—Silwan in the south of the Old City, Al-Issawiya, Mount Olive, the Old City itself—all these neighborhoods are now closed completely by barriers, concrete cement blocks, and soldiers, police, and other security who check every Palestinian’s movement continuously. In these areas, you hear every day that there are children who were arrested.

They also use what they call house arrests. Sometimes the judge decides a child should stay at home for six weeks, two months, three months. They are not allowed to leave the house at all. They can’t go to school; often even after they are released they are too far behind and they drop out.

Many families believe that it’s better if the child is held in prison rather than on house arrest. You know why? Because they make one of the parents sign that he or she, the mother or the father, will be with the child all the time, 24 hours a day. And he or she is responsible for this child if he leaves the house. So the parent becomes the police in a way. And this creates some kind of hatred in the child against his parents because it’s the parents who can’t permit him to leave the house.

Another punishment they use is internal deportation. If a child lives in Silwan, they punish him by saying he cannot be in his neighborhood with his family for two months: Go to another village, another neighborhood, but you are not allowed as a child to be in your neighborhood with your family in your house. Of course, for most children, their school is in their neighborhood, so if they are in another neighborhood, they lose their right to go to school.

All these policies have been affecting the performance of the students. Then there’s the settler violence. They are always around, they are always patrolling. There are many clashes between settlers and the communities, especially the children. Whenever there is a problem between the settlers and the community, the police arrest the Palestinians and take the side of the settlers. The settlers are another army in occupied territories because all of them are armed. They can do what they want, they are under the protection of the police and the military.

So many of the parents I talk with say that their children don’t want to go to school anymore. They are worried that the settlers might stop them, the police might stop them. These children are seeing their friends being killed, their families, their neighbors.

Then, in most of the neighborhoods there are no recreation centers—places that could provide rehabilitation for the children, places where they could play sports, do art and music to release tension, release all that they go through.

JS: The first time I was in Palestine, in 2012, I went to a new community center in Silwan and then, two weeks after we came home, they bulldozed it.

ZO: Yes, the Israelis try to prevent us from creating a community center, a youth center, or anything for children who like to practice music, play sports, or see films. Silwan has a small center for children, with a library and computers and a counselor, but it is constantly under attack.

Now, since the beginning of October, the violence is only increasing. [Between October 2015 and January 2016, Israeli forces fatally shot at least 30 Palestinian children.]

So many of the killings have no reason at all, but even in the situations where the child has a knife, you have to ask: Why would this child go and stab another human being? What are the reasons behind that? How could this child be at this stage?

What they are doing is a natural psychological result of all they’re going through, all that they’ve seen: A child sees his home demolished, his father is in prison, his brother is in prison. He sees the violence of the settlers, how they attack his family, how they have burned the olive trees or bulldozed them and destroyed the harvest of the whole village.

There are, 4,000 to 5,000 children who have to commute from neighborhoods that are now outside the wall to come to the city to go to school. These children have to go through a military checkpoint every day, wait for who knows how long, then have their bodies and belongings searched. Twice, going and back. What kind of psychology does this create? What do you expect from this child?

JS: So, in the face of all this, can you give me an example or two of how Palestinians are trying to make sure that children grow up knowing their history and culture?

ZO: One example is a program we started in 2011 called Know Your City. We take students from the 6th through the 12th grade to visit different areas of Palestine. In the 6th grade, the students go with a guide through the Old City and learn about all the cultural and historical Christian and Muslim places. They do more research and we ask them to write and draw about what they’ve seen. The next year, they visit the villages of ’48 Jerusalem, the villages that were destroyed. The next year they explore the northern West Bank, and so on, until they are gradually introduced to all the areas of Palestine. It’s an adventure and at the same time educational.

We have also started an international campaign with UN partners, with the diplomatic mission here in Jerusalem, and with international organizations to put pressure on Israel not to enforce their new curriculum. And, on the grassroots level, most schools have not changed what they are teaching, despite the Israeli threats.

Then, in the last year, we have been building the capacity of the parent community. There is now a parent committee in each school and a council of parent committees that we hope will link together across all the different types of schools in East Jerusalem. We recently established the Civic Education Council in East Jerusalem, which includes all the different umbrellas, all the different parents councils, all the teacher unions, and some civil society organizations that work in education in order to coordinate action to force Israel to comply with international law.

According to international law, it is the duty of the occupying power to provide adequate education for people under occupation. This has nothing to do with imposing curriculum. According to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child has a right to an education that is related and responsive to their history, to their culture, to their people.

As long as Israel is illegally occupying East Jerusalem, it is their responsibility as an occupier to provide services and education. But that doesn’t give them the right to impose curriculum that is against Palestinian history and culture. Or to deny our children their human rights.









Continue ReadingEducation Under Occupation: East Jerusalem

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.

Continue ReadingChildren’s Books About Palestine

Independence or Catastrophe?

Teaching Palestine through multiple narratives

By Samia Shoman

This article first appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine, summer 2014.


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 community groups questioning my intentions and curriculum because I am a Palestinian American who teaches the conflict in my contemporary world studies class.

Teaching the conflict takes courage. I write this article in hopes of encouraging teachers who are committed to social justice to take on the challenge. In this context, social justice means exposing students to Palestinian narratives alongside the Zionist narratives that often dominate textbooks. I use the term Zionism and teach it explicitly to my students. Zionism is the support of an exclusively Jewish state in Israel, along with the land that it claims should be part of Greater Israel. An important distinction to make is that not all Jews or Israelis are Zionists, and there are non-Jewish Zionists.

A Framework for Critical Thinking

Before delving into the history of the conflict and the experiences of the people involved, I spend time developing a theoretical framework built on four concepts: Fact, Perspective, Narrative, and Your Truth:

FACT: Information that can be independently verified; data that is generally accepted as reliable.

PERSPECTIVE: A particular attitude toward or way of thinking about something; point of view.

NARRATIVE: The stories we tell and/or believe to explain how a set of facts or events are connected to each other. Our perspective underlies the narratives we tell.

YOUR TRUTH: In this unit, we will use “your truth” as something every person creates for oneself—an interpretation of facts based on one’s own perspective.

I teach the students that facts and perspectives inform people’s narratives, which all lead to individual truths. Facts are pieces of information, data that are independently verifiable or agreed to by all parties. To take an example from world history, it’s a fact that the African continent was almost wholly colonized by European powers during the period from the 1800s through World War I. The dominant European perspective was that their contact with African indigenous populations brought the blessings of civilization and exposure to God to the “dark continent.” Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” is a narrative based on that perspective. The dominant perspective among African peoples viewed the Europeans as invaders bent on stealing their resources and destroying their cultures. Oral histories passed down about the spiritual and military leadership of Nehanda Nyakasikana in Zimbabwe, for example, are narratives based on that perspective.

I make the point that people come to their own “truths” based on their interpretations and memories of historical events. This helps build a space for students to feel safe reflecting on what they have been taught or exposed to in the past, and to be open to new ideas and information. It gives students a framework from which to understand the conflict, instead of one in which they need to choose sides.

This teaching framework is my attempt to address the histories of the groups involved. There are many people who do not see this conflict as having two equal sides, but exploring it in this way helps students make meaning of the history and current reality.

Before applying the fact, perspective, narrative, and my truth framework to Palestine/Israel, I have students practice with other historical examples, often based on a recently completed unit.

War of Independence or Catastrophe?

I anchor my Palestine/Israel unit in the events of 1948, although the historical background starts long before this, with the First Zionist Congress of 1897 and the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Later we backtrack to cover this history; it is important that students understand that Zionist organizations had plans to turn Palestine into a Jewish state long before World War II.

I present the 1948 events as both the Israeli War of Independence and the Palestinian Nakba (nakba is Arabic for catastrophe). It is through the events of 1948 that students get their most intimate understanding of how different narratives determine what people see as the truth. For example, my students learn that a Palestinian student in the West Bank or Gaza and an Israeli student in Israel will learn different stories about what happened in 1948. What those students learn shapes their beliefs about the legitimacy of the state of Israel. It is through this lesson that my students begin to grasp the idea of multiple and competing narratives as they read, watch, critique, and analyze text and video footage of things that happened in 1948 from different perspectives. As students work their way through the history, they begin to develop their own truth about what happened.

I ask the students to analyze a series of documents about 1948, including primary source accounts, secondary texts, maps, and photos (see Resources). I set it up as a jigsaw activity: Students work in small groups on one set of documents at a time, then trade them in for another set. The document sets cover the following:

A. Jewish and Palestinian narratives about what happened in 1948 (War of Independence and Al-Nakba)

B. The Deir Yassin Massacre

C. Israeli Declaration of Independence

D. Palestinian Refugees

E. Jewish Immigration to Israel

The first document contains two narratives of 1948, one from an Israeli perspective and one from a Palestinian perspective (“Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative: Palestinian and Israeli” from the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East). The narratives explain that clashes between Palestinians and Jews began quickly after U.N. Resolution 181 to partition Palestine was passed, and continued until an official war broke out on May 15, 1948, after Arab armies entered the newly declared state of Israel.

The Israeli narrative includes the following excerpts:

Hagana Zionist organization, arriving in Palestine, July 1947.
The Palmach, part of the Hagana underground Zionist paramilitary organization, arriving in Palestine, July 1947.

The war that began on Nov. 29, 1947, is known as the War of Independence because it resulted in the land of Israel, in spite of the fact that at the beginning local Arabs and then armies from Arab countries tried to prevent it. Local Arab troops and volunteers attacked isolated Jewish communities, Jews in cities with mixed populations, and the roads. They also employed terror tactics—all Jewish people, settlements, and property were considered legitimate targets. . . .

During the first stages of the war, Arab residents began leaving their communities in the land of Israel. The first were those who were well-off economically. The result was a significant weakening of the entire Arab community. . . . Most of the Jewish military and civilian leaders in the land welcomed the flight of the Arabs for political reasons (so that the future Jewish state would include as small an Arab minority as possible) and for military reasons (to distance a hostile population from the field of battle). Hagana (Zionist defense) forces began to deport Arabs. However, not all Arabs were deported and there were no high-level political orders to do so, although military commanders were given freedom to act as they saw fit. Thus the flight was due to deporting and frightening Arabs and because of their own fears without regard to Israeli actions. During the course of the war about 370 Arab villages were destroyed.

The Palestinian narrative included the following excerpts:

On Nov. 29, 1947, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Palestine into two states, Arab and Jewish. This was the start of the countdown for the establishment of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948, and the 1948 Catastrophe, which uprooted and dispersed the Palestinian people. The Catastrophe was: 1. the defeat of the Arab armies in the 1948 Palestine war; 2. their acceptance of the truce; 3. the displacement of most of the Palestinian people from their cities and villages; and 4. the emergence of the refugee problem and the Palestinian diaspora. . . .

The destruction of 418 Palestinian villages inside the green line (pre-1967 Israeli border), concealing the landmarks of Palestinian life, and the massacres against the Palestinian people are the best evidence for the brutality to which the Palestinians were exposed. They were dispersed throughout the world.

Concerning the exodus, the Palestinians did not have the least doubt that it would be for a few days, after which they would return to their houses: “We thought that we would return after one or two weeks. We locked the house and we kept the key, waiting to return.”

Some 1,400,000 people inhabited Palestine in 1948. After the Catastrophe, about 750,000 Palestinians wandered with nowhere to go. Families were separated, the elderly died, children carried younger children, nursing children died of thirst. Suddenly Palestinians found themselves exiled from their homes, in an alien world that regarded them as a different kind of frightening human being—refugees! The international community did not focus on learning the reasons for the refugee problem and finding a remedy. Rather than investigating the reasons for the forced migration and displacement, all they did was to provide them with humanitarian assistance.

I have students answer a series of questions, including:

  • What are the main differences between the historical narratives recounted by each side? Give two examples.
  • List five established facts referred to in both narratives.
  • How can the same historical event be known as a War of Independence and a Catastrophe?

“What are some differences between the two narratives?” I asked one group.

“The Israeli narrative says that lots of Palestinians left on their own, but the Palestinian story says they were forced out.”

“How would you describe the perspective behind the Israeli narrative?” I asked.

“They believe the land is rightfully theirs for taking.”

“They are coming to create Israel because the land was given to them by God.”

“They deserve the land because of what survivors of the Holocaust went through.”

“What about the perspective behind the Palestinian narrative?” I asked.

“The Jews came in and took their land.”

“They were already living there. The Holocaust wasn’t the Palestinians’ fault, so they shouldn’t have their land taken from them.”

I moved on to a group that was struggling to understand the two narratives. “Let’s start with established facts,” I suggested. “What are some facts that both sides agree on?”

“Four hundred and eighteen Palestinian villages got destroyed,” read Jorge.

“Do both narratives agree on that?” I asked.

“The Israeli side says 370,” Alex pointed out.

“So how could you express that as a fact more likely to be accepted by both sides?” I asked.

“How about: At least 370 Palestinian villages were destroyed,” suggested Elizabeth.

The group agreed that would work and moved on to find other facts.

The documents on Palestinian refugees include photographs and this excerpt:

A man from the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon recalls what happened to his small daughter: I had a daughter—she was 3½ years old, and was separated from her mother during the fighting. Some people told me they had seen her going toward the Druze village of Yarka, so I went to look for her. I searched until morning but could not find her. In the morning I went up to Yarka. Some children played in the courtyard. I saw my daughter standing in front of a boy who was eating a piece of bread. She was hungry and asked the boy: ‘Give me a piece.’ The boy did not pay any attention to her. I came up behind her, hugged and cradled her in my arms. I couldn’t utter a word because of my tears. In just 12 hours our condition changed from honor to humiliation (Sayigh, p. 105).

Students worked in groups to respond to the questions attached to each document set. As I walked around the room, I heard a range of student comments:

“This whole situation is messed up.”

“How come people can’t just live peacefully together?”

“It’s so sad. What happened to the Palestinians who left their homes?”

“I don’t know if this can ever be overcome.”

The students had a hard time reconciling the experiences of Jewish people during the Holocaust—and the horror and sadness they had shared as we studied it during our World War II unit—with what they were learning about the Nakba. One of the most common questions students asked throughout the entire unit, often out loud to the entire class, was “How could Jews treat Palestinians without dignity or humanity after what they had experienced?”

When students raised this, I let them engage in discussion with one another and facilitated rather than answered, because I have no answer and do not think there is a single answer. It was an opportunity for students to dig deep on an emotional, academic, and critical thinking level to synthesize historical knowledge with their own perspectives on human behavior.

Students were actively engaged in text analysis and looking at pictures and maps, calling me over for clarification and discussion. They asked me if my family had to flee in 1948 or if I know anyone who did. I explained that my parents were from a village near Jerusalem, were young children in 1948, and were relatively safe; but that my husband’s parents were forced to flee to Jordan, where my husband was born.

Students stayed after class, came in at lunch, and hung out after school because they wanted to discuss the situation. My students always have a heightened interest in this unit because it is current, because I have witnessed it firsthand and can share stories, and most of all because it is wrought with human emotion, differing realities, and seems never-ending. This past year the level of engagement was exceptionally high. Perhaps that was because I had Palestinian, Arab, and Jewish students in class together.

To wrap up the document analysis, I asked the students to predict some of the results of 1948 for Palestinians and for Jews in Israel. What might happen next? How might different people have felt? The result was a T-chart. Students wrote:

  • Palestinians would be unhappy their homeland was taken away.
  • Palestinians would demand changes and want more land, continue to retaliate, and be scared because of the massacres and violence.
  • Jews would be happy that their historical homeland became theirs officially.
  • Jews would be happy about no more discrimination.
  • Jews would justify their actions with their spiritual connections to the land.

After the document analysis, I asked students to apply the framework and their historical understanding to designing a fact, perspective, narrative, and your truth poster for 1948. I had students number off by twos and assigned them to either the War of Independence or the Nakba. As with all student work, there were differing depths of understanding reflected in what students turned in. A high-performing student’s work on Israel’s Independence included the following excerpts:

Fact: The Jewish and Arab people fought a war against each other after tension arose between the two. In 1948, Israel was formed and gained its independence. After the creation of Israel, the Jewish immigration rate increased.

Palestinian refugees being trucked out of their village, circa 1948.

Palestinian refugees being trucked out of their village, circa 1948.

Perspective: The Jewish people believed they had a “natural and historic” right to Palestinian land due to their religious history. Once they gained control of Israel, any Palestinian resistance was seen as a threat that must be dealt with because Arabs were trying to interrupt the land that rightfully belonged to the Jews.

Narrative: Jews were tortured and unaccepted in Europe during the time of the Holocaust. After the Holocaust, Jews were displaced and not united with one another. They saw hope in a land that was full of their history. Families of all ages packed up their belongings and began the journey to Palestine in hopes of settling into new homes.

My truth: Even though the Jews needed a stable home after the devastation they had been put through in Europe, I believe that they didn’t have the right to completely take over land that belonged to another group of people. The Jews should have made a civil compromise with the Arabs before heading to war and pushing them out of their own homes.

In contrast, a hardworking and engaged student with low literacy skills wrote the following about the Nakba:

Fact: Palestinian villages were erased, although the exact number is disputed. After Israel was created, Arab armies invaded. Palestinians ran away from their homes and had to go to refugee camps.

Perspective: The Israeli “independence” is nothing but a catastrophe for us.

Narrative: The Jews made us go to refugee camps and we attacked their villages. Also, more than 300 of our villages were taken over. They came and took our land, killed, and violated rights. We are stuck living in poorly set up camps while they are sleeping in our homes.

My truth: I know that Jews needed a place to stay and the only place they wanted to go was Palestine because it was their birthplace but it was kind of mean of them to go to Palestine and just kick out the Palestinian people because what the Jews went through before was now happening to Palestinians—they had nowhere to go and were living in tents and it was a bad situation for them.

I am fortunate to have six weeks for this unit in a two-year world history cycle, so we continued on to study key historical events and issues. I included the First Zionist Congress, the Balfour Declaration, the 1967 and 1973 wars; the first and second Intifadas and other Palestinian resistance efforts; the Oslo Accords and Camp David negotiations; Israel’s security apparatus; the building of the separation wall/security barrier; the effects of the occupation on Palestinians and the effects of the conflict on Israelis; 2008–09 events in the Gaza Strip; and recent political, economic, and social developments (e.g., the current Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strikes).

The final assessment for the students was participating in a highly structured U.N. conference on solving the conflict based on current facts and the situation on the ground. Never have I seen my students work so hard, become so frustrated by humanity, but be so proud that they were trying to resolve something so difficult and necessary.

To give students a chance to share their personal reactions to our study, after the U.N. conference I asked them to use any medium of their choice (art, poetry, video, collage) to represent what they felt or believed about what they learned during the unit. It could be focused on one particular piece of content, such as the wall/security barrier, or on the entire conflict. The work students turned in was diverse and creative.

Teaching Palestine Is Possible

The impact of May 14, 1948, stretches far beyond those directly affected or tied to the region by ancestry and/or religion. The events of that year set off one of the longest conflicts between two peoples in modern world history, making it an educational obligation to those of us teaching contemporary world studies and modern world history. Yet this responsibility has largely been unfilled. It’s true that the typhoon of controversy that swirls around this issue can draw the attention of parents and community members to your curriculum and teaching practices, although what you teach the rest of the year is ignored. The possibility of scrutiny and criticism has dissuaded educators from teaching the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for years, or led them to teach a watered-down version that does not reflect all experiences and voices.

But teaching Palestine is both possible and ultimately rewarding. I have seen my students flourish as they think, question, and engage. I feel validated that I have helped instill a sense of urgency and humanity in them. That student engagement, strengthening their ability to draw their own conclusions about arguably the most urgent situation in the world, inspires and motivates me to keep teaching about Palestine. I hope that I never lose my courage.




Shoman, Samia. “Teaching Palestine/Israel: A Multiple Narratives Approach” (includes unit plan and all teaching materials).

Adwan, Sami, Dan Bar-On, and Eyal Naveh. 2012. Peace Research Institute in the Middle East. Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel/Palestine. The New Press.

Sayigh, Rosemary. 2007. Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries. Zed Books.


Samia Shoman has taught high school social studies in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost 20 years.SaveSaveSaveSave



Continue ReadingIndependence or Catastrophe?

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 and recite the Quran. That knowledge is something I have maintained over my lifetime. I have continued learning on my own, not through any institutionalized structure. I can speak, read, and write Arabic, although not as well as I would like to.

JS: Did you learn enough academic Arabic to study at a university in an Arab country?

LK: No. Although I did learn classical Arabic, most of my Arabic is conversational Arabic. I can read classical Arabic, I can understand some, and speak and write even less.  I wouldn’t be able to go into a university program or anything that required a formalized knowledge of the language.

JS: Is that fairly typical of second-generation Arabic speakers in the United States?

Most Arab American youth understand conversational Arabic, but can’t communicate in Arabic. Then you’ll meet those who can communicatein Arabic, but can’t write or read Arabic. Others can read and write, but only conversationalArabic. They aren’t able to understand classical Arabic, so even watching the news or reading a novel would be really difficult, because it’s a very different kind of Arabic.

JS: Why is learning Arabic important, not just for kids from Arabic-speaking families?

LK: It’s obvious that the Arab region is of great interest to the world for political and economic reasons. This perpetuates the hyper visibility and invisibility that Arabs face in the US. What is known about Arabs, about Arab history, culture, and people is often based on stereotypes and racist understandings of us as the “other.” Otherwise, we as a people with a history and a living culture are not seen at all. What is seen is the devastation of our region, often at the hands of the United States and Israel, or the relationship of Westerners—the military, politicians, or service workers—to our region. The impact of US warmongering has meant that there is a growing population of international organizations dealing with the devastation on the ground in many Arabic-speaking areas of the world. All this amounts to little understanding of the sociopolitical landscape of the Arab region. Understanding Arabic is one window into that landscape. And it is a window into the Arab world from our viewpoint as those who live and breathe it.

And, of course, we know it’s goodfor children to learn more than one language. That’s not specific to Arabic. There’s lots of evidence that knowing more than one language supports academic development. Although Arabic is a difficult language to learn, it has a long history that is visible in current subjects taught in US classrooms such as math and science. It’s also unbelievably beautiful and rich. There are multiple words in Arabic to describe one word in English. There are ways to describe feelings that you don’t have in English or other languages. When you read, write, or hear Arabic, there’s a deep history you’re learning and engaging with. You see a lot of Arabic in Spanish, French, and other languages. It makes it that much easier for someone who knows one of those languages to learn Arabic, and vice versa.

JS: What do Arab American students and their parents say about the lack of Arabic language in San Francisco schools?

LK: The way that Arab American students and parents relate to the lack of Arabic language in SF schools is a broader issue, one that goes beyond not being offered Arabic language instruction. It’s about feeling isolated, marginalized, and invisible. It’s about living in a city where racist anti-Arab and Islamophobic bus ads drape the buses you and your children ride each day, where your people and family are vilified on a daily basis in mainstream media. And it’s about the deep desire to maintain your culture and live a dignified life despite that.

If parents want their children to progress beyond conversational levels in their home language, there’s no way to do that. And it’s almost impossible for Arab-speaking family members to communicate with the school district or with their children’s teachers. There have been some efforts at Arabic interpretation, but they are totally inadequate in reaching the growing Arabic-speaking population in San Francisco. Like other immigrant parents, Arab parents are particularly concerned because, in an environment that denigrates their home language, there’s a breakdown in communication between them and their children as their children rely increasingly on English and don’t keep up their Arabic. This breakdown in communication often leads to the further criminalization of Arab youth.

There’s also a fear of losing the heritage, the culture, and the history that’s transferred through language. Often after kids come home from school, their parents make them study Arabic or read the Quran. Or they are sent to volunteer-run weekend schools, as I was, at a mosque, perhaps, where there is some Arabic instruction. But these programs are informal and not as effective as they could be.

So when Arab parents realized that the city of San Francisco has a commitment to world language pathways and that 10 languages are offered, these families were excited. They are happy to have their children learn Spanish or French, but they would much rather them have them advance in their native language as well. When the idea emerged that there was a way to implement an Arabic language pathway, similar to all the other language pathways in San Francisco, parents felt a sense of relief. They also felt empowered. They said they felt that they had a place in San Francisco—they were being seen and heard. Their experiences were being validated, and it brought them closer to a point that they could trust their kids to the school district. It created a sense of belonging for these parents in terms of decision-making in the district and the city more broadly.

Once they realized they could fight for it and win, it became something they were very committed to.

Ultimately what’s coming to the surface is that there continues to be racism in the school district and xenophobia in San Francisco.

JS: How did the campaign for teaching Arabic in the San Francisco schools begin?

LK: One of AROC’s ongoing programs is working with Arab youth. Back in 2009, the youth decided to do a research project on what it was like to be Arab American in the San Francisco schools. They interviewed hundreds of teachers and students, and surveyed them on the representationof Arabs in high school curricula. They came out with a report and one of the recommendations was to have interpretation available for Arabic-speaking families. As an extension, a group of mother leaders decided to advocate for interpreters in the district because they were having a difficult time communicating with teachers and administrators. And rather than trying to bridge the gap, teachers and administrators were labeling these families as hard to work with or inaccessible. We fought for interpretersand eventually two part-time Arabic-speaking interpreters were hired. That’s been tremendously helpful. It hasn‘t resolved the tensions or lack of accessibility to resources and information, but it has helped.

Then, about two years ago, one of the teachers from San Francisco Teachers 4 Social Justice, Jeremiah Jeffries, was thinking about the large Arab population at his elementary school in the Tenderloin neighborhood of the city. He wondered: Given all the language pathways the district is implementing, why isn’t Arabic being taught? [In San Francisco, there are a variety of different ways that non-English languages are taught, including dual immersion programs, bilingual programs, and pull-out programs. Taken together, these are called language pathways.] So Jeremiah approached AROC to see if it was something we’d work on, and we said absolutely yes, it’s in line with our strategy and definitely in line with the concerns of our community.

In the same area in the Tenderloin, we noticed there was also a need for Vietnamese. It’s a growing population, actually larger than the Arab population in San Francisco, and there was no Vietnamese being offered. So we began collaborating with the Vietnamese Youth Development Center, since we have a commitment to working closely with other community-based organizations.

Together we advocated for Arabic and Vietnamese language pathways in San Francisco. A couple of members of the board of education co-authored the proposal and worked with us. Some members of the board of supervisors were also advocates.

The resolution passed unanimously. It was obvious, with the several dozen community members who mobilized to the Board of Education meetings, that our families were visibly in support, and there seemed to be no reason to say no to something that would benefit Arabic-speaking, Vietnamese-speaking, and other families in San Francisco who might be interested in learning one of these languages.

JS: You looked at different models for language pathways, right? What did you decide to recommend and why?

LK: Since the resolution passed we have been working with the district to develop models to roll out in SF. We had to weigh a number of factors: how to best support the development of Arabic fluency and literacy, what is realistic politically, and what is realistic in the face of a shortage of credentialed Arabic-speaking teachers. We decided to suggest a model similar to the way Japanese is taught here. An important strength of the Japanese model is that, although the principal teachers are credentialed, there are opportunities for Japanese-speaking members of the community to participate and help teach the students. There is also an emphasis on Japanese culture as well as language acquisition. Because this is a grassroots effort, we want to involve the community in helping teach Arabic and cultural aspects of the Arab world as much as possible. So this seemed like a good place to start.

This will start as a small program, and we don’t want kids to be separated out from the rest of the children in the school. So children enrolled in the Arabic language pathway would be with other classmates most of the day; about an hour a day they would go to Arabic class. And anyone who wants to enroll will be welcome, of course, so it won’t only be Arab American children. In middle school, one subject would always be taught in Arabic so the children develop more academic language. In high school, it would be offered as a foreign language. That’s the model we think will work best for the number of Arab students we have and the current resources in terms of Arabic-speaking teachers.

Jody: Are there Arabic language pathways in other parts of the country?

LK: Not similar to this. We looked at what is being done nationally because we wanted to learn from what has worked elsewhere. Arabic is taught in some charter and private schools, and some schools in Michigan teach it as a foreignlanguage. There have been attempts to open schools focused on Arabic, including the Khalil Gibran School in New York, which was based on a dual language grades 6-12 model, but it was systematically destroyed by the mayor and New York Department of Education in the face of racist and Islamophobic attacks. So there are resources around curriculumand approaches, but not public K-12 programs in the same way.

JS: Why do you think some languages are privileged over others in the schools?

LK: In general, education in this country doesn’t reflect the needs of families, communities, and neighborhoods; it’s more about what’s politically expedient and what fills business needs and projections.

The situation with Arabic is complicated because there are a lot of programs that teach Arabic to adults for military and political reasons. These are expensive private institutions. So many non-Arabs are learning Arabic because it’s useful for US foreign policy. But no one is making Arabic language and culture part of K-12 education. That would mean reaching out to a population that is being labeled as other, validating our place in society, and relating to us as part of the fabric of life in the United States.

JS: What has happened since the Arabic and Vietnamese language pathways were approved by the board?

LK: It’s was stalled time and time again, for three years to be exact, but we have managed to move it forward. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) along with Anti-Defamation League (ADL)—wealthy private institutions that are pro-Israel—led an effort to kill the plan, specifically because AROC as a community organization is listed as a partner and has been one of the main champions of the effort.

JS: Why is the JCRC opposed to AROC being connected with the pathway?

LK: This is a period when zionist organizations are escalating their efforts to isolate pro-Palestinian organizations anywhere. In the Bay Area, JCRC tries to ensure that any criticism of Israel is attacked and marginalized. They want to make it impossible to be critical of Israel and still be a community organizer. They have threatened the funding of nonprofits that held workshops or took positions in solidarity with Palestinian human rights, they succeeded in getting the Oakland Museum of Children’s Arts to cancel an exhibit of artwork by children in Gaza, they destroyed the economic base of a community newspaper that printed articles questioning Israeli policies. There’s a long list going back many years.

AROC is a community-based organization. We provide legal help to Arab immigrants, we work with youth, we advocate for Arabic interpretation in education and healthcare, we work in coalitions around police violence. But we are unapologetically anti-racist and anti-zionist, and our work reflects those values. The JCRC saw how much the language pathways mobilized our community and the force that it showed. They also have seen the impact of our work over the years and the strength of cross-movement building in raising awareness about the struggles of Arabs, the role of Israel in our region, and challenging the ongoing systematic racism we face here. As an institution committed to maintaining Israeli apartheid and supporting the occupation, and dehumanization of Arabs and Palestinians, they saw that as a threat—they don’t want the Arab voice to be heard and definitely don’t want it to be impactful.

They used our criticismof Israel as a basis for us not to be allowed to work in the schools or to be a partner in the languages pathways. They tried to get the board of education to take a new vote on the resolution, removing the community partners from the proposal. That has never happened before for any of the other language pathways. But we got a lot of support from the community and from allied social justice organizations, and after months of our organizing to challenge JCRC’s attack on AROC, the board decided not to revote but to move forward.

But since then, the process was stalled for three years. This never happened before—not for Spanish, Latin, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, or any of the many languages taught in San Francisco. Once the pathways resolution gets passed, there’s an internal process working with community partners to decide on an approach and assess which schools to place the languages at. Those recommendations come back to the board and, within a year or so, there’s staffing, the program is implemented, and it’s rolled out.

But that didn’t happen with Arabic and Vietnamese. We had teachers send petitions to the district saying they don’t want this language at their school, that it will bring more immigrant families, who are harder to work with and already behind in their learning, thus making the teachers’ jobs more difficult. They said they didn’t want to change the demographic of their school by attracting more Arab or Vietnamese families.

That put the district in a difficult position. They were committed to the language pathways. On the other hand, there was this campaign by powerful forces. And we don’t have as much political power as other communities. The district consistently stated its commitment to seeing the language pathways implemented in schools. And we stayed committed to working with them to see this program through. It took three years, and finally Arabic is being taught in an elementary and high school in San Francisco!

JS: How did the Arab American community respond to the lack of motion on the pathway?

LK: It had a huge impact on our community. Hundreds of parents were so excited. Families mobilized to come to the board of education meetings, to speak up and let the district know we want this. When we won, it was extremely empowering and inspiring. People felt motivated to fight for what they believe in ways they hadn’t before.

This is an immigrant community escaping from war-torn home countries, coming to the United States and feeling marginalized, feeling they don’t know how to communicate to people in power. Then to see they can exert themselves, be heard, and win something for their children. Especially working alongside the families from the Vietnamese Youth Development Centers, it was a great experience.

For that to be followed by attacks smearing the community-based organization they’re a part of, attacks by teachers questioning the need or legitimacy of having Arabic being taught in San Francisco at all, to find themselves pitted against teachers who don’t want them, their families, their children, or their language in the school—that experience was extremely demoralizing.

JS: Did the Vietnamese pathway face similar obstacles?

LK: From our perspective, yes. We don’t know if it would have been similarly stalled had they done it on their own. But we do know that the same case is being made against Vietnamese. Our suggested schools for the two languages are different, and at the schools we’re looking at for Vietnamese pathways, the teachers are similarly saying we don’t want these families at our schools, we don’t want to change the demographic of our school, we don’t need to have youth who are having difficulty learning pulled out of the classroom for an hour a day to learn Vietnamese.

Ultimately what’s coming to the surface is that there continues to be racism in the school district and xenophobia in San Francisco, both as a reflection of society at large and also our history as a city, even though we don’t always want to remember that. And in times like these, it is easier for people to express it.

JS: How did the teacher union respond?

LK: The union didn’t take an official position. I will say that many teachers and union leaders spoke up and were advocates for the language pathways. Teachers, administrators, community members, faith leaders, unions, youth, parents, and Jewish allies—all wrote endless letters and testimonies to the board about the need for this, and the impact of the attack on the pathways. You can’t separate the two now because even fighting for your language has become a political battle in San Francisco.

JS: How do you see this in the overall context of the anti-Arab, Islamophobic atmosphere in the United States?

LK: Although there is an upsurge in resistance to racism and state violence in the United States, we’re also seeing the reaction to that.

JS: Polarization.

LK: Polarization, exactly. Suddenly something like language pathways is controversial, or AROC, which has a long history of working with the city of San Francisco providing services for immigrants and organizing our community against war and racism. Now suddenly it’s a question whether or not we’re a legitimate organization.

We have been in the schools since 2009. The district has acknowledged that they need us to; they need every community to have a way to address racism in the schools. AROC plays that role for the Arab community. We create a safe place for Arab youth to talk about issues that matter to them, to unpack things they’re experiencing, and to come up with ways to address them. That’s an important aspect of their social and political development, and it’s also part of helping them feel connected and committed to their schools and their education.

So our work is necessary and critical. But the political climate has made it okay to question our legitimacy. A white-led, wealthy, political organization like JCRC, who are they to say that an Arab organization can’t work with Arab youth and to stall our youth work for three years?

It’s unfortunate we continue to be up against these huge forces, but at the same time it’s been inspiring to see the ways we’re able to develop our own force and power and resistance through community, through solidarity and a commitment to social justice. Since the campaign started, families have remained committed to seeing it through, fighting back against the attacks, and doing whatever they can to move the program forward. And with that support, we were successful in doing so.

But the antagonism that was created as a result of the tension and opposition has changed things. They now longer feel that the city and the school district are partnering with them to make this wonderful thing happen. Now, it’s the Arab community fighting to make our case. There’s no longer a clear partnership, and that’s exactly what the opposition wanted.

But they haven’t succeeded in crushing the commitment of these families and communities, both Vietnamese and Arab families. It’s so deep and so grounded in their lived experience, rooted in their values. That’s not going away, it won’t dissipate.

And despite all the delays and problems, the school district finally moved forward with the language pathways and with AROC’s youth programming in public schools. They still have a stated commitment to diversity, and to the values of language and world language pathways. They had to face the racist attacks head on and move forward with the program despite them.

I believe the power and strength of communities coming together to fight for Arab families, along with the racist and Islamophobic attacks that attempted to crush their efforts, ultimately led to a positive outcome. It’s unfortunate that the process had to be so difficult and challenging for people who are already facing mounting challenges because of who they are. Yet it has been inspiring to see the outpouring of support that AROC, the Arab community, and the struggle to fight for the dignity of Arab families in SF has received from people all across the country. This became a fight against anti-Arab racism, zionism, and Islamophobia. And at a time of such polarization in the US, it brought together movements and people from all walks of life, who, as people struggling against all forms of oppression, understood this fight as their own. And that is how we were able to win.


Jody Sokolower is a political activist, teacher, writer, and editor. Former managing editor at Rethinking Schools, she is the project coordinator of the Teach Palestine Project at the Middle East Children’s Alliance.

Lara Kiswani is the executive director of the Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC) in San Francisco, which organizes Arab and Muslim communities to challenge militarism, racism, and repression. A Palestinian born in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has worked as a youth and adult educator and is a member of Al-Juthoor of the Arab Shatat, a local Palestinian folkloric dance troupe.







Continue ReadingAdvocating for Arabic: An interview with Lara Kiswani