Memorandum submitted by John and Marjorie
We are a married couple. Members of the Religious
Society of Friends since the early 1970s we took early retirement
from teaching in the state Secondary School system in the 1980s.
An earlier and honourable career (J Scott) of some 20 years in
the Metropolitan Police Criminal Investigation Department, we
think, equipped us both to view human behaviour without rose coloured
spectacles. Our present interest in the Middle East and Ramallah
on the West Bank in particular, started in 1984. We took part
in a carefully planned study tour of the "Holy places"
mounted by the Quaker College, Woodbrooke in Birmingham. Besides
having a spiritual content, a great deal of time and attention
was given before and during the tour to a study of the political
situation in Israel/Palestine. Both members of the Royal Navy
at the later end of the war against Fascism, our natural sympathy
with the plight of European Jews and our Christian upbringing
and Bible knowledge inclined us to have sympathy with the establishment
and existence of Israel at this time. It was the Woodbrooke tour,
which affected this mind set.
In 1985 we became volunteers in a Middle East
Programme mounted by British Friends through its Department then
called Quaker Peace and Service. Posted as teachers in the Friends
Girls School in Ramallah we soon established lasting friendships
with parents, staff and students. Requested to stay by the School's
Management, our period of service was limited to two years because
of the determined policy of Q.P.S. not to establish a "dependency"
situation. The relationships we established in the Ramallah community
and with the small Ramallah Palestinian Friends Meeting resulted
in our frequent private return visits for periods of one month
or so every year until 1997 when a particular friend, a very fine
Palestinian Quaker woman died. Nevertheless, after this we continued
close contact with Ramallah friends by correspondence. In 2002
we were asked by Friends United Meeting World Ministries Department,
at a particularly difficult time for the Schools, to consider
a three-year appointment as "Friends in Residence" in
Ramallah. We are both quite elderly and difficulties in obtaining
medical insurance resulted in a stay limited to six months in
Ramallah from September 2002 to April of this year. Our duties
largely consisted of help and support for the Director of the
Schools, Colin South,
a British Quaker, and his wife Kathy, a Careers Counsellor. We
are due to return to Ramallah for a stay of four months at the
end of September next.
John and Marjorie Scott, with some experience
of teaching and helping with the administration of the Friends
Schools in Ramallah submits the following memorandum in evidence.
Preamble. The Work of Quakers in the Middle East.
American and British Quakers have a history
of activity in the Middle East that took off in the early 19th
Century when the Religious Society of Friends was gripped with
missionary zeal which, it should be said, was always marked by
the predominance of service over "soul saving". At the
turn of the 19th-20th Century an agreement was reached to enable
American Quakers to have charge of the work in and around Ramallah.
The British continued the work in Lebanon. Friends United Meeting,
the American combination of some Quaker Yearly Meetings in the
USA, Kenya and other parts of the world, retains control of the
property ownership in the two prestigious Friends Schools in Ramallah/El-Bireh.
Management of the Schools is now in the hands of a locally recruited
board of mixed faith Trustees, but FUM retains a great interest
and some influence in the affairs of the schools. The earlier
establishment of separate education for boys at the school buildings
in El-Bireh and the school for girls in Ramallah has, in recent
years been replaced with a co-educational system with the lower
school, including a kindergarten, in Ramallah and the Upper School
at the former Boys School in El-Bireh. The student population,
all of which are now drawn from the Palestinian population in
Ramallah and surrounding villages, numbers almost 1,000; the majority
of whom are Muslims (about 75%). 26% of the students enjoy scholarship
or assisted status. Parents are predominantly of influential and
professional middle class background. Over the years, many of
them violent and marked with civil unrest, under Ottoman, British,
Jordanian and now Israeli rule, the Quaker Schools have exerted
a profound cultural influence. They offer today, as it has since
their foundation, a liberal education based on a peaceful motivation
far different to the cultural traditions (irrespective of religions),
which have prevailed hitherto in the Middle East. It is very remarkable
that the Schools continue to survive and to remain faithful to
their Quaker foundation. That they have done so has much to do
with the respect afforded to the Quakers by successive generations
of Palestinian people.
Our picture of the Ramallah community. Common
misconceptions. The expanding Middle Class. Cultural understanding.
The declining influence of Palestinian Christians.
It is a mistake to view The West Bank Palestinian
Society as part of the "Third World". There is a sophisticated
and expanding middle class, strongly influenced by Western and,
in particular, American culture. Generalising, it is possible
to say with truth, that Palestinians wish to acquire Western technical
skill and "know how"; aspire to Western high standards
of living but not at the cost of their own culture, morality and
religious beliefs. There is a great deal of evidence of small-scale
enterprise and initiative. It is also evident that there is a
plethora of unused skills and qualifications. For Westerners there
is a formidable barrier of cultural mindsets, traditional behaviour
and customs that has to be sympathetically appreciated before
any depth of understanding can be achieved. It ought also to be
recognised that there is much about this foreign culture that
should offer lessons to us all. That is not to deny that fundamentalist
Mullah led Islam exerts a profound influence still not only on
the poorly educated and poverty stricken people, of which there
are very many both in the West Bank and Gaza but on the young,
men in particular. It must be borne in mind that in this society
the young predominate. In a cultural sense there are strong bonds
of behaviour and common outlook between the Muslim and the various
Christian denominations in the Palestinian population. It is possible
to say that it is among Christians that the spirit of reason and
compromise can best be found. In fairness, this might be explained
because of their business sense and connection with wealth. Even
so it is a matter of pragmatic regret that it is among Christians
that the emigration rates are spectacularly high. This process
seems to have been facilitated by Israeli Governments and policies
of receiving Governments who favour Christians over Muslim immigrants.
Whatever their effect upon the politics of the peace process it
seems to be clear that the Christian influence is in decline.
Honesty, Integrity and Corruption in the Community.
Early in our experience as teachers in the Friends
Girls School we were alarmed by our discovery of wholesale cheating
in the first classroom examinations we set. Concerned by our distress,
which we shared with the class, a highly intelligent young woman
student sought an early opportunity to elucidate. "I have
several cousins in the class", she explained. "It is
my family duty to help them in any possible way I am able. If
I know the answer to a question, if I can, I share it around.
This is not wrong or dishonourable in our culture". Thereafter,
our examination procedures were carefully and tactfully tightened
up. We suspect that fundamental standards of honesty and integrity
among people of different religions, races and cultures differ
little. The experience of the Friends Schools in grant administration
is that carelessness offers opportunity to the lax or criminal
mind. On the other hand an expectation of double-dealing, besides
being humiliating, will invite bad behaviour in response. Provided
there is a sensible system of independent checks and inspections
we have no reason to think that Palestinians will behave in a
way that is much different to any other groups of people elsewhere
in the world. That nepotism and corruption existed in the Palestinian
Authority we have no doubt. How much worse this may have been
than, for instance, in Israeli Government circles, or even in
the Government of the USA we can only guess. We do think the culpability
of the Palestinian Authority has been exaggerated for propaganda
purposes, but we have no evidence to confirm our opinion.
Hopes for Democracy.
A word ought to be said about our experience
of democracy in the student body in the Ramallah Schools. In the
1980s we were frustratingly involved in the function of a representative
body of students. We learned from this that Western concepts of
democracy and the conduct of meetings are not easily transferred.
It is quite possible that a Middle Eastern style of representative
Government might evolve, given encouragement, which satisfies
the culture. What seems clear to us is that notions of equality,
free speech and tolerance of majority rule cannot be imposed and
will probably take generations of mistakes and painful adjustment
to learn and relearn.
Towards a Realistic View of the Depth of Feelings
Every teacher knows that the opinions of the
students are often a mirror reflection of those of their parents,
perhaps exaggerated by the black and white imagery of the young.
A marked difference in our teaching experience with Palestinian
students and that which we enjoyed with our British pupils, is
the great value that is placed upon education. In the Ramallah
all-girls school, as it was then, the dominating ambition, often
expressed, was to secure good educational and, if possible, professional
qualifications, to get married and produce a large family (in
order to outnumber the Israelis, they said) and only then to take
up a useful profession. The students were then and are still possessed
of great feelings of hatred and resentment towards those who they
see as their oppressors. There is perhaps a difference between
the 1980s and the present day. Then the hope was still entertained
that "the Jews" would one day, with the help of God,
be pushed out of Palestine. The years of severe punishment for
rebellion have taken their toll. Now, there is much more of a
recognition that the odds are impossibly against this happening.
There is a longing for a lasting but just peace. But hopes are
not high. Attitudes to extremist groups are ambivalent. Most reject
the murderous attacks against soft targets but some will excuse
the suicide bombers on the grounds that this is the only response
available to Palestinians. A small, free and viable West Bank
and Gaza state without Israeli settlements and with East Jerusalem
as its capital might now be acceptable to most. The British experience
in Northern Ireland should show that to a minority this compromise
would not be sufficient. The demand for an absolute cessation
of violent opposition before negotiation is not realistic. Every
time the Israeli military and security forces strike against real
or imaginary enemies within the Palestinian community the wells
of hatred and revenge are renewed. The extremists Palestinian
Groups know well that every hopeful move towards a negotiated
peace can be defeated with a bus bomb. Despite this, it is quite
beyond the understanding of the many students and Palestinians
with whom we conversed in our last visit how the world can allow
the continued construction of the wall designed to separate one
set of people from another.
The Application of Aid.
Decisions about the application of aid will
be very difficult in view of the wilful destruction by the military
of many grant-aided buildings that were provided to house benefits
of earlier grants made to the Palestinian Authority. We have seen
small but very impressive examples of Palestinian management and
take over of grant aided projects. Just one example (one of many
which could be provided) is the "Society of Inash el-Usra".
Inspired and managed entirely by women, it is a successful, caring
and successful orphanage in Ramallah. It is natural for us to
advocate Educational projects and to point to the Friends Schools
in particular, but we do think that a new approach to education
in Palestine might prove to be very significant for the long-term
future of Islam. We are much impressed by the view of a friend
and fellow Quaker, Graham Leonard, a Harvard graduate in Education
who lived and worked in Ramallah for more than 30 years. He points
to the Golden Age of Islam (755-1055 CE) as one of the most creative
periods in world history until the modern era. The key to that
creativity was discussion-based method of teaching/learning Humanities.
It is well known that great value is placed upon memorisation
and rote learning in Islam and in the Middle East generally. This
certainly does not help independent or individual thinking and
probably accounts for many negative aspects of present day Islam.
The Friends School's Management encourage their teaching staff
to aspire to opening the minds of their students, and as we have
observed earlier, Muslim parents largely accept this approach.
Money spent on education, and in particular liberalised education
must yield beneficial results, although this will take time.
Do you see any possibility of the Sharon Government
willingly accepting the existence of a Palestinian state within
the 1967 boundaries or agreeing to the removal of the illegal
Why do the Palestinians require a military style
Police? Why not a very lightly armed civil Police based on Municipal
boundaries with an integrated but separately commanded Criminal
and Special Detective branches? What positive effect might Developmental
grants designed to train and produce such a force have on the
Pending the establishment of a Palestinian State
why do the Israelis rule out the sending of a UN Peace Force to
the occupied territories?
Is it realised that the restoration of law and
order in the Occupied Territories would be much against the interests
of many Palestinians? Quite apart from criminal activity, look
at rents for example. Many, impoverished by unemployment now refuse
to pay landlords and are heavily in debt. Would a new Palestinian
Authority at some time in the future be bound to abolish the unfair
rent fixing and security of tenure laws (imposed by the British)?
Conclusion, The View of the Palestinian Quakers.
We end our evidence with an excerpt from a message
that we were asked to bring to the notice of British Quakers by
the small Palestinian Quaker Meeting in Ramallah when we returned
in April. Jean Zaru, an eminent worker on the stage of the World
Peace Movement, and a retired member of the Central Executive
of the World Council of Churches, is the Clerk of the Meeting.
"The Palestinians in the West Bank and
especially Gaza live under an utterly ruthless oppressive rule
the nature of which is an offence to civilized human beings and
to the God of love and peace whom we seek to serve. A regime where
there is no justice. Where human rights are non-existent. Where
torture is legalised. Where imprisonment without trial is practiced
on a grand scale. Where state assassination of real or imagined
enemies is a matter of boastful pride. Where the homes of the
families of those enemies and those who merely happen to live
in the same block of flats and all their household goods are destroyed.
Where land sequestration goes unchallenged and where soldiers
are given the right to shoot to kill anyone who is deemed to be
a threat, however young. Ramallah Friends see all this and much
more. They say why aren't our brothers and sisters in Christ and
all reasonable human beings doing more to help us."
254 See also Ev 252. Back