By Julie Holm
I remember being taught about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict when I was in high school. We were shown a movie, from a village where Palestinians and Israelis lived in peace side by side. Quite arrogantly, that was supposed to show that it is completely possible and those who don’t live like that just don’t want to. I don’t remember learning about the wall, even though it must have been around the time when the Israelis started to build it. I don’t remember hearing about settlements, checkpoints or house demolitions. What I do remember is my teacher saying that Israel and Palestine are equally to blame for what is going on. I also remember, a year or two later, at another school in another country, when someone told me about occupation and apartheid. Someone who had been to Palestine told me what it was really like and that opened my eyes. As I went on to university, I often caught myself wondering “why didn’t they teach us this in high school?”
That is why I seized the opportunity, during a few weeks in Scandinavia, to visit a couple of schools in my hometown. At my old high school I got to visit four classes and spend two hours with each of them. That is around 120 students from 16 to 20 years of age. My visit prompted teachers to start different projects with the classes where my lessons on Palestine could be incorporated. Two of the classes actually started projects on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and while I was excited to hear not just how much they knew but what they knew, I quickly realized that words such as intifada, checkpoint and settlements were completely foreign to them.
That did not discourage me, however; I told them I was determined to tell them the truth, show them pictures of reality in Palestine and give them a nuanced view of the situation. But I also thought that an important lesson for a high school student is that no one is objective. I told them loud and clear that I believe you cannot live in Ramallah for six months without forming a strong opinion on the situation. I told them, that from where I stand, it is not a conflict but an occupation. There is one side that is the oppressor and one that is the oppressed. Actually seeing, hearing and experiencing on my own what this does to the Palestinians, I could not stand in front of a class of young people and pretend to be neutral. On the other hand I had no intention of portraying the Palestinians as saints, but simply provide the young students with a view other than what they learn in school and hear in the media.
This was one thing they were very aware of: They only hear about Palestine in the Danish media if there have been a lot of bombings over a short period of time or if something big happens at the UN. One of the teachers said that it was very eye-opening to hear from someone who actually lives there, can share their own experiences and tell their own stories instead of just reading information in a book. I told them how it sometimes takes up to two hours to get from Ramallah to Jerusalem by bus because of the checkpoint. I showed them pictures of the wall cutting through the landscape in the West Bank and of illegal settlements with new European-styled houses and green grass and trees next to Palestinian villages that look completely different. One of the students asked why the Palestinians can’t get fancy houses like the settlers, and before I could answer another student jumped in and said that it was obviously because the settlers have access to a lot more resources. I showed them pictures of how the entrances to Palestinian villages were closed off and told them about the bypass roads, roadblocks and the Israeli military that controls most of the West Bank. I told them about Gaza, refugees, prisoners, human rights and we discussed what is going on at the UN.
To my delight many of the students were extremely engaged; they asked questions and wanted to discuss what was going on and what could be done. The frustrations of one girl especially got to me. She simply asked: “Why does it have to be like this?” Which, when I think about it, is an extremely good question. Other students asked: “Why don’t we hear more about this in the news?” “Why doesn’t the Danish government do anything?” “Why doesn’t the international community do more?”
Perhaps if more of these young, impressionable minds were given a better picture of what is really going on and were urged to take action, power players like the international community and even the Danish government would not stand so idle, and “it” would not have to be like this at all.
Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]