Select Committee on International Development Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by John and Marjorie Scott


  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[254], 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 towards Israel.

  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.

Pertinent Queries.

  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 settlements?

  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 culture?

  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."

August 2003

254   See also Ev 252. Back

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