Teaching Indian students about Palestine

The other night I was invited by an old friend to dip my toe in the academic waters again to help launch BRISMES Campaigns, which was set up to advocate critical education on the Middle East, as well as implement BRISMESresolution to adopt BDS. The event was held at the annual BRISMES conference and our panel focused on the relationship between education and activism. I was happy to share the Zoom stage with Omar Barghouti, Sara Salem, and John Chalcraft who recently co-authored an important report about Zionist meddling in Britain’s history curriculum.

On the panel, I spoke about my experience teaching Indian students about Palestine, in the literature classroom, at Rishi Valley School, in order to offer a more truthful understanding than their history class which grossly misrepresented West Asia on a number of fronts. Using a lot of the resources I discuss in my book, The Politics of Teaching Palestine to Americans, including Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin, and films like Mai Masri’s Frontiers of Dreams and Fears, Arna’s Children, and Occupation 101, and Al Jazeera’s series Al Nakba.

I wrote about this at the time. RV, like a few thousand other private schools in India uses India’s Council for the Indian Certificate Examination ISC exam. It is that particular syllabus, as well as the British textbook used to teach the course, that portrayed a Zionist point of view. I hope to have a chance to study syllabi and textbooks used over time to get a clear sense of how India began to teach an ahistorical, incorrect narrative, especially as it relates to changes in India’s foreign policy with respect to Israel and Palestine. It’s in is incipient stages, but here are some findings from my talk. Also, if you want to watch the talk here’s the panel in its entirety.

And here is a trajectory of key events in the relations between India and Israel-Palestine since Independence on to which I hope to trace how India’s history curriculum went from what I expect to have been anti-Zionist to its present-day Zionist state. What I suspect is that this will look a lot messier than one might anticipate given the way in which India has been inconsistent in its relationship with Israel and the Palestinians from the beginning.

For me this education is important because without understanding the settler-colonial history and present in Palestine, it’s an uphill battle to recruit people to not only sign onto things like the Indian Campaign for the academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, but also to do things like campaign against the MoUs and study abroad programs between Indian and Israeli universities. In the UK, there’s a terrific resource at the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign that helps activists research the relationships between British and Israeli institutions, which should be replicated globally. Likewise, just as it’s terrific news that Indian farmers recently signed on to BDS, it’s important that such a gesture translates into action, such as refusing to work with Israel’s Centre of Excellence being set up around the country.