The Children of Gaza

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Like millions around the world, Rethinking Schools editors have been horrified and angered by Israel’s assault on the Palestinian people of Gaza. Of the more than 2,100 Palestinians killed, the vast majority civilians, more than 500 have been children. The images of Israeli bombs destroying hospitals, homes, and schools are devastating—indiscriminate killing by weapons whose use in highly populated areas constitute war crimes, according to Human Rights Watch. This compounds the ongoing Israeli siege that has turned Gaza into an open-air prison where the Israeli military controls the entry and exit of people and goods—a collective punishment in violation of international humanitarian law.

Israel says it is acting against rockets. These have led to a total of six civilian deaths in Israel—tragic but inevitable as long as Israel maintains its illegal and unjust occupation and as long as it enforces its blockade on Gaza.

As we mourn the deaths, injuries, and destruction, we want to call attention to a less noted crisis: the long-term effect on the children who survive. According to Ziad Abbas, of the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), himself a Palestinian refugee:

After this attack ends, children in Gaza who are 8 years old will have experienced three wars: 2008-9, 2012, and now 2014. They have survived, but social workers and psychologists working in Gaza say that the children have lost focus, they have insomnia, they wet their beds. Many have lost the ability to speak or to play. They live, but the Israelis have killed their childhood.

This trauma has a devastating impact on children’s ability to learn and develop. During the recent assault, half a million people were forced from their homes to seek shelter, often in local schools. There they stay, crowded maybe 100 to a room, with insufficient water and food. Then, many of the school shelters were themselves bombed. Either way, children come to associate school not with learning, but with terror and loss. In all, 141 schools were destroyed or damaged; six universities were also damaged.

As educators, parents, and activists, we have a critical responsibility to speak out against these attacks, paid for in large part with U.S. tax dollars. We can’t turn back the clock. But we can insist that Israel immediately end the seven-year siege of Gaza and respect the safety and human rights of Palestinians. We also call for an end to all U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic support for Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and a just peace that can secure a future without war for the children of Gaza and all their neighbors.

“We will overcome and come back,” Abbas says. “As Palestinians we have learned to work together, teachers and parents, to protect the children and to help them see education as part of their resistance.” We invite the Rethinking Schools community to contribute in a small way to rebuilding Gaza’s schools. Since 2009, MECA’s Maia Project (maia means water in Arabic), in partnership with local organizations, has been installing low-cost water purification units in Gaza schools. The entire water system of Gaza—wretched even before the latest assault—was systematically destroyed, so the need for safe water is critical. To learn more about the Maia Project, go to mecaforpeace.org/projects/maia-project.

Girl in Gaza drinks clean water

A kindergartener in Maghazi Refugee Camp drinks clean water from a Maia Project unit installed in Dec. 2009.   Original Photo Credit: Mohammed Majdalawi

Finally, we urge educators to join together to create curriculum on Israel-Palestine that looks deeply and honestly at the roots of crisis and the prospects for peace. For our part, we will continue to work with teacher-writers who want to share their work.

Articles from the Archives:

Independence or Catastrophe? By Samia Shoman

A social studies teacher uses conflicting narratives to engage students in studying the history of Palestine/Israel, focusing on the events of 1948.

Portland to Palestine: A Student-to-Student Project Evokes Empathy and Curiosity by Ken Gadbow

U.S. students talk directly with Palestinian youth and learn what it is like to live in a war zone.

From Tucson to Palestine by Gabriel Matthew Schivone

A generation ago, students led the movement in the United States to divest from apartheid South Africa. Today, student leaders are shaking Arizona as they defend Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program.

Resources

Books About Contemporary Palestine for Children by Katharine Davies Samway

It’s difficult to find accurate books on Palestine for young readers. A former teacher educator describes resources for K-8 students, including picture books, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.

Teaching About the Wars: Interview with the Editor

TATWcoverLast month, just in time for the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we released a collection of our best writing about U.S military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Teaching About the Wars, edited by Rethinking Schools managing editor Jody Sokolower.

From the introduction, “Breaking the Silence on War,” through articles on the historical roots of the current wars and on to resistance, Teaching About the Wars encourages students to question premises, read between the lines, and grasp the enormity of war. An expanded and revised version of our earlier Whose Wars? Teaching About the Iraq War and the War on Terror, the book is filled with role plays, imaginative writing exercises, and critical reading and writing activities. These tools help students probe the roots and consequences of U.S. involvement in the region and stand in stark contrast to the propagandistic cheerleading in our textbooks.

Since its release, we have received a good deal of positive feedback about the collection, including from author, journalist, and anti-war activist David Swanson. He chose to interview Jody on his Talk Nation Radio program, and we are reposting this interview here for you.  Enjoy.

Teaching About the Wars is available as a PDF e-book or in paperback. 

Tucson to Palestine: History As a Weapon

by Jody Sokolower

The day the Tucson school board voted to kill the Mexican American Studies program, I was in Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, learning about a different fight to rewrite history.

Jawad Siyam is the director of Silwan’s Wadi Hilweh Information Center. Silwan, he explained to my partner Karen, my daughter Ericka, and me, has a history that stretches back to the time of the Canaanites. More recently, it was for many centuries thriving Palestinian farmland, a main source of food for the city of Jerusalem. Currently the history and the future of Silwan are under siege: Israel has given total power to a private company, Elad Association, which has been systematically demolishing the neighborhood and building an archeological park instead.

In the face of that threat, the people of Silwan have joined together to create the information center, a women’s crafts collective that is producing extraordinary needlework and mosaics, a sports field and cultural café, and a playground.

The Wadi Hilweh Information Center

There are two glass cases in the entryway to the information center: one is filled with artwork from the women’s collective, the other with teargas canisters and other ammunition that has been aimed at the center. We watched a video featuring the voices of youth from the neighborhood. Jawad showed us the house next door, which belonged to his grandparents. Now there are a dozen Israeli flags hanging across the front. As we watched, an armored car pulled into the gate. It is illegal to fly a Palestinian flag in East Jerusalem, so the center flies a “We Love Silwan” flag instead.

Artwork from the women's collective.

At the crafts collective, the women showed us how to make mosaics and pulled out dozens of examples of the needlework they are working on. At the cultural café, we drank coffee and talked with the staff, all of whom have been political prisoners in Israeli prisons. They told us how many kids from the neighborhood were playing soccer and volleyball on the sports field, and the plans for cultural events at the café.

Jody and her daughter Ericka at the Center

We met many amazingly resilient and brilliant people throughout Palestine, but Silwan was special: It seemed so full of hope in a situation that is often filled with losses and desperation. Since we returned to the United States, I have told all my friends, everyone I know, about Silwan.

This morning, one of those friends sent me a URL. “Isn’t this the neighborhood you told me about?” she asked. I opened the link to see a news article from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: Yesterday the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority bulldozed the cultural café, destroying it completely, and seriously damaged the sports field. “This was the only place in the area to meet,” Jawad lamented, “to sit together. It was the only place for children in Silwan.”

How could this happen? The Israeli government claims that Silwan is the site of the biblical “City of David.” Although this finding is debated by archeologists, the Israelis have built the City of David National Park on the site, destroying dozens of Palestinian homes, a school and a mosque—either through direct demolition, seizure and re-occupation by Israeli settlers, or by digging under the foundations until the buildings collapse.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee approved plans for a visitors compound, vastly expanding the park. By Monday morning, the cultural café was rubble.

Archeology seems like a neutral science. Who, after all, could argue with the importance of understanding the past? But in occupied Palestine, like in Arizona, history and its uses are highly politicized. According to Raphael Greenberg of Tel Aviv University and Emek Shaveh, an organization of progressive Israeli archeologists, “The sanctity of the City of David is newly manufactured, and is a crude amalgam of history, nationalism, and quasi-religious pilgrimage.” Nonetheless, a half million tourists come to the park every year. They watch a 3-D movie that ignores the Palestinian history on the land, and walk down paths surrounded by high walls so they cannot see the Palestinian homes on every side.

Being in Palestine made me think a lot about the United States. In the United States, so much of the history of what came before is long buried. Every once in awhile there is news of a struggle by Native Americans to save a sacred site that is about to become a shopping mall. But in most parts of the United States, the hundreds of years of occupation have erased much of what came before. In Palestine, the fight is much newer, so the foundations of the buildings that have been destroyed are still there—sometimes the whole building or village is still there. And the Palestinians who were forced out of their homes starting in 1948 are still very much determined to return. How does time passing affect our responsibility to right wrongs?

As in Palestine, the determination not to be pushed out, buried, and forgotten is the crux of the matter in Tucson. The Mexican American Studies program is a way of keeping critical history from being erased and buried. “We are still here,” the teachers and the curriculum say. “We are still here, we are proud, our culture is strong. It is something all of us need and can use to build a just future.”

As social justice teachers, we know that justice is the only road to peace. That’s why teaching our students how to think critically about history is so important. And why solidarity is so important. In Tucson and in Palestine.

The Silwan community is determined to rebuild the cultural café by March 21, when Mother’s Day is celebrated in Arab countries. For more information on how to express your solidarity with the people of Silwan, visit the Middle East Children’s Alliance (www.mecaforpeace.org).

Jody Sokolower is the policy and production editor for Rethinking Schools.


Related Resource:

Portland to Palestine: A Student-to-Student Project Evokes Empathy and Curiosity, by Ken Gadbow

U.S. students talk directly with Palestinian youth and learn what it is like to live in a war zone.

from Rethinking Schools magazine, Winter 2009