A series of webinars on Radical Education in Palestine: Histories and Experiments.

Palestinians have always nurtured four types of soil that have been at the heart of their struggle for liberation and, as we will see through this series, the core of their radical education concepts. These soils are land, culture, the social, and the spiritual. This radical educational vision combines a thorough understanding of the past, political analysis of the present, creative imagination of an alternative future, and an active strategy for moving from one to the other. As such, Palestinian radical education is at the heart of an anti-colonialist struggle for emancipation and can take different forms that may not necessarily be classified as “educational”. 

This series will explore the various manifestations of Palestinian radical education and what a century of experimentation during colonial expansion and dispossession suggests for radical educational forms. Featuring teachers, organizers, scholars, and students, we hope this conversation will contribute to regional and global mobilizations for a new kind of education: just in its composition and radical in its aims. 

First session: Inaugurating Radical Education Date: November 13, 2020 Speakers: Munir Fasheh & Mezna Qato Facilitator: Mayssoun Sukarieh

What do we mean by radical education? 

As the facilitator of the session, Mayssoun Sukarieh, defines it, radical education is the process of identifying and searching for the roots of issues that were imposed on us by colonialism. It is achieved in three steps: a radical critique of a status quo, presenting a clear alternative vision to change this reality and proposing ideas and strategies to transition from this reality into the “utopia” that we seek. 

Palestinians have had an extensive experience in radical education, but it has remained largely undocumented. In a series of 12 sessions, Radical Fridays will explore and re-discover these experiences in Palestine in past and present times. The concept itself stemmed from a continuous monitoring of radical education in the Arab world, as have realized that these experiences and their impact are not documented. 

But how can we eradicate colonialism from this heritage? 

After reflecting on the history of radical education, it is safe to assume that there is no neutral educational process. There is no magical recipe that works for all in radical education, as these processes vary according to the time, place and surrounding circumstances. The aim of learning from other radical experiences is to work on improving ourselves, which is the core value of radical education, in order to create a better world, where we can be the individuals we hope to find in the world, and that’s not an easy thing. 

As for these Fridays, they were inspired by the Fridays and gatherings of the Arab Spring. They aim at motivating our imagination and instilling hope, so that one day we can get rid of the dictatorship, claiming that there is no alternative for the formal educational system. 

Munir Fasheh spoke about radical education, narrating his personal experience with a philosophy that he has been following in education since 1971. According to this philosophy, building inner strength and immunity is a key component of radical education, which enables us to heal from the illnesses of academic education. 

His story started with math, which he summed up by saying that he was a “slave” or a “puppet”. As a student and a teacher of math, he had been doing exactly what he had been asked until the war of 1967 broke out. The war made him realize that what he was teaching at university didn’t necessarily empower him to understand what happened in real life, and that there was a big gap between academic math and the math that he applied in life. 

As Munir was his own healer, he managed to identify four symptoms of this illness. The first is being proud of being a puppet, as he used to do what he was asked to do, and his understanding of life issues was derived from academia that wasn’t relevant to real life. The second is language, as he understood that the language of the curricula is metaphysical, unlike what Al Jahez described when he spoke of a language that revealed what lied within, and was formed with maturity and awareness. The third is about distraction, as he noticed that academia was distracting him from real life, such as seeing live math and the hidden logic behind it. The fourth is about discovering that he was a colonialist himself, using math as a weapon and claiming that knowledge is universal. 

Once he understood the symptoms of his illness, he managed to diagnose himself. He was a “puppet”, proud of repeating what he heard without forming any knowledge, meaning or understanding of it. 

Inspired by Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb’s saying “Your remedy is within you, but you do not sense it. Your sickness is from you, but you do not perceive it”, his journey to heal started with returning to live language, and the richness that he found in Arabic. Arabs used to say: irrigate plants and tell stories. When we irrigate plants, we feed the soil that we ourselves feed on. When we narrate stories, we also feed the cultural, social and spiritual soils. These types of soil are the bases for immunity, meaning, knowledge, nutrition and bonds. 

Munir wondered why these types of soil didn’t exist in schools and universities. He reflected on his own experience, as academia caused the clinical death of his brain. He was a “puppet”, and as a result, he wasn’t aware of what happened around him. What he does today in his life is re-feeding the soul, culture, and beauty. To this end, he tries to reclaim the power of mujawara and afiya (wellbeing), which are both owned by people. Wellbeing is the responsibility of people and is directly related to the soil. Therefore, in order to save ourselves, we must return to these different types of soil. 

In his opinion, the word “radicalism” itself is originally derived from the Greek word “radix”, which means returning to the roots. It reminds him of the Farmers of the Levant who opposed the English educational system in 1929. The system worked hard to disrupt bonds with the land and family, and farmers were aware of it and called for fighting against it. They valued the importance of the different types of soil at the time, and understood the role the English education was playing to uproot us. 

Lastly, he urged us to stop being “puppets”, protect ourselves and our children from this illness and search for alternative ways to learn apart from schools and universities. He believes that we have all that it takes to heal from this illness and barbarism, and the way to understand the richness around us is to meditate, work hard and create a meaning, which is an accumulative process. 

Mezna Qato discussed issues relating to the history of radical education in Palestine, which she believes are deliberately forgotten. She tried to shed light on these issues by presenting the history of radical education in Palestine, the history of Palestine through radical education as well as the history of radical education in general. 

She posed the following questions: what do we need to write about radical education in Palestine? What topics can be covered? How can we understand the different forms of radical education and how they have been shaped in Palestine? 

In her presentation, Mezna drew a link between the expertise and experiences that helped form theories of radical education and our understanding of the Palestinian reality. She explained how these theories challenged the way we documented the history of radical education in Palestine in the 20th and 21st centuries. 

In order to understand the historical dimension of radical education, Mezna focused on three key points: political, social and cultural/intellectual histories. 

In political theories, we find that academic education is closely interlinked with the notions of a national state and identity, and affects the way political societies are formed. The case of Palestine is no exception, as we find that academic education has greatly emphasized on forming a national state, as if its only role were about producing and re-producing this dimension. 

We cannot speak of history without reflecting on the different periods and historical eras in Palestine. The majority of information on the history of education in Palestine, which we can track and document, cover the period between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 21st century/modern history. Here, we have to understand how radical education and its practitioners dealt with the following issues: displacement, occupation, colonization, destruction, victories, protests, resistance and revolution. In addition, we also need to understand how they documented the daily social life throughout all of these events. 

Radical education is also interlinked with the geographic dimension in Palestine in light of the occupation. If we look at Palestine from a geographic perspective today, we realize that we are looking at too many geographic locations: the West Bank, Gaza, Historical Palestine as well as the diaspora in Arab states and beyond. Wherever Palestinians live, we can find experiences and practices of radical education. Political events, such as Balfour declaration, Nakba and Naksa have all shaped and created events, groups and experiences that fall under radical education, and their impact can be felt in all of these different geographic locations. 

For example, commemorating the Land Day in Historical Palestine is a political and social activity that reflects on colonial history, and helps us understand the framework of radical education and its richness in the Palestinian context. 

Education is usually associated with assessment. However, the impact of radical education cannot be measured using traditional methods or through measuring the efficiency of national movements and political parties. It may be assessed though in different ways such as: social work, youth groups, spontaneous social gatherings, including family gatherings on Fridays and the time spent out in nature, and every place where people engage in a learning process about and with each other. 

In order to understand the social and cultural histories of radical education, it is imperative to review some literature that has been written about the topic, read the works of radical intellectuals and reflect on pedagogy in Palestine, the Arab world and the world at large. When it comes to the social dimension, it is important to understand how radical education greatly contributed to social change and liberation in Palestine. 

When we draw a link between radical education and social and economic dimensions, we must examine its history from the perspective of a host of sensitive issues, such as: labor rights, the emergence of anti-capitalist economic systems and the resulting social revolutions and movements. 

The impact of radical education is about bringing us back to our roots and depth in a more comprehensive and lasting manner, apart from all political agendas. 

Second session: Walking Palestine Date: December 4, 2020 Speakers: Samer Sharif – Tijwal Safar (Jerusalem, Palestine), Ahmad Abu Artema – Marches of Return (Gaza, Palestine), Hazar Hijazi – Marches of Return (Historical Palestine)  Facilitator: Serene Huleileh

Tijwal, hiking and walking are all different words for one key activity in the Palestinian culture, which is known in our local colloquial Arabic as “as-sarha”.  

However, the act of walking in Palestine has a different dimension, as it forms an act of resistance. It seeks to reclaim that bond with the land as well as its people and tales. In addition, it challenges divisions, barbed wires and borders imposed by the occupation. Inspired by this desire, people have started walking around different parts of Palestine. 

They have to follow different ways in different areas though, as each area has its own status and restrictions due to the occupation, and some may even be under siege. While colonialism seeks to divide the people of Gaza, Haifa, Jerusalem and other parts of Palestine mentally, politically, geographically and linguistically, this radical Friday brought them all together. The act of walking and hiking in this light attempts to reunite the people, and “return” in this context is a means to learn and understand.

During the meeting, speakers addressed different laws enacted post Nakba, which imposed a curfew and restricted people’s movement, and their impact on the first generation. In their opinion, people who witnessed Nakba and the subsequent laws experienced fear, silence and a state of paralysis. As a result, the next generations did not know enough. In this light, different forms of movement and hiking become an act of resistance, breaking forced silence and fear.

Ahmad Abu Artema told us more about marches of return in Gaza, and how they have managed to revive Palestinian resistance. People march towards the North to reach their ancestral homes in Historical Palestine, and walking in this sense symbolizes return: return to resistance, the land and roots as well as reclaiming unity with our people in other parts of Palestine. 

According to Ahmad, these ideas stem from nature. Nostalgia for nature and the green scenery beyond the barbed wire made people in Gaza challenge their stillness. While the occupation kills humans, nature was able to revive resistance. Marches of return brought forgotten places, located near the barbed wire where occupation soldiers are present, back to life. The simple act of movement towards a place where it is restricted meant that people were engaging in a new confrontation and bringing that place back to life. 

Diverse groups took part in these marches. Entire families came together to share a meal near the barbed wire, kids played and others just sat there. Regardless of the activity they chose, this collective act helped break the fear, as they were now that close to their homeland, confronting the occupation soldiers. This helped young people understand and practice resistance, which happened this time right next to the barbed wire. 

Not only did these marches challenge fear, but it also helped motivate people’s imagination and feed their heart and soul. What lied beyond the barbed wire is the hope that we had to reclaim. Ahmad described the scene in perfect detail: people were not only physically moving, but they also let their eyes move towards hope and their compass. 

The way to the heart is through the eye. While one could sense the collective national conscience, every person had the chance to lead and move around the way he/she wanted. People practiced self-rule, and all titles and unilateral sources of authority were completely dismissed amid this popular momentum. These marches simply belonged to everyone. Stemming from what each person longed for, these marches challenged the slow death behind the barbed wire, and reclaimed the possibility not only to live life around it but also to rebel against it.  

In order to understand the current marches of return and other forms of Tijwal in Palestinian villages and cities, Hazar Hijazi spoke about the historical aspect of this movement in Palestinians’ lives. When the present stems from stories and histories of the place and time, the past becomes our compass as we move towards the future. 

Inspired by her personal story at her family’s home in Akka, Hazar searched for answers. She wanted to know what had happened to her grandmother after the Nakba, and why she and people of the first generation had become this silent. The third generation was still curious to know the events of that period, as we do not only inherit stories, but also the pursuit of truth. 

Six years after Nakba, the Israeli Knesset enacted a law in 1954 to prevent Palestinian refugees from infiltrating and returning to their homes and lands. In addition, in the period between 1948 and 1966, Palestinians’ movement within Historical Palestine was restricted and controlled by the military governor, who was in charge of issuing movement permits between different occupied Palestinian cities and villages. As a result of these laws, the Palestinians were separated from their land, home, history and people, and they were incapable of understanding what happened. They encountered a state of silence, fear and defeat. As the title clearly shows, the law treated Palestinians as “infiltrators” and confiscated their right to return. This is what they wanted the world and Palestinians themselves to believe.

This law was coupled with Palestinians’ compliance with the orders of military governors, who imposed curfews. During this period of time, the occupation completely changed villages and cities whose people had been displaced, demolished homes, erased the history of these places and gave them new Jewish names. Following these deliberate acts, these places became foreign to their people, and aligned with the Zionist narrative. Not only did the law and the subsequent regulations of military governors restrict physical movement of Palestinians, but they also had an impact on their spirit. 

Because people could only move within a certain geographic area, new dynamics between the colonial power and the colonized people shaped a new reality for Palestinians. They had to accept this reality, and became defeated and uprooted. In this context, Tijwal combines physical and spiritual movement, which the occupation has long sought to restrict with laws and power. 

When we draw the link between the act of Tijwal by the third generation and the historical context post 1948, we understand why it is important to walk and move around. Marches of return made people feel that these marches belonged to them, and that they owned the land where they walked. They revived feelings of belonging to the place, time and narrative and broke the silence. These different marches and hikes create a bond with the place and between different generations, help share knowledge, activate our memory and bring back the conflict to its root cause. Hiking in this sense is about continuity. 

Samer Sharif from Jerusalem also shared his experience with “Tijwal Safar”, a group that started with 13 people in 2011. Participants were eager to learn more about mountains, villages and different areas of Palestine that they had only seen in their academic curricula. This group then came to reaffirm that learning is a life-long process, and that our ability to learn as humans is organic and can be fed with movement. 

In every hike, every participant is responsible for what he/she learns. This occurs when they engage with local communities and people’s stories. They learn different accents and more about themselves and their history. When the elderly share their stories, they allow participants’ imagination to go far and create a mental image of the place and what lies beyond. The map of Palestine is like a puzzle, and every time participants visit a place, they put one piece of it in its right place. 

When people go on these hikes, they reflect on curfews imposed in different Palestinian cities and villages. They become aware of streets that turned into humiliating checkpoints and caused difficulties for people. The occupation practiced its power and authority, and created this gap between those areas and the younger generations. 

However, in “Tijwal Safar”, participants re-define these spaces, and turn them into places where they walk, meet people and reclaim that bond with the place and the community. It is important to note that Tijwal is different from tourism. The former starts with an invitation by someone from the local community, who hosts the group consisting of around 1000 people today. As part of the activity, the host welcomes people into his/her home, life and personal stories with open arms.  In addition, participants offer to help the local community in different ways, and may engage in construction, harvesting and farming activities. 

This is not the case in tourism, which is associated with financial means and pre-set programs. Tijwal on the other hand is about travel, warmth and support. As the people know the difference between the village and the settlement, they know how to find their way, while the occupation has turned these mountains to tourist attractions, where people hike without taking into consideration the surroundings and the nature of the place. Hikes are guided in one direction, completely dismissing the story of the place and the mountain. 

Tijwal is a collective act, as people not only walk together, but also arrange for the hikes, prepare meals and eat together. They also plan the pace of the hike, deciding when to stop and continue. This cultural activity promoted the concept of self-dependence, as support from donors is not necessary. Instead, people support each other and they are the most important resource, while walking is the key activity in this experience. 

In “Tijwal Safar”, people travel to return to their roots, learn how to support each other, share all that they have, and learn more about our history, stories, land and ourselves. 

“Travel around your land and you will own it” is the motto of the group, which helps us reclaim the bond between people and their land. When we travel around the “usurped land”, we own our stories, memories and footsteps, and we rethink the bond between humans and nature. We realize that nature owns us, and not the other way around. 

However, in light of the occupation, we walk in groups to reclaim what was once taken away from us by force, break the fear and create a sense of security despite the Israeli checkpoints. When we are together, we have the power and the option to impose our existence on our land, so that no one else can take our place. 

Tijwal, hiking or traveling refer to the act that happens away from academic books and despite political colonial borders and the predominant narrative. The act challenges silence and fear, and allows us to return to our roots, land, undistorted history and collective historical depth. Marches of return and other hikes are one form of response to colonial power, as people engage in a collective national act of confrontation through walking. By drawing the line between the past and the present, they also get to understand how they should carry on with their journeys. 

Third session: Radical Art for Children Date: March 19, 2021 Speakers: Suheil Khoury, Naye Idriss, Salam AlBandak  Facilitator: Mayssoun Sukarieh

Is there a “radical education” for children?

According to Maisoun Sukkarieh, “there is a common belief that the words “radicalism” and “childhood” are verbally dissonant. Childhood is deemed a period of innocence, and children should be isolated from any events and problems happening in their societies”.

This opinion is generally problematic, and becomes even more problematic in the case of Palestine, where Palestinian children are arrested and held in solitary confinement, as if they were adults. In the period between 2000 and 2020, around 10,000 Palestinian children were arrested, with 150 children arrested in the last year alone. Twenty of these children were held in solitary confinement. Just like adults, they are displaced, and forced to watch the occupation demolish their homes and schools. Last year, 500 children in the West Bank and Jerusalem were displaced. Along with their families, they are either living in a big prison in Gaza or continue to suffer from a prolonged displacement (as is the case of Palestinians in Syria). They are also deprived of their basic rights in Lebanon. 

Considering these facts, the real question that we need to ask is this: what happens if we exclude children from radical education? Will this exclusion protect them from injustice and inequality? Will it protect them from the occupation and ongoing forced displacement?

In this seminar, we discuss three experiences of radical education in arts from a Palestinian perspective.  

Suhail Khouri, the first speaker in the seminar, said that “we need to respect children’s minds, and this makes it imperative to produce profound musical work, starting from the choice of lyrics that are well suited for children, lyrics that capture meanings and concepts that are appropriate for children. We thought it was important to have songs performed by children, because this helps develop a different connection between the child and the song, and we wanted it to be based on Arabic music, which meant that we needed to use musical instruments like Oud and Flute, and also have Arabic musical structures. In addition, we cooperated with professional musicians such as Ahmad Khatib, Yusuf Hbeish and Reem Atari, because children have a certain taste in music, and we have to pay special attention to our musical product in terms of form and content”. 

As part of their work with children, the team working with Khouri performed a musical play titled “Lanterns”, based on the story of “The LittleLantern” by Ghassan Kanafani. As the play relied on teamwork and great production, it took the team a year and a half to train children on this musical play. They organized group and individual trainings as well as summer camps, which added yet another value to this experience as children and adolescents learned a lot and further developed their talents through their professional cooperation with their trainers and other members of their group. Thanks to this experience, they managed to produce a good play, which was the first national musical play in cooperation with the orchestra in Palestine. 

As participants encountered this collective work experience, many of them became artists, musicians, and singers. In addition to their exposure to the National Conservatory of Music, this play helped develop children’s characters and encouraged them to adopt new concepts through teamwork. Furthermore, the play focused on the orchestra, and children were encouraged to start learning at a young age to produce distinguished group work. Participants learned key skills, such as accuracy in terms of time management as well as performance. 

All of these educational experiences have a profound and authentic impact on children’s lives. Orchestra is not only about group work during the performance, but it is rather an accumulative group work that enables participants to perform on a professional level. Children engage in collective experiences, workshops as well as summer and winter camps, where they live together for long periods of time. What we listen to at the end is the result of this collective learning journey. 

The Palestinian Orchestra brings together Palestinian children and adolescents from all over the world, be it in Palestine or the diaspora. They come together to produce one annual project, play music and engage in intensive rehearsals together. At the end, they take part in international tours to present highly professional performances. 

Researcher Nay Idriss also shared with us her experience in reading the works of Ghassan Kanafani to children in Palestinian camps, within the framework of the Ghassan Kanafani Foundation. Nay started by sharing her experience in researching radical education for children through reading “resistance literature”.

“Children have the ability to challenge preconceived facts, and it’s easy for them to use their imagination and creativity to change realities around them. At Ghassan Kanafani Foundation, we work on promoting alternative education through multiple activities, including group reading sessions and panel discussions,” said Nay. Founded in 1974 after the assassination of martyr writer Ghassan Kanafani by Mossad in 1972, the Ghassan Kanafani Foundation works with children from a very young age and until the age of 18.

The Foundation implements numerous radical educational initiatives, as a way to confront problematic scholastic curricula and systems in camps, where the curriculum is limiting intellectual prospects and children’s historical allegiance. Historical textbooks on Palestine that specifically address children are not available. Furthermore, teaching relied on rote learning rather than creative or critical thinking. Therefore, group reading sessions and panel discussions become ever more important, as these sessions feature radical literature and allows for discussion and critical thinking as part of radical education.  

At the center, children, according to Nay, learn how to read metaphors and decipher symbols and connotations, which helps them form their own liberated understanding of different topics concerning their realities, Palestine, and the future. The Center is also concerned about alienating new generations and excluding them from any potential influence with regards to the Palestinian cause and preconceived concepts of radical resistance. These concepts exclude the potential contribution of children and adolescents and make it impossible for them to influence resistance and radical intellectual works for Palestine.  

At this point, it is important to think of radical and revolutionary intellectual work from a critical point of view, as these concepts are presented to children as “final”. They are expected to inherit these concepts without forming any connection with them. As a result, children usually feel alienated, and this might explain why they tend to reject the cause and refuse to believe in it altogether. 

Not only do children learn about the cause and its history at the center, but they also feel that they are part of it, and that they can either change or further expand the cause. They feel they are committed, and not forced, to work for the cause. At the group reading sessions, readers are participants rather than recipients. 

Readers engage in a process to form their own positions on the cause and realities around them. The text does not present preconceived ideas. On the contrary, it allows children to reflect, form their own position and create their own connection with the terminology of the text. 

Following this experience, educational activist Salam al-Bandak told us about her initiative “Art and Peace”, which seeks to create an alternative participatory learning environment, based on exploration and activation of the senses. It helps children understand their role in life in an organic and natural way apart from any limiting frameworks. 

“Our children are raised in places full of conflicts, fear and pollution. Therefore, in this initiative, we pursue an environmental and artistic learning path, one that is based on agriculture and people’s connection to nature and builds on curiosity and exploration. In general, the initiative complements the work of independent cultural centers and art institutes,” said al-Bandak. 

The initiative creates a free and convenient space, where competition and comparisons based on age and gender are irrelevant. This, in turn, helps participants communicate, collaborate, and express themselves freely. This space does not seek to use art in a professional manner, but rather as a language or a tool for expression. It seeks to create a sensual, exploratory, and aesthetic connection with the surroundings and nature, as references in “Art and Peace” are inspired by life and our own experiences rather than books. 

For example, through engaging with farmers and taking part in activities like harvesting and cooking, children’s connection to realities on the ground is fostered. In addition, these experiences prove to children that learning can be fun and exciting. They learn that the world around us affects us and is affected by us.

There are also different workshops with children and parents. In these workshops, parents get to observe their children and their interaction with their surroundings, be it through drawing, playing music or farming. Learning about the earth, trees and nature is collaborative and collective, which led to numerous art and educational projects related to recycling and environment-friendly farming as part of this initiative. 

In these workshops, children get to learn about different occupations, such as cooks, farmers, carpenters, engineers, designers, and artists away from schools and closed rooms. Children also learn more about their own land and how to preserve nature. As a result, they understand in intellectual and emotional terms the steadfastness of Palestinian farmers and start recycling because they believe in its importance. All of these activities form a child’s identity, based on the connection with surroundings, the place, and people. 

Salam shared how she had learned so much from this experience, as she had understood the importance of experiencing life with a bit of adventure, and openness to fun and pleasure. In addition, she had learned to cherish curiosity and the desire to learn and how to deviate from what is “logical” and common. While working with children, she had understood the importance of listening to them to be able to facilitate their own learning experience. Children had taught her that in order to create a profound change on the ground, we needed to engage in a thinking process that brought together children, young people, and adults, as this was the way to benefit from both: experience and hope for the future. 

Towards the end, Suhail Khouri added that schools, as institutions, do not create an educational experience that is based on collective efforts. The problem lies in the fact that they do not allow children to experience their own learning journeys. However, given all of these experiences and initiatives, it becomes imperative to create a qualitative shift in this public educational system, leading to changing the Palestinian curricula. At the end of the day, we need to understand that the majority of our children are learning within this framework. 

Fourth session: Radical Literature for Children Date: April 2, 2021 Speakers: Nabila Espanioly / Al Tufula Center, Zeina Maasri / Dar al Fata al Arabi, Renad Qubbaj / Tamer Institute for Community Education  Facilitator: Serene Huleileh

What do we mean by “radical children’s literature”?

Serene Huleileh, the facilitator of the session, defines radical children’s literature as “literature in which children play a central role in the collective struggle. It depicts them as individuals who have the power, determination and will and gives them the space to make their voices heard”.

If we take a look at radical children’s literature in Palestine, we realize that there is a large number of institutions, writers, publishers, and initiatives working in this field. In this session, we shed light on the experience of three institutions that have had a profound impact on children and modern children’s literature, be it in Palestine or the diaspora (Dar al Fata al Arabi, Tamer Institute, Childhood Center – Nazareth).

Researcher Zeina Maasri spoke about the experience of Dar al Fata al Arabi, which was established in 1974 to respond to a revolutionary state in Palestine, the Arab region, and the world at large at the time under the umbrella of the Palestinian Center for Planning. 

At the time, it became clear to the educational committee, concerned with fundamental educational issues, that the education at UNRWA schools did not correspond to the revolutionary state in Palestine, especially when it comes to children raised in refugee camps. The committee also observed that curricula in the Arab world were not relevant to social realities of these children in terms of content and approach. 

Therefore, the house was established as a radical response to this form of education, with the aim of producing literature that addressed children in the Arab world, irrespective of their economic status and location. This literature captured cultural heritage, global issues, and revolutions as well as issues related to equality and social justice to raise awareness on the Palestinian struggle as well as other struggles in the Arab region. To that end, the house brought together artists from Palestine and different Arab countries. 

Led by Palestinian researcher Ihsan Abbas, the editorial committee developed a comprehensive educational plan for the publishing house. Based on this plan, publications were divided into different series, such as “the Rainbow Series” for children, “The Future” for children, “The New Horizon” as well as a series on people’s tales. During the foundational period, Palestinian artist Kamal Bulata was the technical supervisor of the house. 

Maasri added that the house had a clearly pioneering and avant-garde project, as it was one of the first projects to focus on children’s literature and completely avoid Arabic children’s books that were mostly translated from Western literature, leading to dissonance between the child and his/her Arab society on one hand and those stories and graphics found in those books on the other. Against this backdrop, the house sought to change children’s literature, and produce what was more relevant to Arab readers in terms of knowledge and aesthetics to instill a revolutionary Arab identity in the minds of children. 

After this foundational stage, Egyptian artist Mohyee Addin Al-Labad became in charge of technical supervision and led the house’s efforts to create aesthetics that challenged predominant literature, inspired by Bourgeoise foreign literature, and fostered a child’s connection to his/her daily life and relations instead. The publishing house launched daring new books that tackled political controversial issues as well as more complex concepts, such as “Kitab al Bait”. The book, written by Zakaria Tamer, featured drawings by Mohyee Addin Al-Labad and explained to children under the age of 6 the meaning of a “homeland” and that resistance is the only way to reclaim it. 

At the end of her talk, researcher Zeina stressed that the house brought together a number of Arab artists, who enriched the house’s aesthetics and helped diversify its artistic approaches and expressions. The group included Kamal Bulata, Nawal Aboud Tarabulsi and Syrian artist Natheer Naba’. Their personal experiences in journalism and caricature also enriched their collective experience at the publishing house. 

During the foundational stage alone, the house produced 67 publications, which proves that members of the group were motivated and committed to its mission. The researcher also pointed out that the house was launched in Beirut, which had a significant impact on its journey, as the city was a hub for artists and publishing in Arabic. Beirut also hosted the Arabic Book Fair, one of the most important Arabic book fairs.

Tamer Foundation’s director, Ranad Qubbaj, also spoke about their experience in publishing, stressing that publishing is a central part of their mission. During the first intifada in 1989, Tamer Foundation was established at a time when the occupation closed schools and universities for a long period of time. As part of a popular educational effort, a number of activists, including teacher Munir Fasheh, established the foundation. 

Activists thought that there was a need for an institution that helped the Palestinian society develop alternatives to the formal educational system. They believed that education could happen at any time and place, and that learning was part of our daily life. Based on this belief, the program to promote reading, writing and self-expression among children and adolescents was started in 1992 and continues to carry out activities, including a campaign to promote reading in the Palestinian society, till this day. As it primarily works with children, the foundation has a space for publishing titled “My first book”, which was launched in 1996.  

This year, the foundation celebrates the 25th anniversary of this inspiring experience, which features books written by children on Palestinian realities on the ground. For example, during the second intifada between 2000 and 2005, the events of the uprising were captured in the writings of children, as they tackled aggression, siege, and curfews. They also tackled other topics such as their love for olive trees and martyrs, which shows that a child is aware of his/her surroundings and what happens in the society as a whole. 

The program of “My First Book” encouraged writing away from teachers and without any parental intervention. As a result, the writings reflected the inner thoughts of children and their personal experiences. They captured the state of public affairs from a humane perspective. Needless to say, this experience of life and writing became part of their consciousness and their connection to their surroundings. It also improved their ability to communicate, express themselves and use language as a tool of expression. 

The foundation also has another space called “Yara’at”, which was also launched in 1996. This space is dedicated to publishing works, photographs, drawings, literary texts, critiques, analysis, or art works by adolescents. This experience has had its impact on many professionals in this field, who are currently well known in the cultural scene in Palestine and the Arab world at large. 

Qubbaj also shed light on the third space, which specializes in oral history or the “small continent” that is associated with the experiences of adolescents and children. The foundation started working on this topic, as it was important to present to young people a Palestinian narrative on everything around us, be it in agriculture, city life or the cultural heritage in general. Therefore, the project works on research and documentation in cooperation with youth groups in different areas such as: the railway (where it passed) and terminology related to olive farming and harvesting. They have managed to produce a glossary containing these terms. 

Director of the Childhood Center, Nabila Espanioly, stressed that it was impossible to separate publishing from their work. According to Espanioly, the center works on a comprehensive, holistic and liberating approach with children. Their presence in Nazareth meant that they could start their work by countering the threat that Arabs in the city faced as a result of the cultural hegemony that Israeli institutions try to impose on Palestinian children. It was imperative to go back to the roots, in an attempt to preserve national allegiance. This made them take a critical look at the cultural heritage, dismantling and re-producing it in a way that is in line with the authentic stances and principles of the center. 

While it is common to resort to preserving and documenting heritage in the face of cultural invasion, these acts do not preserve the contemporary identity despite the importance of documentation. Identity is inspired by these roots, but it is continuously renewed to accommodate the changing needs of a society. Therefore, there was a need to support and renew those roots, as the strategic goal was to develop and mainstream a feminist, holistic and liberating approach with regards to early childhood and women’s issues to achieve social cohesion. It is important to point out that the Childhood Center is affiliated with the Institute of Nazareth’s nurseries, which started working in 1984. 

While searching for and shaping our identity, Espanioly added that it was necessary to dismantle the concept of identity to examine its components. Life experiences, such as our experiences with the environment and all of its elements, were central to this journey. Our dishes, music, buildings, plants, ambiance, and smells all formed a central part of our identity. For example, as Palestinians, we have a special connection to thyme that is different from that of non-Palestinians. All of these life experiences shape and influence our identity. 

Based on this concept, the book “Diaries of my First Year” was published, inspired by concepts of authenticity and modernity. The book compiled cultural heritage associated with the first year of early childhood. As an example of modernization, some songs were re-written with a feminist approach to engage fathers in the upbringing of children, as they are not engaged at all in the cultural heritage. Lyrics of these songs were changed to incorporate the role of fathers in the upbringing of children in their early years. 

Similarly, there were no books related to food that addressed children in Arabic. The book “Oh How Wonderful My food is” was published, featuring Palestinian dishes and heritage. 

The center is currently working on a new series of books titled “Our Remaining Villages”, which covers a number of villages whose residents were forcibly displaced in 1948. The series seeks to emotionally connect children with their history and forsaken villages, so that they can develop their own concepts and perceptions of our reality. 

Because we have this responsibility towards our children and their future, we need to create this space for discussion and self-expression. The idea is not to publish works for children, but rather to focus on the Palestinian cause, which guides our work to support children as they develop their own understanding. What we write paves the way for further discussion and questions. 

For example, in every text, Espanioly starts by saying “once upon a time, not too long ago, before 1948”, and this phrase could lead children to ask many questions about what had happened before 1948. When she talks about specific details or mention specific names of families in certain villages, Espanioly tries to create an image of this village in a child’s imagination. However, questions, curiosity and the development of identity and perceptions all lead the child on a journey of his/her own. The story merely creates the opportunity to know and ask questions that are relevant to the context of each child.  

Fifth session: Popular Education and the role of Women Date: May 21, 2021 Speakers: Islah Jad, Yamila Hussein Shannan, Ramzi Abu Radwan  Facilitator: Mayssoun Sukarieh

As she began her talk in the session, facilitator Mayssoun Sukarieh highlighted the emergence of popular education as a “turning point” that changed Palestinians’ perspective on education, as it became a tool and a critical weapon for liberation. 

This comes in tandem with the ongoing third intifada, which made Palestinians realize that informal education through people’s activism, chants, songs, protests, dances, and speeches could actually lead to a radical change in the political sphere and create a new language that calls a spade a spade. 

Sukarieh also talked about the intifada of 1987, which was an uprising against social norms, especially with regards to women’s role. She believes that the current uprising builds on previous achievements. In her opinion, the institutionalization or “NGOization” (meaning transforming the feminist movement to feminist institutions that started in the first uprising) could not stop Palestinian women from playing their role in the national struggle. As we can see today, women are leading protests, chants, and different forms of popular activism, which can be seen as an uprising against the institutionalization or NGOization of the feminist movement rather than an uprising against social norms. 

Participants later discussed other radical aspects of the first intifada, namely the central role that children played in the face of occupation and the radical educational role of this uprising against the political exclusion and marginalization of children. As children were on the frontlines, their roles questioned the discourse that calls for child protection and isolates children from their surroundings, perceiving them as “helpless human beings”. 

In the second part of this session, Dr. Islah Jad spoke about women’s role in the 1987 intifada. She explained that women had political affiliations at the time that enabled them to play a very critical role, eventually elevating women’s contribution to the uprising. 

For example, female activists managed to raise funds for the cause, as they managed to fund numerous activities through revenues of bazaars, where homemade products or handicrafts made by detainees were sold. In addition, kindergarten teachers taught children a large collection of national songs, which instilled the love of the homeland and national allegiance among them. 

This uprising greatly expanded the role of women, paving the way for the many creative women’s initiatives, such as forming committees to protect and document public property at a time when the occupying forces broke locks of commercial stores and forcibly opened them during national strikes. 

In addition to the aforementioned points, the speaker talked about women’s role in delivering food items to places that were under siege or targeted by a collective punishment approach. For example, people used to let bags filled with food items roll on a slope towards Jalazone camp in Birzeit, delivering food to people through gravity and cooperation.  

Dr. Jad also talked about the great role that women played in popular education, as the experience succeeded and allowed students to make up for what they had missed out on during the closure of public schools or institutions. She pointed out that the occupation had criminalized popular education and carried out inspections to look for any books and notebooks that children carried. The fact that school textbooks were confiscated is a stark example of their attempts to terrorize children and their families, in an attempt to put an end to popular education.  

In addition to these roles, women have successfully turned small gardens at their homes into farms to produce vegetables and fruits. They also formed agricultural relief committees that were in charge of the reclamation of wells to provide potable water. 

Against this backdrop, the speaker said that there had been no differences whatsoever between men and women, as they all worked together in all fields, be it education, agriculture, relief, economy, and even militant action. She added that women had taken part in daily protests and confrontations. Children accompanied their mothers to these protests, where they acted as active participants. Protests became yet another educational space for children, as they learned patriotic values, slogans, and songs.  

The speaker then concluded her talk, highlighting that the uprising had been an inclusive space for all, regardless of the economic class. This manifests again in the current uprising, as it brings together people from all origins, backgrounds, and affiliations. As the revolution takes many creative forms, this strong social unity extends all over the country, from Gaza to Jericho, and from An-Naqura to Negev.  

Researcher and teacher Yamila Shannan also talked about the first intifada and the various forms of direct and indirect confrontations with the enemy. The latter includes providing social support in the face of collective or individual punishments, such as sieges or arrests. According to the speaker, an individual did not need to be affiliated with any political party or organization to engage in any of the activities related to the uprising.

In her opinion, popular education is one of the most radical experiences, because it is a form of education that is made by the people for the people. Given that it is a contextual, rather than a pre-set experience, this form of education is a dynamic process that breaks free from all the limitations of the educational system. It is a radically different process in terms of content, form and the people involved.

During tough circumstances, this form of education presents creative solutions. For example, language is taught through national songs, as children sing, memorize, analyze, discuss, write, and read those songs. They also engage in conversations about the language and our relationship with it. 

History and geography can be taught using the same approach too. For example, at one point, activists working in popular education knocked at people’s doors in Kaubar to tell them to send their kids to learn with them. At first, the turnout was low due to several reasons: parents were concerned about their children’s safety because of the heavy presence of occupying forces in the streets and they also needed their children’s help in farming. The solution was simple, as activists started teaching children in those farms. When these plots of land technically became the “makeshift” classroom, committees were able to help families with farming, giving children a practical lesson on the value of our land. Popular education is not about rigid information on history and geography, but rather a real experience of work and support. There was a natural connection between education and real life. 

While popular education managed to break free from all restrictions related to the educational system in some areas, it was merely a repetition of the classroom experience in others. In addition, teachers working in this form of education were also social and political activists, performing many roles at a time. Therefore, it was a process that re-designed the meaning of learning and teaching, paving the way for a mutual learning experience. 

Researcher Shannan stated that this experience could not last due to several reasons. The occupation took different decisions, unexpectedly opening and closing schools. As a result, activists were confused and did not have the chance to build a proper methodology for their work. In addition, they terrorized and threatened activists who were known to be involved in popular education. Not only were these activists arrested, but the houses where these educational activities took place could be demolished. As a result, people had to keep on moving between gardens, mosques, old houses, and churches, making it even harder to sustain the process. 

Furthermore, the Unified National Leadership did not treat popular education as a priority, as they believed that education was limited to the formal schooling system. Therefore, many parents were concerned about the institutional evaluation of their children’s performance. 

Although the occupation continues to try to influence our minds, Palestinians continue to catch their enemy off guard. The latest uprising in Palestine proves that Palestinians are collectively aware of the need to fight against any Zionist plan. In the case of Palestine, education cannot be limited to institutions. Popular education is a space for learning, experimenting, and constructing the identity of the people. In short, it is a process that we can build on to have well-educated and patriotic generations. 

Lastly, Ramzi Abu Radwan shared his experience as a child during the intifada, as he had to go to a house in the camp, where he could secretly learn. Just like all of his peers, he was eager to defend his camp and play a role in the uprising. To him, the camp was like a big house for everyone, and they all could contribute in different ways.

As the occupying forces imposed a curfew, children’s participation in the uprising was made easier. “I could jump and move through roofs, and we managed to deliver bread, supplies and necessary items”.

This type of activism presented practical solutions for every dilemma. It was a great learning experience that taught him how to deal with realities on the ground and act accordingly. 

In addition to learning how to read and write, children naturally learned the value of every role played by individuals from every age group in the community. 

Abu Radwan also told us that a picture of him throwing stones had appeared in newspapers. Although he was happy that he rose to fame, he was worried about his own safety as the occupying forces could easily identify him. However, he later realized that this picture had a great impact when journalists started conducting interviews with him, which gave him the chance to talk about his homeland and convey certain messages to the world. 

The intifada of 1987 was a critical experience that helped shape the Palestinian identity. Every person did his/her best to contribute, as it was not about political affiliations. On the contrary, it was a natural national educational experience for people who took part in it, as they experienced being part of a collective effort for a public cause.  

Towards the end of the session, participants shed light on the latest uprising, which proved to the world that Palestinians from the river to the sea are still united. They stressed the importance of learning from previous experiences and not allowing politicians and opportunists to claim this victory as their own. 

2 thoughts on “RADICAL FRIDAYS

  1. How can I view the first session dealing with the Intifada? I hope I will be able to see it in English or be able to read the transcript in English b/c I have forgotten most of my spoken Arabic. I worked with Palestinian educators (K-12) throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the First Intifada in all 3 school sectors. I introduced progressive pedagogies and organized 3 national Palestinian educational conferences (held in Ramallah). I was based in Ramallah at the Friends School and worked under the direction of Khalil Mahshi. I wrote a quarterly newsletter (“Education Network”) from 1990-1993, in English, about Palestinian education under military occupation. This newsletter was sent all around the world. I also taught one class each semester, in English, to seniors, at the Friends School.

    • Dear Jeff;
      Many thanks for your message.
      We are still editing the session you are asking about but you can see it on the Arab Education Forum Facebook page. As for the English transcripts it still needs sometime, once its ready you we will post it here.

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