rs21 teachers argue why educators across the country have a duty to talk about Palestine.
Images from Gaza are flooding our TV screens and ever-present on the internet; they are filling our timelines and phone screens; they are topics of conversation on the bus or in the playground. But there is a conspicuous silence in many schools about the situation in Palestine. We need to break that silence.
What is happening in Palestine?
There are lots of things to read that give a full account of the history of Palestine, including the rs21 archive, but there are some fundamental facts that all educators should keep in mind.
Firstly, Palestinians are facing a concerted attempt to wipe them out in a process of ethnic cleansing that goes back to 1948. Israel is a settler colonial state that, like all colonial states, needs to expunge the indigenous population from existence if it is to protect its claim to the land of Palestine. For educators, this is an important point, as we cannot in good conscience deliver lessons and assemblies about historical events like the Rwandan Genocide, the genocide against Native Americans or even the Holocaust, whilst ignoring a real and ongoing genocide today. This should be the starting point for all discussions about Palestine and we shouldn’t accept any whataboutery detracting from this central fact.
Secondly, war crimes are being committed in Palestine. While people can now point to the deliberate targeting of civilians by Hamas on October 7, this pales in comparison to the ongoing war crimes committed by the state of Israel both before and after October 7. In the context of a brutal occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, where collective punishment is continually used by Israel to target civilians, to solely focus on October 7 is to justify past and continuing war crimes.
Thirdly, Israel is an apartheid state. Educators with a sense of social justice would not tolerate the existence of a racist, apartheid state anywhere else in the world. Indeed, teachers were an important component of the anti-apartheid solidarity movements that sought to break the apartheid system. Today, we need educators to apply those same principles to the deconstruction of apartheid across all of Palestine.
Why is it important? Our role as workers
International solidarity with those facing war and oppression should be a basic principle for all workers. We all live in an interconnected world, where our own ruling class strengthens itself through its support for ruling classes in other states. Our government sells weapons to, helps to fund and provides political cover for the state of Israel. We have a duty, based in our shared humanity, to oppose our government’s support for and profit from genocide.
Why is it important? Our role as educators
The genocide in Palestine is the key news story of the day and we have a duty, as educators, to both explain the issues to pupils and to facilitate discussion about it. The general public, while solidly behind a ceasefire, knows all too little about the wider issues in Palestine. While this is in part the result of media bias, it is also the result of an education system that has failed to prepare people to confront the reality of the situation. Just as when we are talking about other ‘controversial’ topics such as trans rights, immigration or sexism, we have a duty to give every child access to the truth, regardless of whatever they might be hearing at home. Palestine should be no exception.
Equally, we are role models for our pupils. Our pupils should see educators that stand up for what is right and don’t look the other way. Many teachers were crucial in building political and material solidarity with Ukraine when it was invaded by the Russian state – that should be the model we use to guide our actions on Palestine. If schools collected shoeboxes for Ukraine, they should do it for Palestine; if they flew the Ukrainian flag, they should fly the Palestinian one; if they did an assembly on Ukraine, they should do one on Palestine. To not do so is to send the clear message that the struggles of people in Europe are more important than the struggles of people in the Middle East.
Imagine being a Muslim or Arab pupil and seeing your school go all out for Ukraine but ignore the issue of Palestine – it would be hard not to come to the conclusion that your school was racist and that the lives of people who look like you didn’t matter as much. This is not a situation that educators can let happen. We should be challenging school leaderships that allow this situation.
Palestine is an organising issue in schools. Union reps and activists should be taking up the issue in order to provide basic solidarity for Palestine; that can include collections amongst the staff or fundraisers aimed at parents and students. Carrying out these activities will also give educators the space to raise awareness of the issues and educate members of the school community. We should also support the right of students to protest against the war, and oppose the government’s attacks on such protests.
Reps and activists in schools should also organise around the question of the curriculum in relation to Palestine. It is not good enough to ignore the issue, and schools are failing if they do. Equally, you cannot simply parrot British or Israeli government propaganda, as this does nothing to explain the truth of what is occurring. Reps and activists should be empowering members to teach the truth about the occupation. We should also be opposing those schools that fail in their duty by closing down debate and shutting down discussion.
Lastly, the latest violence in Palestine is simply the latest expression of a brutal and violent process of ethnic cleansing. That process would continue, even if there is a ceasefire tomorrow. We need to be thinking about how we can build the foundations for a comprehensive boycott, divestment and sanctions movement now – a movement that will oppose the ethnic cleansing going forward, not just when it’s on the news.