Education is a field for sharing knowledge, skills and attitudes that express respect for values. In the Palestinian context the overarching value of sumud stands for a third way of non-violence – neither succumbing to the occupation nor getting overwhelmed by hate in confronting the occupier. It promotes keeping the dignity of daily life, the connection to the land and the preservation of hope for change. Inspired by this approach, the sumud program aims to develop open values based upon a connection with one’s own culture, land, religions, rights and identity, and respect for the other’s sources of identity.
The program follows three stages which build upon and support each other:
- A community-based search for sources of meaning making, identity and values in relation to the Palestinian land.
- The development of knowledge of and respect for the other’s sources of identity, culture and values.
- The development of concepts and practices of peace and non-violence, including advocacy for individual, national and community rights.
Particular attention is paid to the role of youth, educators and especially women as peacemakers.
The Sumud program is divided as follows.
Firstly, sumud is about showing the deep connection with the land as a shared and meaningful space for Palestinians to live in, and to find value- and rights-based connections with others who are also living in this land, especially in Moslem-Christian relations of living together but also in relation toward Israeli Jews active in peace movements (inter-religious relations).
Secondly, the program supports the collecting and sharing of daily life narratives of Palestinian values and identity to show a non-stereotypical image to international audiences. The stories are collected through interviews and preserved in text and image in various websites including HolySwitch and Palestine-Family.net, of which AEI is local coordinator.
Thirdly, we also work with sumud in the strict rights-based sense of the word; that is, where the land-people connection is at stake. An example is the Rachel’s Tomb area in Bethlehem, where people are pushed away as a result of the presence of the Wall. The Sumud House, which was established in 2007, is located directly opposite the Wall there and is a center for awareness raising activities locally and internationally. The House’s activities foster persistence in staying on the land, and conducting advocacy for the civil and political rights of the people living there. It is important after its start that the House will be consolidated during the coming three years and that its activities will become well-known in the neighborhood and in Bethlehem in general.
Fourthly, we do not only target an international audience but also Palestinian teachers and youth (Palestine in Education project). They are often not well-informed about the Palestinian narrative, certainly so youth among Palestinian communities in Israel but also in the West Bank, Gaza and East-Jerusalem.
The Sumud Program fosters inter-religious relations in Palestine and the Holy Land through learning projects:
- Living in the Holy Land, Respecting Differences balances general religious approaches with more concrete issues of daily life “sumud” which students face. It aims to show how the values brought out by the monotheistic religions are relevant to the lives of the students, and will foster connections with the land and its communities. The project includes lesson plans for students at 15 schools in Ramallah and Bethlehem, teacher workshops at the beginning and the end of the year, and guest lectures and discussion meetings at all the schools involved, twice a year. Other activities of this program, especially the fieldtrips and the Peace Day celebration, are also integrated into this project.
- Fieldtrips to (inter-)religious places show our groups how people keep community and their connection with the land – real and symbolic. The choice of annually some five fieldtrips depends on the political and safety situation but they take place either in the vicinity of Bethlehem or further away near other Palestinian cities like Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron. The aim of the fieldtrips is primarily to show and learn about people’s religious stories of the land and its communities, and is integrated in the Living in the Holy Land project.
- In its weekly meetings, AEI’s groups (7 groups) discuss issues of relevance to their daily lives, and look for avenues of change and hope, crossing Moslem-Christian borders.
- AEI annually hosts international volunteers among other things to conduct series of interviews with local persons about “sumud” experiences with work, family and community life. The stories are placed on AEI’s website and on www.palestine-family.net.
- A story-oriented action research is presently developed in the. Rachel’s Tomb area, collecting stories connected with inhabitants and families, objects, buildings, community places, and so on, in order to create a collective memory of localized stories to be made available for visitors.
- AEI further develops a documentation (in Arabic and English) on Palestinian cultural identity and values, including websites (Palestine-family.net and aeicenter.org), and in books, videos, and CDs.
- Annually two publications show the spirit of sumud in Bethlehem and Palestine.
- AEI develops relations with local heritage and cultural centers to cooperate in the fields of family and community history, fieldtrips, and cultural publications and initiatives.
- AEI continues researching the concept of sumud in relation to the educational concept of hope and community-oriented concepts such as African ubuntu. AEI holds a local or international academic conference and uses that opportunity to deepen and discuss our educational experiences with sumud.
Sumud House at Rachel’s Tomb area
- Three women’s groups have been formed in the Rachel’s Tomb area that support non-violent actions in relation to the Wall, giving talks to visiting foreigners, conducting training in advocacy, and support income generating projects for the inhabitants.
- Within its limited possibilities, the Sumud House supports income generating projects for women and families in the neighborhood.
- AEI organizes events near the Wall at the Sumud House. The events are an activation of social space and, by their adjacency to the Wall (in fact, the Wall becomes a “stage”), they underline the contrasts between community life vs. the message of suffocation and fragmentation emitted by the Wall. Events are chosen that bring a convincing message of life through singing performances, dance, text, graffiti and cultural symbols. Reports in text, video or photos are distributed through AEI’s mailing system.
- We focus each year on one major event in May/June, especially AEI”s Sumud Festival, in which international artists and cultural workers participate, as local families. In addition, three more events take place each year.
- In some cases, the events will be part of international campaigns, such as Peace Day (celebrated together with our peace and non-violence networks, and integrated into the Living in the Holy Land project), Christmas/peace events, and the June week (part of an annual action convened and promoted by the World Council of Churches).
- Story materials are developed by the sumud house to illustrate the experiences of communities affected by the Wall. They provide suggestions for discussion and meditation, and include examples of prayers, and background information.
- AEI will continue the annual action undertaken together with various international peace organizations, especially Pax Christi International and the World Council of Churches (Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum), to invite internationals to send wishes and prayers by email to Bethlehem.
Palestine in Education
- AEI is scheduled to continue the Palestine in Education project which conducts advocacy for giving the Palestinian identity and reality a stronger place in Palestinian education. This project, implemented together with the advocacy organization OPGAI and Ittijah in the Galilee, and involving networks of NGOs and teachers/educators in the Bethlehem area and the Galilee, promotes active and creative learning of value-oriented Palestinian narratives including sumud.