By Elaine Morais
I was surprised at the overreaction to the Palestinian Solidarity Week not long ago and the preoccupation with the superficial and ill-conceived aspects of that project in a few schools. Let’s not lose sight of the big picture.
It is historically incorrect to frame the Palestinian struggle in religious terms.
It is primarily an anti-colonial struggle (against settler colonialism) that began with the illegal creation of the state of Israel in 1948 by Zionist Jews fleeing antisemitic persecution in Europe and the dispossession of 80% of the Palestinian population from their homeland.
The displaced Palestinians found ‘homes’ in what was left of Palestine (22% of the land) in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and in camps in several Arab countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The Palestinians are a multicultural group – comprising Muslims (the majority), Christians, Jews and Orthodox Christians – who lived harmoniously together prior to 1948. Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian journalist killed in Jenin in May 2022 by an Israeli sniper, was in fact a Christian.
The Palestinian struggle may be compared to the struggle of the African National Congress and its widely admired and visionary leader Nelson Mandela, who fought incessantly over the years against the apartheid government.
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The ANC and its leaders were labelled “terrorist” in character. We know now they were actually freedom fighters striving to overcome gross oppression and injustice.
The education we get in schools is often narrow and limited. We would do well to bring in events of the world and relate them accurately and intelligently to events outside the classroom. This calls for skill and sensitivity. Such material could be included in lessons in history, current affairs and civic education.
Much of the education I received in school was in fact colonial education. We were taught, among other things that Stamford Raffles “discovered” Singapore and Francis Light, Penang. We know better now. We studied primarily English literature and hardly anything from Asia, Africa, Latin America or the Middle East. Our school libraries were filled with books from the West.
Much of my real education came from my wide reading and from the school of life through exposure to events and people in the real world after I left school and university. This involved a lot of demystification of what we were taught in schools and presented as ‘knowledge’. We were not exposed to diverse narratives, and very little use was made of evidence from oral history.
Those who wish to get a true picture of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict may want to read books by the brilliant and courageous Israeli historian Ilan Pappe – The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2007) and The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of Gaza and the Occupied Territories (2017).
The writings of Noam Chomsky, Arnold Toynbee, Norman Finkelstein, Edward Said and Hanan Ashrafi are also worth reading.
There are also numerous videos on the subject with eloquent leaders like Mustafa Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian Initiative.
Such exposure is vital to counter the one-sided narrative we constantly see in most of the Western media. We owe it to ourselves, as compassionate human beings with integrity, to acquaint ourselves with the true situation in Gaza.
Is collective punishment justified? Have the rights of the Palestinians been fairly addressed since their dispossession in 1948?
Perhaps our wide reading and exposure to the knowledge available may enable us to form better judgements about the conflicts raging all over the world.
It will also enable us to have a better understanding of the gross inequalities of power that exist and the disproportionate effects they have over powerless, oppressed people striving for freedom and a life of dignity and hope.
Elaine Morais is an author and researcher whose interests include academic writing and thinking and communications skills