Nil’in, Nablus, and the Space and Happenings in between

The past week has felt like a year, unsure where my days have started and ended, all the while under a spell of personal relationship issues that are popping up at a rate I’m a bit unable to keep up with. For the purposes of this post though, let’s leave that aside and let me catch everyone up a little.

It occurred to me that I haven’t really written much about what I’m spending most of my days doing here in Ramallah. So allow me to clarify.

I am working with the Qattan Foundation’s Center for Education and Research Development (yes, it is just as much of a mouthful in Arabic) on the Palestine History Project. PHP “aims to work with history teachers from the West Bank, Gaza and ’48 Palestine to help improve their ability to teach the history of Palestine, to expose them to new methodologies of history teaching, and to work with them to produce alternative materials that look at Palestinian history from below, beginning with people in their daily lives. The ultimate goal is to eventually put the material on a web site that will be available to all Palestinian teachers anywhere in the world to use in their classes.”

That is the official description, but for me, what we are doing is deeper than the explanation conveys. For me and for those I work with and the teachers with whom we are meeting, it is about investigating how we understand History and how we, as Palestinians, choose to have our children understand their history. Is History really just dates, events, wars, the stories of Presidents and leaders, or is it more than that? Do we understand history as a story? And moreover, as Palestinians, whose story? Do our children recognize and see their role in that history? Do they see their story as Palestine’s story?

This week we met with a group of teachers in Nil’in and I led my first meeting/workshop with based heavily on these questions, on how we understand History as a subject matter and how that translates into how we teach Palestinian History in our high schools here in Palestine. The floor was open for their thoughts and then I presented a bit of our vision, as well as supplying them with some resources that could be useful supplements to the curriculum and textbooks at their disposal.

The point is this, folks: If we understand history as a story, then the history of Palestine is the collection of the stories of the experiences of all Palestinians. Your story is a part of the story; your history is a part of the history. The Nakba is not your grandfather’s story, it is yours, because the Nakba hasn’t ended. You are not only a descendant or survivor, you are an actor and contributor to the history being made everyday. Palestinian history is a living history and it should be taught as such.

Now, this theory entails many things, it entails utilizing videos from places like nakba-archives.com, details forgotten from sites like palestineremembered.com, and potential partnerships with projects already in their early phases like nakbasurivor.com. However, and perhaps more importantly, it includes ideas and plans that reflect a desire to take back control of our own stories, and by doing so our history. Ideas like reaching out to young Palestinians in ’48 Palestine and having them share their stories with students in the West Bank and Gaza, their story also a piece of the whole, their experience also a lifetime under Zionist colonialism that goes beyond the textbook inclusion of “there were Palestinians who stayed” as if they are not an integral and inseparable part of us and our history.

There are of course politics at play, and we’re not taking on the Ministry of Education and trying to revolutionize curriculum and textbooks, but there are ways teachers can present the story of Palestine that reflects an understanding past UN resolutions, international law, and Arab armies.

So, that my friends, is what I am spending my summer working on and if Nil’in was any indication of the potential of the project and reception we will receive from teachers, then things are looking up.

In other news, yesterday, I spent the day in Nablus, but before I begin gushing about that, let me just say that my most pleasant time all week were the car trips from Ramallah out of town. God, what a countryside, even in its heartbreaking distortions of settlements and stolen farms…it is breathtaking with its hills, trees, and its spirit…

I went to Nablus to visit a group I’ve long admired and wanted to help, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization or Monathamit Shabab al-Ghad. I am not even sure how to describe the people, their work, their facilities, and genuine investment and care for the community other than purely phenomenal. They are essentially the only organization serving the over 6,000 kids of the refugee camps surrounding Nablus and they go out of their way to take on the most at-risk and hardest cases around. But more than this, they take an interest in the families – specifically the older siblings and mothers of the kids in their classes and programs. I will talk more about them another time. I’m sure the opportunity will present itself since I will be volunteering with them every Sunday (one of my days off) I can be out of Ramallah. 2 hours playing soccer with 5-7 yr olds and I think I was happier and more at ease than I’ve been in weeks.

While I was there, one of the staff was giving a visiting group a tour of the Old City and invited me along. I was thrilled of course to have a guide who knew the city so well, beats me wandering aimlessly around, though sometimes that has its perks. Yesterday though, the tour did not disappoint. Nablus is one of the few places I’ve ever been that just vibrated with life, with history, and with an exuberance of survival. The Old City is a testament, not only, to its place and role throughout the millenia (yes, multiple millenia), but it is a testament to the will of its inhabitants.

It is full of life and full of trauma simultaneously. A hundreds year old Turkish Bath still in use; a renovated Mosque that even an earthquake centuries ago could not erase; a parking lot where one its infamous soap factories once stood – the result of Israeli bombing in the 2nd Intifada; a park where homes once stood; centuries old walls that have been plastered with posters or engraved with the names and faces of those lost to massacre and aggression; a spice store where they make everything in house; and children running to knafa vendors with pieces of bread and taking off with their knafa sandwiches, squeezing past all of the tourists who have travelled just for a bite of Nablus’ famous dessert.

I don’t know why, but being in Nablus was like being wrapped up in a blanket. It was like comfort. Perhaps, in a city so good at comforting itself, it comforts its visitors, as well.

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