Over the past few months, we have seen a violent suppression of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. What started as a Palestinian nonviolent uprising against the removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheik Jarrah grew to a Palestinian movement throughout historic Palestine. As Israeli violence to suppress the movement intensified and was exposed on social media, the world found itself standing up for our humanity.
As bombs rained down on Gaza, eventually killing 256 people, including 67 children, people who had never paid attention before could no longer turn away. You cannot ignore the images of Israeli police kneelling on the necks of Palestinian men and young boys and not think about George Floyd. In fact, there are murals of George Floyd in Gaza and on the apartheid wall that snakes through Palestine’s West Bank. This is the kind of connection that Ethnic Studies calls on us to make.
That worldwide recognition of Palestine stands in stark contrast to the California State Board of Education (SBE), which recently voted to erase Palestine from Ethnic Studies curriculum entirely. On March 18, 2021, the SBE voted to adopt an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), which makes California the first in the nation to create a statewide Ethnic Studies model for school districts. Unfortunately, the final framework is so far removed from the original document that its writers, including myself, demanded that our names be removed.
The final ESMC is fraught with problems, but the edits that led to the most frustration among many of us who created the original draft and those advocating for its approval was the removal of the lessons we created on the Arab American experience from the Asian American Studies chapter, and the removal of anything related to Palestine, including the mention of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as an example of a U.S. social movement. BDS, modeled on the movement that contributed to ending apartheid in South Africa, was initiated by Palestinian civil society to bring international pressure on Israel to end its ongoing colonization and oppression of Palestinians. BDS was one bullet point in a list of many social movements students could further explore. Yet it became the focal point of a massive campaign by Zionist organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) that resulted in 18,000 public comments arguing against its inclusion.
The ctrl + alt + delete function was also used on Arab Americans listed as important figures in the original draft, including Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American and Muslim Congresswoman; Ilhan Omar, the first Somali American and Muslim Congresswoman; and Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian American activist and community organizer. Lessons that mentioned the 1948 Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”), when Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes by Zionist militias, were also excised. Al-Nakba is one of the biggest historical influences on Palestinians worldwide, including those living in California and throughout the United States.
The political movement among Zionist and other right-wing organizations to make sure that Palestine was not included in the ESMC is a microcosm of the larger movement of Palestinian erasure. This project of attempted erasure has taken place on many campuses and in many classrooms, including my own. I found my curriculum on Palestine/Israel under scrutiny by one of the same organizations leading the fight against our inclusion in the model curriculum, and I was subject to daily observations by administrators.
This project of erasure began before the state of Israel was created, when Zionist leaders anticipated and planned for the removal of Palestinians in order to create a state for Jews only. It has continued ever since, based on the Israeli hope that “the old will die, and the young will forget.” Israeli textbooks try to deny our identity as Palestinians by calling us “Arab travelers.” Another former Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, once said: “It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” And now it is projected that Israel has elected Naftali Bennett, a known far-right ultranationalist, as its next prime minister. Regardless, the project of attempted erasure will continue. Yet we have not forgotten; our memories have only sharpened.
When the model curriculum was passed, SBE President Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond stated: “Today we made an important step toward confronting and ultimately transforming racism in our society and in our state. . . This day has been a long time in coming, and we are reminded daily that the racial injustice it reveals is not only a legacy of the past but a clear and present danger.” Yet, based on the erasure of Palestine from the model curriculum, the California Department of Education must believe that Palestinians should be erased from conversations about racism—whether that is our omission from the model curriculum or the violent, racist efforts to physically erase us that continues on a daily basis to uphold the Israeli colonial project in historic Palestine. What isn’t accounted for is our resilience, our sumood (Arabic for “steadfastness”) and our knowledge that in the end justice will be on our side.
Samia Shoman, Ed.D, is a Palestinian-American educator, and Manager of English Learner and Compliance Programs, San Mateo Union High School District.