by Smra Ghafoor (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 8, Sha'ban, 1425)
Three British Muslimahs made headlines last month when they were arrested by the Israeli authorities in Jerusalem and accused of involvement in terrorism, before being cleared. Although they had gone to teach Palestinian children in Nablus, they ended up highlighting instead the Israelis’ harassment of international activists who try to assist the Palestinians. Here we publish accounts of their experiences by HAJIRA QURESHI, a student of mathematics at Cambridge University, and SMRA GHAFOOR, a primary-school teacher.
I went to Palestine hoping to offer some of my time and skills to people much less fortunate than ourselves. Being a primary school teacher, with four years’ teaching experience, I know that I have a lot to offer, not only to teach orphaned children who have so little hope in their lives, but also to offer my expertise in areas of curriculum and project-planning. I also wanted to spend time with families, to find out about their plight not from secondary sources, but from first-hand observation and eyewitness report, to feel how they feel, live how they live and be able to empathise with them. Most importantly, I wanted to bring those experiences back with me, and to highlight to children here how fortunate they are to be able to have an education, when people in other parts of the world are deprived of this right, either because they cannot afford an education or because there are not enough resources, or simply because it is too dangerous for them to walk to school.
The children in Palestine enter a life of struggle as soon as they are born. They are struggling to survive, living in a world in which they are constantly being suffocated by the Israelis. Not only do families struggle to feed their children, but many have had their homes destroyed also. They are totally isolated from the outside world, and now the illegal wall the Israelis are building has created a type of isolation never seen in the world before. Communities are being isolated from each other, as well as being cut off from their own land and water supply. They are being caged in by this monstrous wall and slowly strangled to death.
Education in a place like Palestine is a priceless treasure. Where children are starved of hope or any future prospects, and cut off from neighbouring communities, they need help, they need to see people reach out to them from other parts of the world, to instil some hope into their lives, empower them, give them some support. They need all this because they are the future of their people.
Unfortunately I never got to the West Bank, where I had wanted to teach. I remember, when the police told us we were going to be deported, I felt that I had been robbed of my hopes, plans and the experiences I wanted to learn from. In fact all through the ordeal, especially the night we were arrested, that was one of the things at the forefront of my mind. Were they arresting us because they had been informed that we intended to go to Nablus to teach? Would we be able to go? I had hoped and wished even till the last days we had in Jerusalem that somehow it might still be possible, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Words cannot describe how I felt… frustration… disappointment… to have come this far and then be stopped so cruelly and brutally… how unjust! Simply because we wanted to teach children in a place where Israeli oppression is so widespread and destructive. Do they want to keep all this hidden so people don’t know the truth of their oppression against the Palestinians? Is that why they so desperately wanted us to leave the country? Even now I feel incomplete, empty, as if we were robbed, although we have told our story and made the injustices in Israel an issue to be discussed in the media; I still feel this overwhelming loss of opportunity. I feel more strongly than ever before for the cause of the Palestinians, who seem to be a forgotten people. Their struggle is one the world needs to keep being reminded about.
Children have a right to education, and that is all I wanted to go out there and help with: to try to help to build lives that have so cruelly been destroyed. I hope that our story has highlighted the injustices that are going on, and how the Israeli government is being allowed to get away with denying a simple right like education to innocent children. We cannot sit back and let this happen. I hope that what has happened to us, and the fact that we were forced to leave the country, will not deter other people from going out to Palestine to offer whatever help they can. The Palestinians need our time, skills and presence to rebuild their lives, even more than they need our financial aid.