Two Tuesdays, two sessions teaching English at the Yad B'Yad school, two troubling moments reflective of the tumultuous time in which we live:
Last Tuesday, I took a Palestinian 6th grader out of class for private remedial tutoring, as I do most weeks. The lesson was a struggle; my student was very behind, and he got increasingly frustrated as we pushed through the material. Suddenly, he took a key out of his bag. The key was a plastic Nakba key, a common symbol in the Palestinian liberation movement that represents the front door keys to the homes that many Palestinians left/fled/were expelled from (choose the verb that aligns with your ideology) and, by extension, the Palestinian longing for return. He turned the key over and pointed to a Palestinian flag stamped on one side of the key. "You see this? This good," he said while pointing to the flag engraved on the key. "You see that?" he said while pointing to an Israeli flag outside of the classroom. "This bad. You agree?" And I wasn't sure what to say.
How do I explain "this flag is a symbol of national liberation for my long-suffering people, and that'll never go away for me, but I'm horrified by the fact that the liberation of my people came at the expense of the occupation of another, and by the troubling blend of religion and nationalism that's being used as the justification for another people, just as similar sorts of blends have been used to justify the oppression of my own people in the past?" How do I explain that to a frustrated 6th grader who understands 10 words of English using my 10 words of Arabic? How do I explain that to people in my own community, who'd likely cite what the kid said to me as an example of how Palestinian children are taught to hate from childhood, making it impossible for Israel to do anything other than live by the sword forever?
Another incident. Yesterday, I taught my group of English-speaking 8th graders. We're reading The Giver. It feels like a middle school English class in the United States. Only in this class, a Muslim student began the discussion by asking me about a completely unrelated topic. He asked me about Donald Trump's electoral prospects, because he'd been to the United States before and he'd like to go back to go to Disney World and the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios. Another thing that (hopefully) wouldn't happen: a Jewish student wouldn't yell "1948!" at him. What am I supposed to say here? "Yes, I'm worried about Trump too, but his proposal to ban Muslims would probably be unconstitutional and it would never get through Congress,oh, and Oren*, please don't make racist comments about your classmate." Easy for me to say-I get to go home in 3 months, to the comforts of my life as a privileged, white, American, Jew. I don't have to live my life as a Palestinian Muslim in today's world, with everything that entails, or as an Israeli teenager, with the pressures of thinking about daily terror attacks from childhood and with the existential threat of the Holocaust still present in the national consciousness.
This is my last post of 2015. I'm off to Spain for a week for a little vacation. I'll be coming back to Israel on New Year's Day, hopefully rejuvenated to think and write about these issues some more. I'm not really a praying sort, but as a year ends and a new one begins, I hope that 2016 will be a year of more peace and more justice, for all of the people of the world.
*Not his real name