Science in Palestine (Part 1): A Brief History of Palestine
In part one of the Science in Palestine series, we speak to Zeiad Abbas, executive director of (MECA) Middle East Children’s Alliance, about the history of Palestine. He connects his personal experience as a refugee from the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank to a long history and struggle against military colonial occupation. Zeiad highlights the importance of learning from movements for justice globally and shares a new resource called Teach Palestine, a website for anyone interested in teaching and learning about Palestine.
Recommended Artist: Watani (My Nation) by Shoruq Rap Group
Highlighted Article and Reading
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe
Al Jazeera March 4, 2019 article: Israeli army, settlers 'routinely harass' Nablus students
Transcript (please excuse any errors)
[Music Intro ♫]
LaToya Strong [LS]: Hey, listeners. Welcome to Abolition Science Radio. We're your hosts. I'm LaToya Strong ...
Atasi Das [AD]: And Atasi Das. We are here to talk all things science and math, and their relationship to...
AD: And so much more.
[ ♫ Music fade out.]
AD: So, welcome back to our first episode of the second season. Which we’re so excited to be in. Are you excited Toya?
LS: I am excited, but I have a clarifying question. Is this gonna be our first episode of the new season? Ha ha ha.
AD: Oh, I thought so!
LS: Oh, ok then cool, yes!
AD: The reason we say this is, we’ve been figuring out how to tell this story and engage in the topic of Science in Palestine, so welcome. Anyways, welcome back to the show and to listen to kind of, how we’re unpacking this. But, yeah, last season we started this thing, no?
LS: Yeah, we did. We started this thing called “Go To’s”, where, I would give Atasi two options (both laughing)
AD: But this season, maybe I’ll have some options too –
LS: Of the song that she could choose or no, of a go-to song or artist for a particular thing that is happening in your day to day life. Atasi, would never choose the options (AD: Ha ha ha ha) that I gave her. Must resist at all, ha ha ha ha (AD: All the dichotomies, all the time.)
AD: What’s our go-to, what’s the category this..?
LS: Alright, I got two for you.
AD: You look nervous.
LS: Alright, first one, so it’s really nice, like, mad nice outside here in New York. (AD: Oh yeah, finally.) It’s beautiful, so, on a day like today, when it’s super nice, you’re just enjoying the break from, it’s been so brick here in NYC, you’re enjoying a break from it – what do you put on to match the weather?
AD: Oh. You know, I don’t actually need to put anything on. I was doing laundry earlier today and on the streets of NYC, you know, it’s spring when you know that people are playing music. And so, reggaetón was on. It was, I don’t even recognize the artist, I didn’t know, but I was like, oh this feels right. (LS: Laughing) This feels like spring, like it was just lively and it made me feel like ok, I think it’s warm now. I mean it was like, it felt warm outside, but yeah.
LS: Yeah, I see what you mean, you don’t choose the music, NYC just does it for you. (AD: Yeah) Got it.
AD: What is your springtime, or this weather, what does it bring out for you?
LS: So what I listen to, I’ve been listening to Afrobeats, put on some Wizkid on my walk over.
AD: And then you start bopping?
LS: Bopping, yeah.
LS: As you’re dodging around, around the tourists.
AD: But with a smile, because it’s finally warm. Yeah.
LS: So for our first episode, who are we having on and what are we talking about?
AD: So this episode, we are so lucky to have Zeiad Abbas with us to talk about history of Palestine and he’s a refugee from the Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank and is the current director of MECA which is the Middle East Children’s Alliance, based in Berkeley, CA. And so he’ll be with us, he’s gonna spend some time kind of sharing a history of Palestine.
LS: Yeah, which we’re really excited about. But you and Zeiad, like you know each other before this episode. So, can you just tell us about how’d you two meet?
AD: Yeah, I feel like there’s been so many different lives. Ha, we’ve all led to get to kind of our stories to what we want to share and tell. But, in graduate school, Zeiad and I met and we were both kind of looking at and interested in kinda of, international development issues, what’s going on in the world, looking at globalization and we were part of a cohort of like, I don’t know, maybe 40 of us or something like that. So it was a very small-ish class and I mean, cohort, that had different classes together. And that semester, that year, a lot of us were engaging in very big conversations about what we thought was happening in the world, why things were going on and what we wanted to do to be a part of change. And so, um, Zeiad was- really changed the way that I was thinking of and understanding colonization, (LS: Mhmm) um history, you know, the British influence in the world in general. So, yeah, I guess that’s kind of how we met in graduate school and then, some of our ideas converged. I was definitely influenced, and moved, by him and many other of my classmates and now I, you know, have these great friends doing awesome things. (LS: Aw yay!) Yeah, and it, like it’s cool to have him kind of come back and be a part of this conversation where we’re talking about the series and in the show about math and science from an anti-colonial stance but, kind of going back to these other conversations where I’m like, oh. Trying to form my ideas around it. So, yeah, that’s a long story but – grad school! Ha ha.
LS: Yay, story time!
LS: We’ve had a lot of friends on. We have some dope friends, learned some dope things.
AD: Yeah, meeting amazing people. Maybe we’ll meet some amazing listeners that will be dope friends that will be dope guests!
LS: Yesss! Except I don’t really, like to talk to people.
LS: Whenever we’re anywhere, Atasi always speaks and I just like, lurk behind. (AD: Ha ha ha ha). Kind of not really saying much.
AD: Until you do.
LS: Until I do.
AD: Because we become friends too, ha ha ha.
LS: True story.
LS: Alright, let’s get into it.
LS: So, Zeiad we like to ask our guests to tell our audience if you could briefly introduce yourself and also share with listeners where you’re calling from.
Zeiad Abbas [ZA]: My name is Zeiad Abbas. I was born and grew up in Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem City in Palestine. My family actually, they are refugees. Both my parents, my mom from Jarash village, my dad from Zakariya village. Both of them, they were uprooted in 1948 and they came to Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Most of my life actually, I can say, in this refugee camp. I grew up on the streets of the camp, I can say. And I attended the United Nations schools in my camp until my secondary school when I start studying outside of the camp when I finished high school. My undergraduate journalism, I finished in journalism but I did my Master’s degree here in United States in Vermont, 2006. After that, I moved to United States and I am working here in Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), based in Berkeley. This is a non-profit organization focused to support children in the Middle East and especially in Palestine. And right now actually, we are working in different countries, especially Lebanon with Syrian and Palestinian refugees and of course, in West Bank in Palestine, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem and 1948 and Palestine.
AD: Well, thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and it connected to history. And I think that actually, the perfect opportunity for us to ask you is - You situated yourself, if you could kinda of help us understand this history of, in Palestine, um, broadly and just kind of some maybe some major things that you think are important to know about the history of Palestine.
ZA: Yeah, and personal level, I am a Palestinian refugee. So wherever I will go, where I will live, I’m a Palestinian refugee. And actually the majority of the Palestinian people right now, they are refugees. But if you go back to the history that, it’s long long time, Palestine since hundreds of years, never have been independent. From the Ottoman Empire, to the British Mandate, and later on, the Israeli Occupation, or the Israeli colonial system. And Palestine is like many other countries experience, especially in the Middle East by foreign powers, like France, they occupied Algeria, like England, they were like controlling eh, part of Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Palestine. Syria, Lebanon, they were under French colonial system, so I can say there are certain, I call it, historical events happened in Palestine, but I will take you back to the 18th Century, especially um, 1878 and this is when one of the biggest waves of Jewish immigrants came to Palestine and they started the first settlement. 1878, the settlement called Petah Tikvah, and the original name of the village called Nablus. In 1897, and when we speak about Palestine, we need to speak about Zionism. We cannot just call it Israeli Occupation, it’s the Zionist movement and all over the world, they contributed and participated in the beginning like, establish Israel, and to destroy Palestine and to destroy the Palestinian identity. So, I can say in 1897, there were a big conference for the Zionist movement in Basel, Switzerland. And where the Zionists actually, they discussed three proposals where they want to start a homeland for Jewish people. That Jewish people all over the world, they need to have their own homeland where they can feel safe. So, and that, the three proposals actually were Uganda, in Africa, Argentina in Latin American, and of course, Palestine.
The majority of the Zionist leadership in that period, they were pushing and lobbying to have it in Palestine. Because they had already started to send Jewish from Europe to live in Palestine. And in 17, November 2, 1917, Palestine was under the British Mandate after they defeated the Ottoman Empire in that period and where the Balfour Declaration came from the British government when they promised the Jewish people, or the Zionist leaders actually, to start a homeland in Palestine. They promised them to give them Palestine where they can start homeland. And since that period until 1948, the Jewish immigrant increased a lot. And even before the Holocaust, before the second World War, there were many Jewish people and there were a strong resistance from the Palestinian side, try to resist against the British Mandate at the same time, they were resisting against the Zionist immigrants and Jewish immigrants to Palestine because they saw how the British, they are taking the land and encouraging and supporting the Zionists.
So, when 1948 happened, actually 1947 and 1948 happened, they were a plan and it was a clear plan. And here I refer a lot to the people or the listeners to go back and check this book, it’s called The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe. What happened in 1948 actually, it was Zionist leaders, they had that meeting in that red house near Tel Aviv, and when they decided like, to target the Palestinian communities and they have a plan, it’s called Plan D. Dalet, in Hebrew, while they were living in that period. So, the plan is first to uproot the people to push them out by attacking them, doing a massacre, make it difficult for them to live and survive. Second, to destroy the houses, and third to plant trees to erase the Palestinian history. And what happened, actually. In 1947, a quarter of Palestinian refugees right now, around 250,000 Palestinian, they were refugees. The time 1948, it was happened, the rest of the Palestinian refugees, they left their homes. So the total number what happened in 1948, 47-48, it’s around 800,000 Palestinian uprooted from 531 villages and they were like, scattered all over the world. Especially in the countries around Palestine. So my family, they were among these refugees. My family left the village actually in October 1948 and they moved from the village after they killed 3 people, local people from the village, and she, my family they went to Hebron area, and after that, they went to Dheisheh refugee camp where the refugee camps started and established by the Red Cross International, before United Nations take over.
And, since that period, we have like 19 refugee camps in West Bank, 8 refugee camps in Gaza Strip, and we have course, Palestinian refugees, they are living in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the rest of the world including Berkeley. I am living here. And many other Palestinian refugees, they are living in the United States. So, the total number right now of Palestinian refugees, we are close to 8 million Palestinian refugees all over the world – inside Palestine and the diaspora. But, we have like almost 5 million Palestinian refugees that are registered in the United Nation as refugees. Like, my family, they are registered. Me, I am registered with the United Nation that I am a Palestinian refugee. And you have another 3 million Palestinian refugees, they are not registered with the United Nation, but they are refugees, they are living in United States, or in Europe, or in different part of the Arab world. They don’t live in refugee camps.
I think Palestine has, whatever happening right now, in the Middle East, and what will happen in the coming ten years is connected to the fact that there is a colonial system. The Israeli colonial system, they are occupying the Palestinian people, controlling their resources and make it difficult for the Palestinian people to live in their homes. I speak about the Palestinian who didn’t leave Palestine. And this colonial system, it’s related to an ideology. It’s the Zionist ideology where they want to build the pure Jewish State. It will be hard for them to do that. Because since 1948 until now, they didn’t succeed to push the Palestinian people, despite all what they are doing and using different kind of laws to push the people outside Palestine, but people insisting and they are living. Right now, the condition, it’s very hard for the Palestinian people. We know Gaza Strip, it’s under siege for 13 years right now, where you have 2 million people living on 139 square miles. It’s very tiny. And most of the people in Gaza, like 54% of the people in Gaza, they are children below 18 years old. And actually Gaza, most of our work here in MECA, targeting the Gaza Strip because they are living in very very bad condition. And the same in West Bank, it’s very hard, expand settlement. Israel, they are playing with time, and try to confiscate more land, building more settlements, bringing more Jewish people and make it difficult for the Palestinian to have any chance to be connected. Palestinians to be connected with each other, you have settlements all over West Bank. At the same time, you have the bypass roads, it’s especially for the Israelis. If you are an Israeli and you are Jewish, you can access special highways. If you are Palestinian, you need to go through other roads and streets and it’s very difficult. The infrastructure is very bad for the Palestinian.
And exactly, if we go back to the Apartheid system in South Africa. It’s actually not similar, it’s more, according to the people from South Africa. They visited Palestine and they experienced the life of Palestinian and the Israeli Occupation, including Desmond Toto, he said, the brutality, and here I am not accurate 100% about his quote, but the meaning like, he said that brutality of the Apartheid system inside Israel more than South Africa.
LS: Yeah, thank you.
AD: There’s a lot of information that you just kind of helped weave through and share with us. I wanted to follow up on an aspect – well there’s a lot of different aspects that you talked about, but the movement of people, the forced movement of people and the way in which, kind of the separation of who can use what roads came up. But I was wondering if, you could kind of help us understand why is that called an Occupation? What does that mean?
ZA: Actually, when we say Occupation, I feel like we make it mild. In reality, it’s a military colonial occupation. Here, when I speak about military, the Israeli army, they are involved in the basic needs of the Palestinian people. For example, Israelis, like, they control West Bank. Despite the fact they call what we have Palestinian Authority. But Palestinian Authority, they don’t have any power, and according even to the agreement between Palestinian Authority and Israel. Palestinian Army, when they come to any village, or any city in Palestine, Palestinian army or police, we don’t have a big army to be honest, just police, they need to go inside, they are not allowed to be in the streets. So, the military, they are disturbed the lives of the Palestinian people.
Despite, I speak about my refugee camp, I grew up like, as a child, and I was playing. No playgrounds in our refugee camp. So we were playing in the street and even when we were playing soccer or any kind of games, suddenly the Israeli military jeep come and disturb our game. And it’s like, in the daily basis. I’m not speak of occasionally, it’s in the daily basis. They were military camps distributed in all West Bank because the military is there, they try to protect the settlers, like over 600,000 settlers, they are living in West Bank and East Jerusalem. Which they travel everyday, the center of their life, it’s not the settlements, most of them, they sleep in the settlement, but they go to Jerusalem or to the other big cities inside Israel and they return back using the bypass road.
So, the military, they are already there. The military, they arrest people. We don’t have very clear statistics, but we say around 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners inside Israeli jails. So every night, every day, they attack the people. I can just check the news right now, last night, 17 people, they were arrested. Last night. And among them, of course, you have 39 women and tomorrow, Women’s International Day. So, we have 39 women right now, among them, one woman below 18 years old, at the same time, we have 350 children below 18 years inside Israeli jails. And they are charged, all of them, in military courts. So, military, they are spread all over and for your daily life, you are students. And you – yesterday, I was reading an article about children in NAME, where the Israeli army invaded the school 65 times in one semester. Not the whole year, 65 times. I’ll forward the article, it was published in Al Jazeera English, where you find the soldiers actually, enter inside the classroom, they shoot the teargas, they shoot the children sometimes, they arrest the children, they arrest the teachers.
And me, I grew up in the school like this. When I was young, I am 54 years old, and in 70s, when I used to go to United Nations school, sometimes there is no need to ring the bell in the morning to go to the class. We go with the smell of the tear gas or the shooting of the bullet. And I saw many times, they invaded our classroom and they arrested. And I saw my teachers, they were tortured in front of me. So, this is the military, it’s like, interfering in everything and here, and it’s not in just one area, all over West Bank, I can speak about. And East Jerusalem, even East Jerusalem, like the towns, the schools, army they are everywhere. In addition to this, where Israelis control the resources still in West Bank, especially the water, the electricity, and they use the collective punishment. In the daily life, when you wake up at morning and you want to start your day and, when I used to live in my refugee camp, I expect any moment, the moment I leave the camp, I need to check my ID, because the moment you don’t have the ID, you will be going to prison.
So, the first thing you check your wallet, your ID with you, and you expect the soldiers will stop you at any moment. If you want to travel from a city to other city, you need to pass many checkpoints. And all over Palestine, the statistics go up and down, it depends but average 800 military checkpoints in all over West Bank. In tiny area, it’s like almost every village, every city, wherever you want to go, you need to pass – you should pass a military checkpoint, and sometimes, you need to wait in this kind of checkpoint. If you want to travel outside, you need to go through the checkpoints and through the borders from the Israelis. And if you want to go to East Jerusalem, you are not allowed. You need to ask for special permit from the military headquarters. Of course, Israelis, they try to make everything look normal. They don’t call it military headquarters, they call it the Civil Administration. In reality, when you go there, they are soldiers wearing military uniform and you apply to them for the permits. They are not civilian at all, they are soldiers. And this is the military, I can say, this is what’s called Occupation. Because they are occupying everything around you as a human being.
As a Palestinian, the Israelis, they are around you. In addition to that, wherever you live in West Bank, just you need to turn your face left or right, you are in a village or in a refugee camp, or in a city, you will see the Israeli settlements in the top of the hills and you see there are the fences surrounding the big lights, but lights like, around them, the army. So wherever you go, or you move, you look, the Israelis and the Israeli army, the Israeli settlers, they are in front of you. You cannot avoid. Even, and (…) – I consider the Palestinian people, they are traumatized, in general. Even when you dream sometime, you find them in your dream because they are part. It’s a reflection sometime, how you live your life and your daily life. Israeli Occupation, right now, it’s one of the main occupation left on Earth, but still, like, violating the Palestinian rights, it doesn’t matter who you are. Or your agenda, a man, a woman, old, young, student, doctor, journalist, lawyers, doesn’t matter- you need to go through that just because you are a Palestinian and you are living inside Palestine. And for them, you are a target, you are an enemy, and you are a threat. The moment you show your card – for example, the Palestinian when I say they use special roads, because Palestinian, we have special plates, we have green plate. The Israelis, they have yellow plates for their cars. So yellow plates, they can use the highways and use the bypass roads. Palestinian, they are not allowed.
Water issue. Israelis, they control 85% of the water, Palestinian, they can access only 15% of the water. Imagine that as a human being, your own water, your own resources, your own aquifer, you are not allowed to access it. You buy your water from your occupier. And you pay 3x minimum more than the other Israelis, they pay. Despite the fact, no comparison between the Israeli income and Palestinian income. At the same time, Israel, they keep West Bank and they use the military for that, to keep it as a market for the Israeli products. And they control the Palestinian. They can punish them when they want, they can impose curfew any moment, they can cut the electricity, they can cut the water, and they did that. Not just they can.
I grew up in a refugee camp, we used to spend at least 4 months a year under curfew. Four months, imagine, and sometimes the curfew go from 2-3 days, to one week, to two weeks, to one month. I experienced like, continuous curfew 49 days in 1991. And you are not allowed to leave your house. Every few days, they allowed you to leave only for two hours, just to pick up the basic needs and return back.
So, occupation is, they are in everything around you in your life to make you feel down. You are not allowed to be who you are as Palestinian. You are not allowed to even struggle for your own rights. You are not allowed to express your feelings or your opinion or to do what you think is important for yourself – even to survive sometime. Like, what they do right now in Gaza, siege on 2 million people on 100 – I call it the open prison actually, in Gaza. Where you have generation right now growing up behind the siege. And the other day, I was interviewing through my work, with one of the young people we work with actually. And he’s 26 years old, and he never left Gaza Strip all his life. He lived that 26 years on 139 square miles. It’s like you are living in part of New York and you cannot go to Connecticut, or you cannot go even to Long Island near you, you’re stuck in certain area. This is the world for you. This is what it means occupation - because Israel, they are surrounding them. And they have actually 6 doors for all Gaza Strip. For all Gaza Strip, they have only 6 gates. 5 gates controlled by the Israelis, and 1 gate controlled by the Egyptian, which the Egyptian government, of course, they collaborate with the Israeli to keep this punishment on Palestinian.
LS: Thank you so so much. And I think you, you started to name some ways in which your daily life gets impacted by this Occupation or this military colonial system, and I wonder if we can zoom in on education and how education gets impacted. Which is a very broad question, but just thinking about teaching and learning and schooling and education, how is like – what gets taught? How is that impacted for Palestinian youth, either k-12 level or at the college or graduate level? How things get taught, maybe what material or education like students and teachers have access to?
AD: Yeah, cause I think you gave some broad, really helpful kind of narrative of what that would feel like on a daily basis and I think we, I just wanna be able to, what would it mean to be in the classroom? What would I see? Or how would I experience schooling?
ZA: Yeah. Actually, it’s for me, as I said before like, I grew up. And for basic learning, it was in United Nation school inside the camp. And, it was very poor education system. It’s not just the building itself, it’s very cold during winter and very hot during summer and we don’t have heaters or air conditioner. And barely, you have lab or library inside the school, or a playground. And when I say that the education system is very poor because, the education system itself, it was censored by the Israelis. And here, actually, I kept one of the books with me. In each book, you have it in the school, and until 1993, this is between 1967 until 1993, in the top of each book you have – doesn’t matter which kind of book, mathematics, or science, or Arabic, or English, in the top, in the cover of the book, it’s – (phrase) – it’s the military leadership of West Bank and Gaza. In every book.
And because our education system, it’s censored, you don’t learn about who you are or even your land or your own history, you are not allowed to say anything about Palestine inside the class- or learn about Palestine inside the school. And by the way, if you go to the geography class, or history class, there is nothing about Palestine. Geography, you will not find any map that it can tell you ‘this is Palestine.’ The word Palestine wasn’t exist in any book, whatever you are learning until 1993. I say 1993, when this is Oslo Agreement happened and things changed. So, already the education system censored whatever you learn. I learned about Martin Luther King, for example, at the same time, I learned about in our curriculum was that in history classes about other nations and other countries, that Columbus discovered America. And this is one of the examples. And I memorized it, that Columbus discovered America. I was young actually, like 14 years old and I went to prison, they caught us and they took us to prison and they were some teachers in prison and we were learning. This is when I discovered that Columbus did not discover America. (LS: Ha ha)
And the same time, you learn about many – this is for example to you, so we learn basic, even English language. We start learning English in the 5th grade- know ABC, to know the alphabet. The time you finish high school, you are already, barely you can say my name is Zeiad Abbas, I live in Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Only you can make a few sentences. So it was very poor education system.
And, the other thing it’s like, in addition to the poor education system, teachers, they are not allowed to teach you about Palestine. I remember even some teacher, they have this nationalist spirit. They were teaching us like in indirect way about Palestine and, they speak about like, Algeria, because they were like the history class about Algeria. And this is why I loved learning about Algeria, because they teachers, he speaks about Algeria, at the same time, he means about Palestine. He teaches about Algeria, how they would fighting, one billion people, they were killed during the resistance against the French Colonial System and the end they get the victory. And even you feel it in his voice, when he comes to speak about the victory, how they liberated Algeria, how they defeated the colonial. And this is like, he gives you a hope as a person. But nothing about Palestine.
In addition to that, I grew up for example, hate the school. I hate the school not because students they hate the school, because our school, it was the school where you go learn and sometimes, this school, itself, the classroom, the desks, it’s used as a prison for us. And actually, I wrote this article recently, I don’t publish it, it’s about one of my experiences where Israeli army, they imposed curfew and they asked everyone, every male – females, they can stay home- but every male from 14 years old until 60 years old, everyone should go to the school. And there were curfew, you cannot leave the camp, and just you can, and army everywhere. So they used to take us to school and in the school, they implement the collective punishment where they torture us. And I saw my teachers by my eye, and I will never forget, and here I share a little bit of that story.
That this teacher, I grew up, I hated him. I hated him as a student. He was angry all the time, but, when they were torturing us, it was like 3 o’clock at morning, you stay outside, it was very cold and you stay outside in the ground, sit down on the ground, the cold hit your bones, and they asked who are the teachers inside the school. So the teachers, they raise their hands, and they ask them, they want the teachers to tell the military who the students or the boys they used to throw stones at the Israeli settlers or Israeli army. And of course, the teachers, they said we are not working with you, we are teachers, we don’t know who they are. We didn’t see them. And I saw my teacher, that teacher that day, like I saw the way how they tortured him. And I will never forget that. Of course, after that I liked him, because he was very strong and he was like, really solid spirit and, despite the fact that he was, what happened in front of us, after a few days, we were in the classroom and he came after they lift the curfew, and we looked at each other. Because he saw us, we saw him, we saw, we know everything, he said, I want you guys not to focus about that, I want you to focus on the class. We want you to learn. This because they want to make it difficult for us, we want you to learn.
And of course, this was like the school for students. So yesterday when I was reading this report, which I will share it with you later. About what happened at these schools, I remembered exactly what happens, this is in 70s, what happened to us, and early 80s, still happening until now in 2019. So, Palestinian generation after generation, they are going through the same experience. So the education system actually, it was affected. It was controlled censored, by the Israeli military. In addition to that, in the beginning of the first Intifada, 1987, all Palestinian schools, all education organizations, schools, kindergartens, nurseries, universities, it was sealed. Like, 25 to 26 months over 2 years. No schools. There is nothing, you are not allowed. Even you cannot have a kindergarten by military order. This is how the Palestinian, they like created the system in that period, what we call it, the popular education. Popular education where children in the neighborhoods and my refugee camps, like my sister housed near us, my sister since she has a big room, the children and around living, they come and one of the local teachers, they come to teach the children. And teachers, that’s when they find out there are some teachers doing that, they arrest the children.
I remember I was arrested during that period that we had tens of teachers in our section. Of course, there are hundreds of teachers that were in the prison. But tens of teachers, they were not involved in politics, just because they were teaching science and mathematics, and they were teaching English or Arabic language, try to not let the children just to skip to the time without school, they want to continue the children. Keep them like learning about, to be educated and learn something, so, until now, education system of course, affected by the Israelis. Our universities is not safe, any time they can invade at any university. And this is what’s happened at Birzeit University a few, actually, weeks ago. Any education institution it can be targeted. And Gaza Strip schools, it was bombed. Universities, it was bombed and attacked. In West Bank, any time the army control it. So, our education system, it’s totally controlled and I can say it like, shut down. But despite all of this, there are many other creative experience coming from the people, the students, the teachers about this. And when I say creative, where they find their own way to learn.
One of the things like, when I say their own way to learn, it’s – I remember in a prison, this is how I learned English and many other people, they were illiterate, they don’t know how to read and write. In a few months, they were reading and writing. How the people they educate each other, support each other, and Palestinian journalist, especially Palestinian political- and when I say political prisoners, I don’t want to make the other prisoners in the world, they are not political, every prisoner is a political prisoner. They were like professors, teachers, lawyers, journalists, students, workers, and they come together and they create their own education system and support each other to learn. Use the time they spent in jail and this is how we learn, and we learn about the world. Real education, I call it, for Palestinian people and many reports actually published about that. The real education, they got it inside the prison, more than they got it in the schools.
AD: Ok, thank you for sharing those experiences and those you know, really necessary to know for all of us. I think there’s so many connections that our listeners from all over can probably make, maybe to their own situations or what they already know. So, actually, I wanted to ask another kind of follow up, thinking of what a military colonial system, what that means for someone’s daily life and Palestinian’s collective daily lives. If there is, if you can highlight some forms of resistance, you talked a little bit about the popular education pieces, but, maybe even, what is BDS about – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – or maybe, other different forms of resistance?
ZA: Yeah. Actually, ah, since the big event before 1948, and you know the Ottoman of course, and during the British, Palestinian tried to resist despite the fact they were in very weak position. They don’t have that much power and they didn’t get the real support to defend themself. But Palestinian, they were resisting since the beginning in 1948 and they continue resist in different forms in Palestine. Using different kind, this is how the books and the reports and how everything is documented since 1948. And of course, since 1948 until now. And Palestinian, they try to defend their rights. For my own experience in the refugee camp, one of the things that I grew up with and I see around. And this is why we spent long time under curfew, because youth, they use stones. Try to express their feelings by throwing stones at the Israeli army or Israeli settlers. And for me, growing up, and after that as a journalist, I used to document filming and writing and reporting about what’s going on. Where Palestinian, they were like, express that until the stone become a symbolic for the Palestinian resistance. Because this is how the first Intifada started in December 1987. When, people start taking the streets in nonviolence way. And sometimes, they use the stones to target the Israeli army because they fed up living under Israeli occupation. Which still people, they use it until now.
The other form of resistance, here I speak about community resistance. Where the community support, how the people they support each other, and try to protect each other and help each other. And this is a form of resistance, honestly. It’s not just community protecting like, but it’s part of the culture and that period. And it was, the resistance of the culture and the culture of the resistance at the same time, for the people under the Israeli Occupation. And still doing that, where people like, if you go to prison, you’ll find the rest of the community taking care of your family, support your family. So this type where they build the community and they build a certain kind of spirit, it was very strong spirit. I say it all the time. I hate the refugee camps. I hate it. I hate my refugee camp. But I love the spirit in the refugee camp. Because the spirit keep you alive and keep you charged like you are all the time on fire. And cheer you up and keep you struggling and resisting the Israeli Occupation.
Other form of resistance, what we call it, it’s until now it’s happening, it’s like where the communities every Friday, and tomorrow for example, it’s a Friday, look to Gaza Strip, look to Bil'in, Ni’lin, then Nabi Salih many forms where the people, they go protest. Every Friday, they go out to protest against the Israeli Occupation. And especially, Israeli settlements, the wall, the Apartheid Wall, they are, where the community, they go, protest, and carrying slogans and shouting and screaming in front of the Israeli Occupation. And of course, they take sometime other kind of forms, where it will block streets, shooting, bombing, and killing people.
In Gaza case, it’s different. In Gaza case, it’s there is a military resistance inside Gaza Strip and taking this form. And of course, the military resistance since 1948 were PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Movement, where all the factions, they were like part of this and they were targeted in Beirut many times. Until 1982, when Israeli, they had the war against Lebanon and try to end the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Movement. And the other type, of – I am not speaking about the military because it is like formerly, it was the PLO, which for the PLO force until now, it exists, very weak but because Palestinian Authority replaced the PLO. And this is the sad part, how Palestinian, where many Palestinian, they look at it as the sad result that the Palestinian Authority came and the PLO became very weak. And Palestinian Authority be collaborating with the Israelis and other Arab regimes around the area. And the other form of resistance, as I said, it’s coming in the daily life of the people where you survive. People, they don’t leave this land. And they stick there and try to defend their land and try to struggle against the confiscation of lands, against expanding the settlements on their land, and this is part of the daily life of the people. Especially living in West Bank. In Gaza Strip, by the people’s like, living behind the bars, it’s a siege, a fence, a military fence with all this huge military machines surrounding Gaza Strip and the sea and around Gaza. At the same time, these people, they still, they are fighting and actually this month, March, March 30th, it will mark the first year of Gaza return march. The Great Gaza Return March, which was started in March 30th, 1918.
This year will be 1 year, and which tomorrow, Friday, for example, and where the people they will take that. The resistance. And you have the culture of resistance. Where the move- I call it like, the first Intifada until now, where you find the books written about the Palestinian struggle right now, how you have the using the social media, where the articles, reports, theaters, cinema, documentary movies, dance, folklore dance – it’s become very strong. And this is form itself in very strong way. I work with dancing group and I used to travel with the children and the whole dance, our stories is coming from reality. Like I remember one show, it’s called ‘the Tent’, it’s reflect the desire inside Palestinian refugees to return back to their home. The second is called ‘the Will’ and this is like Gaza farmers, refugees, most of them they were farmers, where there were like living in refugee camps, honoring the land, and they want to go back to their land to be a farmer. So, the forms of the resistance is coming, I call it, it’s like a circle connected to each other, and because we speak about education. The same right now, in schools, it’s more, because Israel, they cannot censor the student they can learn with the social media with the open right now. So they let them learn about their roots.
And I remember, I visited my village very late the first time, it was in 1998. But children right now, are like, they grow up with the desire to go to visit their own destroyed villages and learn about their own history and the connection. So, I see like, the Palestinian resistance is not like that much different from any nation that lived under oppression. Like in Vietnam, they were under colonial system, the French and later the American. And like Algeria, like South Africa, like India, like Latin America, we are using the same. We learn from all these kind of experience. Like here, the Civil Rights movement in the United States. People, they learn a lot from that. And at the same time, Palestinian, they are adding now to this experience, to the world I can say. By continuing doing this resistance. And not to give up. And to invent a new style. Especially what we see in Gaza right now despite the fact they are surrounded, but the people, they are very creative to show their – to show the world how to resist and to survive under siege. And continue fight for your rights.
AD: Great, thank you for highlighting so much.
AD: Um, within that.
LS: Yeah, so Zeiad, I’m wondering if you could speak to us about the Teach Palestine Project ( https://www.mecaforpeace.org/meca-projects/teach-palestine-project/)? What is it? What are the goals?
ZA: Yeah, Teach Palestine actually, since I came to United States, like I came in 2006. But I visited the United States before, but I start working in MECA actually in 2008. We receive a lot of invitations where the schools, they contact us, and they want us to know about Palestine, about Palestinian refugees, you go to the classroom, etc. And, before I came actually, my colleagues here who used to work here or they’re still working here, they used to receive like invitation to go to the school to explain what’s going on in Palestine. And we find out like, me through my own experience and my colleagues that the teachers, they are not aware exactly. They don’t know how to teach about Palestine. They have very limited resources. And they cannot teach about that.
At the same time, there are other teachers that try to teach about Palestine and they find themself in a clash, specially the backlash from the Zionist groups, or liberal Israeli groups, where they find themselves out of the school or fired, or make difficult for them to raise this. So we started like, offering like, certain kinds of training, workshops for teachers and we attended many conferences, like about education, like Free Minds conference, like Cross Cultural Conference for teachers, where we try to raise the issue and help the teacher, how can you present the issue about Palestine? Especially as there’s a lot of connections. If you teach about the history of the United States and especially for progress of educators, like when they want to explain the Manifest Destiny, it’s like similar with the promised land of Palestine. If you want to teach about the Native, it’s connected to that and the reservation, it’s connected to the Palestinian, what happened to the Palestinian villages and towns. How they were ended in refugee camps. And if you want to speak about immigration and refugees and what happened to the Japanese, it’s connected to Palestine. But they can’t teach about this, but many teachers, they don’t teach and they think about Palestine because they don’t have the resources. They are, they don’t have enough information and they hesitate to do that.
So we decided we should come with certain projects, help the teachers, and we cannot continue just jumping from place to place organizing workshop. We decided to have the Teach Palestine project and offer online. And right now, we have it, it’s online, where we try to collect resources and the experiences for teachers, they already taught about Palestine and for teachers, they want to teach about Palestine and curriculums, lesson plans, and to have it like in a professional way. And it’s not just a political way, it’s just another professional way help the teachers to tackle this issue in a professional way to help the students to learn about Palestine.
And it’s connected. And people, they need to learn about Palestine, because United States, they are involved in very strong way for what’s going on in Palestine. For example, the 4 billion dollars going every year. Here, they shut the schools, even I can say recently, the teachers’ strikes in LA and Denver, and Oakland, and Virginia, and Georgia, and it’s coming in the United States schools. In Chicago, schools were closed, shut down, but 4 billion dollars still go to Israel to continue the military occupation and to expand settlement. It’s a strong connection. And it’s a responsibility if you want to teach the children about critical thinking, you need to tackle this issue. And so, we decided this website and we will continue to do the trainings of course, and expand that. And for this year, actually, we are planning to take Indigenous and Teachers of Color to visit Palestine and write about their own experience and to write, design their own curriculums and lesson plans where they can help more teachers.
And a part of MECA mission, where I work here, is to change the public opinion, to educate the American about what’s going on in the Middle East. And it will take long time but sometime, you need to invest for the young generation. Young generation, they need to know what’s going on in the world. And because the mass media, the education system here ignored many other issues, and despite that, there are other issues connected to the daily life for the people. For example, the borders, the wall, and near Mexico, it’s connected to the wall in Palestine. Prisoners, and children go to prison, it’s connected to the prisoners in Palestine. Immigrants, it’s connected to Palestine. People of color, the African American, the Native American, it’s connected. And of course, Teach Palestine is not just focused on Teach Palestine. Actually teaching about the other issue, but to bring Palestine and connect Palestine. We don’t want just to isolate Palestine. Just we want you to know, it’s connected to the mixed of issues. And if you teach about immigrant’s rights, you need to speak about refugees and the rest of the world. This is how Teach Palestine and we hope in the future, it will be another tool and more resources available for teachers to feel confident and to teach about Palestine and to tackle this issue and to be prepared, by the way. So they know, maybe if they teach about Palestine, maybe they will be under attack by the Pro-Israeli. So they need to be prepared. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do that, no you can do that. And there are curriculums where you can still teach about Palestine, but you cannot let them shut you down.
AD: Thank you so much for sharing about Teach Palestine.
AD: I was able to visit the website and it’s really amazing, the range of experiences, um, that you know, if you’re an educator from elementary to every level and so I thank you for highlighting it and for putting this together.
AD: And also thank you for being with us. I think we have one last question, which is slightly a different turn cause you’ve been sharing so much rich information and historical context. But, in the light of kind of resistance, or in the light of thinking of what keeps us going, is there any songs or music that you listen to, or that you’re currently listening to that might kind of lend to that?
ZA: Yeah, actually, today, I don’t know. Your question came on time, this morning I was looking in my archive, ha, I brought some stuff from Palestine with me and I was looking and yeah. Actually, when I was working at the culture center in my refugee camp, there were children, they wrote their own songs about their own reality. But they wrote it in Arabic, and of course, right now, there are some groups in refugee camps. Actually my refugee camp, there is a girls hip hop group. Where they write their own songs and they use the English language and it’s called Shoruq, sharouk means sunrise, hip hop group. And they can go to the website, they can see some stuff. (https://www.mecaforpeace.org/palestinian-hip-hop-group-uses-music-as-a-weapon/)
Yeah, the things that keep you alive. Because when the culture and art, it’s coming together with the resistance and actually, they are connected in a way or another in every move and this is where you keep your spirit all the time. Very strong to challenge. I recommend all the time to the people to connect. Of course, we are people, we are human being, we need to live our life. But, you can live your life but you don’t need to ignore reality. Which sometimes, even in the United States, here when you move, like here especially in our area, between Berkeley and Oakland, I call it many refugee camps everywhere and under the bridges, people living under the bridges, tents, they are spread everywhere. And people living in very very bad conditions. And this is scary and I know right now, the people they raise the voice where you have many other songs connected to this reality, books, writings, arts, connected to this reality.
For me, other, I recommend, like everything is related actually right now online. And there are some singers, one singer, his name is, Khalil Ahmed Khalil (?). Fairuz, for example, she sings for everything including like, nature, environmental, water, snow, love, and she connects to land, to Jerusalem, to Palestinian cities, to Beirut, and she is amazing. And you have the folklore, actually where you can find now, around Palestinian folklore. And you can use Palestinian, they use their own folklore to protect their identity and to protect their rights actually, where music and dance and painting and different kind of arts, try to protect this identity. Because Israel they try, all these year, they tried, I can say, they failed. They will never erase the Palestinian identity, no matter what they will do.
But this is, it’s still alive, keep it alive. These days, just go online and put Palestinian songs coming from Gaza or Palestinian songs coming from West Bank and you’ll find about every occasion, there is new songs and it’s amazing songs. But all these songs, it’s leading to one – it’s justice and to live in equal rights and related to our struggle and our needs.
AD: Thanks. We’ll check out some of that music, and hopefully our listeners will too.
LS: Yeah, and uh, if there’s any way that folks could support Teach Palestine, if you could –
AD: Great, thank you again for being on the show with us and we hope that we can speak to you another time.
ZA: Thank you for having me. Thank you!
[ Music ♫: Song from Shoruq Rap Group]
AD: So you just heard a clip from a Palestinian teen rap group named Shoruq, which means sunrise in Arabic. LaToya, when you heard this clip, what do you think about this group?
LS: Yeah, I mean, support the babies. They’re eight members so #ganggang
LS: Um, I think it is. I mean, I think rap, hip hop, has a very like, distinct and unique history, but obviously like it didn’t emerge out of nowhere. There’s like a long line of African American musical traditions that allowed rap and hip hop to be birthed and I think it has been taken up n very like, eh, cringey ways, and so I appreciate how they’ve taken this and made it what they need it to be and instead of trying to like don this idea of what they presume rap to be. If that makes sense.
AD: Yeah, so are you saying that, you know, there’s ways in which music, the essence of what it, the history’s about, is honored in a way, and then there’s ways that music is you know, taken for other purposes? I mean what I got from this group is, it’s a medium in which they’re utilizing to talk about their hopes and their resistance in political struggle and life.
AD: And they’re using, you know, hip hop as a way to do that. Is that what you’re? I don’t know if I understood what you’re?
LS: Yeah, ha ha (AD: Ha ha yeah)
LS: Yeah, cause sometimes there’s a lot of cultural appropriation of like, which aspects of who culture gets to be taken up and used and utilized and so, I like how they have done it. How they’re using it exactly how you said.
AD: Yeah. So part of a long history of struggle.
AD: And also, part of, I think even connecting it in a sense?
LS: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
AD: Right, from the Bronx to Palestine. It’s pretty cool that people can speak to freedom and liberation.
LS: Yeah. And it’s an all woman rap group.
AD: Yeah, they’re cute!
LS: They’re so cute!
LS: Support them, go check them out!
LS: Yeah, I don’t know what, bring them to perform.
AD: Ha ha, yeah support them listen, definitely give listen and then see what, see how else you can support.
AD: Great, so I hope you enjoyed the episode and we’ll see you next time.
[♫ Music fade out.]
AD: Check us out at Abolition Science [dot] org, where you can sign up for our newsletter.
LS: And follow us on Instagram @abolitionscience and also follow us on Twitter @abolition_sci .
AD: See you soon!