Palestinian Students Say “It Takes All of Us”

September 7th, 2022 - by Hassan El-Tayyab / National Friends Service Committee Washington Newsletter

Students at Ramallah Friends School in Palestine.

Ranallah Students Say “It Takes All of Us”

Hassan El-Tayyab

(August 31, 2022) — “It takes all of us” is the refrain of a song I wrote with a group of students at the Ramallah Friends School (RFS), a 150-year-old Quaker school in Palestine. Sung to the tune of Bill Withers and Grover Washington, Jr.’s 1980s hit, “Just the Two of Us,” the lyrics demonstrate the kids’ understanding of the conflict plaguing their region and how to solve it.

My time at RFS was part of my recent journey through Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territory (oPT). I wanted to better understand the Israeli occupation and blockade of Gaza from the perspectives of those living there and discuss ways to address these challenges.

I spent equal time in Israel and the oPT, speaking with stakeholders, taxi drivers, teachers, children, cooks, soldiers, nonprofit workers — anyone willing to share their experiences with me — to humanize and distill the magnitude of issues impacting this ancient land.

RFS was a particularly meaningful part of my trip. With over 1,500 students, it is the only school in Palestine offering a fully inclusive education to students, grounded in Quaker faith and principles. Even with restrictions under Israeli occupation, RFS continues to provide a world-class education to its students.

With over 1,500 students, it is the only school in Palestine offering a fully inclusive education to students, grounded in Quaker faith and principles.

I spent time with second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and tenth graders discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict and what we do at FCNL to lobby for peace in the Middle East.
We also wrote songs about bullying, racism, and the occupied Palestinian Territory—songs like “It Takes All of Us.” I was grateful for the joyful break that the music provide the students but worries were never too far from view.

Tenth graders Leen and Bassem told me about a beloved teacher from their elementary school who had been captured, tortured, and detained for five years for protesting the conflict.

“He was just expressing his thoughts as a normal Palestinian would do,” Bassem said. “In Israeli prisons, they put you in a one-meter cell with a bag over your head. Imagine being left alone in a prison cell and not having any contact.” The students described their teacher now as “a shell of his former self.”

Rania Maayeh, RFS head of school, said these situations have had a chilling effect on free speech as many Palestinians who hope for political change fear they could suffer a similar fate.

On the last day of my trip, I woke to news of the murder of acclaimed al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. A CNN investigation indicated that it was likely Israeli soldiers who fired the bullet, but Israel has denied responsibility, and the United States has accepted this denial.

During a lively brainstorming about possible solutions to the conflict, I told the students about our advocacy efforts to end US military participation in the Saudi-led war and blockade in Yemen.

The passage of the Yemen War Powers Resolution and other legislation to end US military support for the war changed what was thought to be possible in Congress.

Although Congress has rarely voted to hold violators of Palestinian human rights accountable for their actions, persistent advocacy could change that.

I committed to the RFS students that we would push for congressional votes that will finally start to shine a light and chip away at the inhumanity Palestinians face.

Even in these intense conversations, the RFS students’ innocence and optimism struck a nerve. They have had to grow up entirely too fast against the backdrop of travel restrictions, attacks on free speech, and an omnipresent threat of harassment and violence.

Nevertheless, their ability to develop the lyrics to “It Takes All of Us” is unsurprising. Built with a deep understanding of Quaker beliefs, RFS advocates for nonviolent conflict resolution and nurtures students to be “strong and sensitive members of their families, their community, and the world in which they live.”

Perhaps now is their moment to show us all what it means to see that of God in everyone.

Hassan El-Tayyab is FCNL’s legislative director for Middle East policy. His passion for foreign affairs is rooted in his desire to make life better for people in the Middle East, including his extended family in Jordan.