Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do you think we're terrorists?

The title of this post is a question I was asked a few days ago.  Sigh... It's not a question I wanted to answer.  Actually I was happy to answer with an emphatic "NO."  What I hated was that the question had to be asked in the first place.

Let me back up a bit...  I have talked about my class of teenagers in older posts.  I have worked with the group since my first week in Nablus.  There are some kids who have been coming since day one.  Others have joined somewhere along the way.  In fact, whereas most of the time I've been here, there have been 12 to 15 kids in each class, the last 2 classes have had 25 and then 40 kids show up.  Thankfully, another volunteer just happened to be with me when 40 came- we split the group into two: I with my regulars and she with the new kids.  With so many kids, I think there will be an official split into 2 groups based on their level of English.  My class has a wide range of abilities within it.  A few weeks ago some of the kids asked that we split into two groups according to ability.  I agreed that it would be a good idea, but said that we should decide as a group, which is how we've made all major decisions about the class- together. When we talked about it, the kids decided we'd stay together for my remaining weeks.  When the center suggested yesterday that we test everyone and split them into ability groups, I requested that this split happen after I leave, so that I don't lose any of the kids I've had since the beginning. I realize that this was a selfish request, but it was also based on the decision we'd made together a few weeks before. I think the center is going to wait to change the division of the groups.

As fodder for discussion the last several weeks I have brought essays from my students back home to English class.  Last year my Catholic social teaching students and I created a book based on our reading Freedom Writers Diary. For class here I choose one or two readings for each session- we read, discuss vocabulary, and then discuss the theme of the reading.  I also ask them to write something in response, but that doesn't always work so well.  I"m not sure if it's because the kids forget, they don't have the language to say what they want to say (I'm sure that's the case for a few), they don't care, they don't want to write about the theme I've picked, or some other reason.  Many did write about a person who'd influenced them.  However, I didn't get any writing after we read the Adversity essay... Ironic, since kids here know a little about adversity...

We also created a Facebook group to give opportunities for the class here to communicate with kids in the U.S.  I hope some mutually beneficial exchanges will happen.  Actually I know that there are already some good discussions happening.  A couple classes ago, after a few kids from the U.S. joined the Facebook group, the class here took some time to brainstorm questions they'd like to ask kids in the States.  The first several questions they had were about here: "What do you think of Palestine?" and "What do you think about Islam?" There were a few more about here (I think they had a question about the Occupation) and only after they asked those big questions did they think of the easier questions like "What do you like to do?" and "What's your favorite subject in school?" Of course, their earlier questions are far more interesting, I'd say, and could lead to some important conversations. 

Next I asked them to share their ideas about America (they almost always say "America" here and not "the United States").  They named cities (New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas), diversity, and some other things.  And then I asked them this: What do you think Americans think of Palestine?

I think the word "terrorists" was the third word to come up, after "West Bank" and "Israel."  Terrorists.  It made my heart ache, particularly since I know that there are so many people in the U.S. whose thinking goes something like this: Palestine = Muslims = terrorists.  A few more words went on the list, but my mind didn't leave the third word.  The kids then asked what my impression of Palestine is.

I said I was and am lucky because I had heard more about Palestine than the news at home gives, so I didn't think it was full of terrorists.  I already knew about the Occupation and the struggles Palestinians face and I have learned so much more from being here.  I admitted that there are many people at home who don't know the whole story because they only hear what the mainstream news, which is pro-Israel, tells them.  Sadly, I told them, many Americans do think that saying "Muslim" is the same as saying "terrorist", particularly after 9/11.  However, I went on, my experience of Palestine is of beautiful, generous people who open their homes and their hearts to me, who have shown me around, bought me kanafeh, and have in general been so lovely to me.  I thought I had made it clear that I have a very positive idea about Palestine and Palestinians.

However, as we left class that day I was talking to a girl who asked me, "Do you think we're terrorists?"

No.  And I don't think any 15 or 16 year-old (or child of any age, for that matter) should ever have to wonder about the answer to that question.

***Note: I firmly believe that we all have an important story to tell.  My boys at home shared part of their story in the book we created.  My kids here are doing it by talking to kids in the States.  We are also creating a blog in which they can tell you their stories in their own words.  As with the Facebook group, it is an experiment.  I don't know which kids will post or what they want to tell us, but I know they want their voices heard and I am excited that I may play a role in making that happen.  I'll keep you posted on its progress and let you know when it is up and running.  If/when we do get it going, please help me share their stories.  Thanks!


  1. Oh , that really good & I like what you write its amazing .