Pressure mounts against Friends’ Central School, Petition circulates to allow Dr. Atshan to speak and Reinstate TeachersPosted: February 17, 2017
Pressure continues to mount against Friends’ Central School, following the decision by head of school, Craig N. Sellars, to disinvite Dr. Sa’ed Atshan from a talk he had been scheduled to make at the school. Dr. Atshan is a Palestinian Quaker and Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College. Sellars also took the step of suspending the two teachers who invited Dr. Atshan to talk at Friends’ Central School. These actions were met by outrage from students at Friends’ Central, leading to a walkout on Friday.
QPIN is disappointed that Sellars has chosen to censor Dr. Atshan. We are also troubled that Sellars has chosen to punish the teachers, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa. We find Sellars’ decisions to be at odds with Quaker values and the open discernment process rooted peace, integrity, community, and equality.
QPIN encourages everyone to sign this petition asking Sellars to allow Dr. Atshan to speak and to reinstate the two teachers. As of Wednesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that more than 400 people signed the petition, drafted by Swarthmore professor Lara Langer Cohen.
Several months ago Dr. Atshan gave an interview with Steve Chase of Pendle Hill, a Quaker education center. This interview with Dr. Atshan was transcribed and published on the American Friends Service Committee blog, Acting in Faith. The interview gives voice to Dr. Atshan, and his work.
A Palestinian Quaker bears witness to pacifism
ACTING IN FAITH | BY SA’ED ATSHAN, FEB 14, 2017
I remember being a kid and being in silence with the [Ramallah Friends School] community: students, faculty, staff, hundreds of people together, in silence, and all around us you could hear the bulldozers, you could hear the Apache helicopters, you could hear missiles bombing buildings from the Israeli military, you could hear funeral processions passing by, you could hear youth preparing demonstrations, to throw rocks at the soldiers… There’s just madness, all around you, different kinds of noise. I think that the notion of silence and what it means to sit in silence is very different for different Quakers, depending on what kinds of noises you’re juxtaposing the silence to. In a place like Palestine, that juxtaposition is really powerful.
I identify very strongly as Quaker. I feel a deep moral conviction that is divine in some ways and I feel that I am called to be someone who bears witness to this peace testimony and to this commitment to nonviolence and I want to be one of those people who says, “I will never inflict violence upon another human being even if that means losing my own life. I’m not prepared to take someone else’s life away.” So even if that’s going to come at the cost of my own physical well-being, I’m prepared to then make that kind of sacrifice.
This is complicated with the discourse of self-defense. Oftentimes in the U.S. we hear that Israel has the right to self-defense, but we never hear that Palestinians have the right to self-defense. Palestinians should have the right to defend themselves from settlers taking over their ancestral lands, their homes being bulldozed, children being incarcerated, people having their olive groves destroyed, people witnessing unspeakable horror and systematic dispossession and displacement for 68 years now. Some Palestinians feel that Palestinians have the right, like any oppressed community, to use violence as a tool in order to liberate themselves from these chains of oppression.
Palestinian participants in an AFSC project to connect youth with their elders. AFSC/Middle East staff.
We have these debates within our society, and like African-Americans, there was [the] Nation of Islam, Black Panthers, Martin Luther King, there were different visions for liberation and resistance. Many Palestinians are deeply committed to nonviolence. I don’t feel like I’m in the minority. The overwhelming majority have never picked up weapons against another human being. But sometimes I am met with resistance where folks feel that I’m a bit too dogmatic.
Living in a violent world
I feel that unfortunately we live in such a violent world that there will always be people who are willing to pick up violence, and there will always be people who are readily engaged in those kinds of [violent] actions for the purpose of confronting a kind of evil. There needs to be a moral vanguard in every society of people who say “No, no matter what I’m going to remain pacifist.” In some ways, we hold the mirror to society and we are that constant reminder, that conscience, that if you’re going to use violence you need to really think about its implications, the threshold needs to be very, very high and you need to think about what happens to your own spirit along the way. So I feel this calling … to help support that Quaker witness, especially in a place that’s mired in so much violence.
When you are at the receiving end of physical violence, when physical violence is omnipresent, when it’s all around you, you understand its danger and you understand what it does to people’s souls, and you also understand that once you unleash it, how difficult it is to contain it, to control it, and to manage it. We have this sense that somehow violence…you can create these hierarchies and people can take orders and you can contain violence, but anyone who experiences a context of violence, like Israel-Palestine, sees how it has the potential to spiral out of control.
And the violence that you enact against the “other” can come back to you. We see that in both Israeli and Palestinian societies, with the intense militarization of Israeli society and forced conscription of Jewish men for three years and Jewish women for two years at the age of 18. We see high rates of domestic violence in Israeli households. Within Palestinian society, we’re seeing how the structural and physical violence from outside of the home is creeping into the home and exacerbating the rates of domestic violence.
Boats along the Gaza Strip AFSC/Middle East staff.
I find violence to be incredibly dangerous. I find it to be impossible to contain. And I find that it cannibalizes communities and I find that it chips away at people’s souls. That’s why I think adhering to nonviolence is so important, and why for Palestinian Quakers, often without a doubt, there’s a cognizance of why that’s so essential.
I think that my gay identity and Quaker identity intersect as well and this connects to the pacifism and to the commitment to nonviolence. I was not a masculine boy, not a very macho boy in a very macho society in which there’s toxic masculinity. I was the kid who threw the ball to the other team when we played soccer because I didn’t want to have people rushing toward me. I was the kid who never picked up a stone even though that’s a rite of passage, you pick up stones, it’s a rite of empowerment, and you throw it against the tanks and the military. I never picked one up, I never once felt that desire. I was always that kid who was into arts and theater.
I think that my Quaker identity and my Quaker faith really helps me reconcile all these different parts of my identity. I feel that I can be someone who doesn’t want to release more toxic, aggressive energy into the world since there’s so much of that already. I feel like my Quakerism helps me resist the temptation sometimes when I feel like my patience is being tested and I find myself getting angry. I feel like my Quaker faith, Quaker meeting for worship, being part of Quaker communities, helps me stay grounded and spiritually centered.
On resistance to oppression
As soon as hatred takes over our hearts, I think then the systems of oppression have prevailed. I think the colonizer, once they’ve colonized your heart and your spirit, that whole project of oppression has prevailed. I think what keeps me going is that despite these systems of oppression, that I am the master of my own soul, of my own spirit and that no one can take that away from me and this is something that I cherish and that I hold on to.
Watermelon. Creative Commons / flickr user Harsha K R.
During the first Intifada Palestinian uprising, it was actually illegal to fly the Palestinian flag. The Israeli army said it’s completely illegal. So my grandmother who is a painter, she said, “You know what? I’m going to paint a watermelon, it’s green, red, black, the colors of the Palestinian flag.” So she painted this beautiful watermelon. And then she displayed it prominently in our living room. And I remember once the soldiers raided the house and they said “What is that?” and they were so angry and they took it down and started stepping on it with their boots and my grandmother just smiled, this very innocent smile, and said, “Oh, it’s just a watermelon. I didn’t know.” And all of us we were afraid because the soldiers had guns and everything, but she looked at us and she winked at all of us. And she had this smile which was so mischievous.
But it just empowered us from such a young age which is to say, Yes, they have this quantitative power over us, this military power over us, but they don’t have control over that moment, us smiling. They can’t take that away from us, that moment, this insider resistance to the occupation that only we understand within the family, but that helps us sustain our spirits and helps us sustain our cohesion as a family, and it helps us overcome these unspeakable horrors. That is a message that I try to hold on to as well.
Thanks to Dr. Sa’ed Atshan, Steve Chase and Lucy Duncan
We were surprised and disappointed to learn on Friday that Friends’ Central School canceled a planned talk there by Dr. Sa’ed Atshan. Dr. Atshan is a Palestinian Quaker and professor of Peace Studies at Swarthmore College. QPIN has written the following response to Friends’ Central School’s decision in a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
I am writing on behalf of the Quaker Palestine/Israel Network (QPIN) to thank you for covering the story “Friends’ Central students protest cancellation of Palestinian speaker” and to express our disappointment with the administration of Friends’ Central’s decision to disinvite Dr. Sa’ed Atshan to speak to its students. As Quakers we have historically believed it is important to speak out against injustice and oppression, whether against slavery or against the apartheid system in South Africa. In South Africa the international non-violent Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement facilitated efforts to end apartheid. Today, Palestinians face systematic oppression at the hands of an apartheid state and QPIN supports the BDS call by Palestinians. Friends Schools were founded by Quakers as a path to equality, ending injustice and furthering knowledge about the world. Quakers have a long history in support of justice in Palestine/Israel dating back to the establishment of the Ramallah Friends School in 1869.
Quaker decision making is done through a discernment process rooted in values such as peace, integrity, community, and equality. We do not see those values reflected in Friends Central’s decision to disinvite Dr. Atshan, who is a respected educator and leader in the Quaker community. In addition to being a Palestinian Quaker and a professor at Quaker Swarthmore College, he is on the board of key Quaker institutions in the US and in Palestine. He was a graduate of Swarthmore and of the Friends School in Ramallah. His work with QPIN focuses on opportunities for American Quaker youth to visit Palestine.
Dr. Atshan has devoted his career to non-violent struggles for the marginalized, most notably in defense of LGBTQ rights in the US and abroad. Friends Central could not have found a more suitable candidate to address high schoolers about non-violent approaches to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In disinviting Dr. Atshan Friends Central administrators have made a decision at odds with Quaker values and the long Quaker legacy of support for peace and justice among Palestinians and Israelis.
Steve Tamari, Clerk, Quaker Palestine Israel Network
On behalf of QPIN Steering Committee
Even within Palestine there is no such thing as free passage for Palestinians. The land contains a complex network of walls and checkpoints that Israel uses to control Palestinian’s movement. Palestinians must use ID cards and biometric systems and are often flagged in Israeli databases and denied entry for arbitrary reasons.
Friends of SABEEL North American (FOSNA) has launched a campaign urging churches (including Quaker Meetings and other religious communities) to divest from Hewlett Packard. HP of course is a major contractor with the Israeli military. HP has built much of the IT infrastructure of the occupation that includes biometric systems at checkpoints that control Palestinian’s ability to travel though Palestine. In the spirit of apartheid era boycotts against Polaroid, who contracted with the white, South African government to make racialized ID card systems, FOSNA is urging people of faith to take a moral stand in places closest to our spiritual center–in our faith communities.
Many large Christian organizations have joined the call to divest from HP, as has Friends Fiduciary, and they are asking members of faith communities to take the next step in their communities. One church, Peace United Church of Christ in Santa Cruz, California has already agreed to divest from HP.
The campaign’s website contains a contact form to help connect those interested in starting a campaign in their religious communities with resources and add the names of faith communities pledging to become an HP Free Church. The FOSNA website also contains this useful presentation:
Action Alert! Global BDS Week begins November 25th.
The International Boycott HP Network and the Palestinian BDS National Committee are calling for an international week of action against HP over its role in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. The week of action will take place November 25-December 3, which includes the UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on November 29.
Find out more on the BDS Movement website, and sign the pledge.
Some suggestions from BDS Movement include:
Launch a campaign to get HP de-shelved from a local store.
If the store refuses, hold signs and flyer outside to escalate pressure and educate shoppers about HP and Palestine. Or flyer on a busy street during shopping season. Gather local signatures for the soon-to-be-released Boycott HP petition.
Organize a mock checkpoint or boycott HP flash mob!
Go holiday carolling — with boycott HP lyrics.
Hold an informational teach-in about what makes HP an important target.
Ask a local community institution or church to pledge to be HP-free.
Get creative putting Boycott HP stickers in smart places.
Host a social media house party; culture-jam HP with your friends on Twitter. Or sign up here to join a social media team to tweet/post throughout the week!
Organize an action outside of one of HP’s offices or tech industry gatherings.
Start building a municipal, campus, and faith-based campaign targeting HP.
Find out more about why HP is a good target for BDS, here.
Mohammed Omer, 32, is among the younger generation of Palestinian writers who work to narrate their own reality, despite the isolation and global indifference to their lives under military occupation. He began translating and writing at age 17 from Rafah (Gaza), and has since become an award-winning author and journalist covering life for Palestinians in Gaza for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Democracy Now!, Al Jazeera, The Nation, Pacific Radio, Electronic Intifada, Middle East Eye, and numerous European news outlets. Omer is currently a visiting Research Scholar at Harvard University.
His latest book, “Shell Shocked: On the Ground Under Israeli Assault,” is now available and has garnered support from scholars and activists.
“Mohammed Omer could easily have escaped the horror of Israel’s impending assault on the trapped and helpless people of Gaza,” says Noam Chomsky. “Instead, he chose to stay, to record, in searing and vivid detail, the savagery of Israel’s latest escapade of ‘mowing the lawn’ and steadfastness of the victims of a hideous tragedy.”
- Nov. 10-12: San Diego, California
- Nov. 13-15: Tucson, Arizona
- Nov. 16: Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Nov. 17: Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Dec. 8-9: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Dec. 10-11: St. Louis, Missouri
- Dec. 12-13: Chicago, Illinois
For more information, contact Jennifer Bing by email or call 312-427-2533 x19
A controversy erupted earlier this year when Jewish Voice for Peace disassociated itself from the organization If Americans Knew and its director Alison Weir. Not long afterwards, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation removed If Americans Knew from its coalition for violating the Campaign’s anti-racism principles which include rejection of anti-Semitism. In both cases, If Americans Knew and Ms. Weir were asked to stop associating with avowedly racist and anti-Semitic figures and organizations. Ms. Weir and her supporters contend that they are not racist but that in the interest of promoting Palestinian claims for justice, there is no harm—and, in fact, advantage—to being heard by those who are sympathetic to our position on Palestine even if they don’t share our values on other social justice struggles.
There is a Quaker dimension to this controversy. The Ann Arbor Friends Meeting Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG) defends If Americans Knew and takes the AFSC to task for being “dogmatic”. The PIAG statement implies that Quakers need not agree on the primacy of anti-racism in their work.
The QPIN Steering Committee appreciates the pioneering work of PIAG among US Quaker meetings on Palestine. However, we take issue with their support of Ms. Weir and If Americans Knew. QPIN stands in unity with the position of the American Friends Service Committee, a US Campaign coalition member organization. The position of the AFSC is clear and in line with the Quaker testimonies of peace, community, equality, and, most importantly in this case, integrity.
Since their beginnings, Quaker social activists have striven to hold tight to principles (and the ultimate guide of the Spirit) over and above what is socially acceptable. That is why so many, beginning with George Fox, prefer discomfort, imprisonment and even death over political expediency.
The events in the United States over the last year have reminded us how important it is to understand the structural nature of violence and racism as well as recognizing the structural foundations of Zionist racism and their colonial manifestations in Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora. We cannot be concerned only with Palestinian rights within Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories if those conditions are made possible by the deep-seated and structural nature of racism, including anti-Semitism, in the US itself.
The Black Lives Matter movement has shined the light on how mass incarceration, the militarization of police, and the intrusiveness of the national security apparatus are global phenomena in which the American and Israeli states are intimately tied. Thus, intersectional resistance among People of Color and their white allies are rightly at the forefront of Palestinian-led progressive organizations like the US Campaign.
Ten years ago Palestinian civil society organizations launched the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. Three years ago Palestinians committed to anti-racist principles had to dissociate themselves from “fellow travelers” who truck with racism. Once again, a Palestinian-led organization has the courage to assert the primacy of these principles. Earlier this fall, the US Campaign’s annual convention was devoted to anti-racism and intersectional activism under the banner “Advancing a Mass Movement for Palestine”.
It behooves those of us engaged in the struggle for justice in Palestinians—especially predominantly white American Quaker communities—to check our privilege, stay true to our principles, and not attempt to second-guess principled stands taken by Palestinians.
We are back! The Quaker Palestine Israel Network website is back up and running after a period of inactivity. The members of the new Steering Committee, Lauren Brownlee (Bethesda Monthly Meeting), Lauren Ballester (Plymouth Monthly Meeting), Ted Klyce (Madison, WI Meeting), Jennifer Bing (American Friends Service Committee, Middle East program liaison), Lucy Duncan (Green Street Meeting), and Steve Tamari, clerk (St. Louis Meeting), want to acknowledge the efforts of our former members Maia Hallward, Lucia Kalinosky, Carol Nickle, and Tory Smith.
We—like so many in Quaker and social justice circles more broadly—were deeply saddened by the passing of a founding member and Steering Committee clerk Tony Bing on March 20, 2015. Tony was a life-long and tireless advocate for justice for Palestinians and a mentor and friend to so many of us. He is dearly missed.
This website will continue to serve as a clearinghouse for information and links related to Quakers and the struggle for justice in Israel-Palestine.