Then and Now

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The struggle for education under adverse conditions is not new to students of the Friends Schools, or to most Palestinian students. It has its roots in the 1950s and the early 1960s when the struggle was less physical and appeared, at first glance, to be less confrontational.

The West Bank and Gaza are under siege by a ruthless foreign occupation force. Palestinians need not be reminded of this fact. The occupation touches every aspect of life in the territories. House demolitions, uprooting of trees and other forms of collective punishment are all new tactics of an Israeli occupation force that has no regard for Palestinian life or Palestinian property. Today, the targets of Palestinian aggression, and the Palestinian struggle itself, are better defined. The brutal occupation forces and those who command them are the enemies of the Palestinian people. In the 1950s, our enemies were not so well defined.

Today’s Palestinian students and those in the 1950s share common challenges: the lack of resources, the absence of financial support, and the lack of opportunity for higher education–to name just a few. In my days at the Friends, when everything seemed to be going wrong, when the suffering was no longer bearable and hope seemed all but extinguished, my generation found its way through the maze through its persistence, its perseverance and its belief in the fundamental goodness of the people of this Earth. Today’s students can also find their way out of this same despair, but they also must believe, in spite of all the suffering and the pain they endure with each passing day. They must believe in the principles taught by the Friends and its founders. They must believe in civil disobedience as an alternative to violence and militancy, methods that only play into the hands of right-wing Israelis, especially those who seek to demonize the Palestinian people and their leadership. They must rise above hatred, even in the face of brutal repression. They must learn from the teachings of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, and the protracted struggles to deliver their nations from the grips of oppression, injustice and inhumanity.

Today’s students face another challenge:  to overcome the temptation to hate, to overcome the temptation to seek revenge against civilians, and to overcome the temptation to perpetuate the cycle of hatred. If they do not, they will become the enemy they are resisting. This is the main enemy of today’s generation. This enemy is potentially more destructive to the fabric of Palestinian society than all the tanks, helicopters and F-16s that the Israeli military can muster.  It poses an even greater threat than the closures, the isolation and the deception perpetrated against the Palestinian people. It threatens to destroy our humanity from within.

As my generation persisted, today’s generation will persist. With the support of their schools, their faculty and their staff, and with the support of the Palestinian community world wide, Palestinian students will someday, in spite of all these challenges, find their way through the maze because of their persistence, perseverance and their belief in the goodness of this Earth.

Michael S. Ladah is a Friends Boys School graduate (class of 1958). He is the author of “Quicksand, Oil and Dreams: The Story of One of Five Million Dispossessed Palestinians.”

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