‘Gaza In Context’: Introducing Israel’s Settler-Colonial Ambitions to the American Classroom

By Palestine Center Interns — Sarah Dickshinski, Abby Massell, Zoë Reinstein, and Mirvat Salameh

In the devastating wake of Israel’s 2014 military campaign into Gaza (Operation Protective Edge), for the first time ever the American media turned a critical eye toward Israel’s disproportionate and collective punishment of the people of Gaza. Seeking to alter discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, international academics, activists, and artists came together with the Arab Studies Institute and produced Gaza in Context, a multimedia documentary combined with lesson plans for teachers and professors. The project challenges squarely the U.S. and Israeli dominant narrative. By including Palestinian narratives, it counters the perception of Israeli victimization in the American educational system; therefore, Gaza in Context is a crucial academic project that contextualizes Israel’s involvement in Gaza and situates Israel’s continuous aggression and siege within its broader settler-colonial ambitions. The project as a whole attempts to shift the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in American classrooms away from Israeli hasbara and to nuance discourse on Palestine as an entity under Israeli military occupation.

Across American classrooms, Palestinian narratives are largely excluded from academic curricula concerning the Middle East, political science, and history, and when they are included, they are often reduced to topics on Hamas and terrorism.1 When examining counter-terrorism and homeland security courses at American universities, it is common to find that the curricula scapegoat Hamas as a source of Israel’s “existential threat.”2 Although academic texts such as Islamism by Anders Strindberg and Mats Wa?rn use a postcolonial studies approach to examine the context of Hamas’s existence in relation to a settler-colonial regime, academics and scholars remain wary of countering pro-Israel academia.

Heavily biased curricula and policies hiding behind the guise of objectivity are protected and promoted by pro-Israel lobby groups across college campuses. This has led to the silencing of professors such as Dr. Steven Salaita, whose upcoming position at the University of Illinois was revoked in response to tweets on his personal Twitter account condemning the brutality of Operation Protective Edge. With academic freedom under threat, it is no surprise that discourse regarding Israel and Palestine continues disproportionately to victimize Israel, promoting an inaccurate and one-sided picture of the Palestinian struggle. A critical examination of Israeli-Palestinian relations clearly acknowledges Israel’s responsibility for placing Palestinians under military occupation. Gaza in Context moves toward a more nuanced analysis that examines the Palestinian condition as one rooted in Israel’s settler-colonial rule.

In response to hasbara in the American education system, Gaza In Context informs a diverse audience through varying representations of information including statistics, graphics, maps, photographs, news footage, and a timeline. In addition to placing Gaza in the greater Israeli-Palestinian context, the film also educates about Israel’s razing of Gaza, specifically the most recent of fourteen operations since Israel’s settler withdrawal in 2005. The video emphatically relays the number of people injured and killed and the number of schools, hospitals, and homes destroyed in order to convey the scope of civilian casualties of Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza.

The film’s timeline establishes the impossibility of Hamas as Israel’s sole reason for the prolonged siege and destruction of Gaza. Israel has occupied Gaza since 1967, then laid siege to it since 1991; Hamas did not emerge until 1988, did not launch its first suicide attack until 1994, and did not fire its first rocket attack until 2001. This visualization of information demonstrates the inconsistency of Israel’s “Hamas problem” that is taught to American students across the United States. The film points to Gaza as merely a symptom of Israel’s wider goal to erase Palestinians; a political solution that acknowledges this root issue is the only one that could make any lasting difference. The fundamental claim of Israel is that it has no choice but to defend its country and citizens by repeatedly leveling Gaza, where Hamas resides and grows — a method to which human rights activists often refer as “mowing the lawn.” This argument implies that without Hamas, Israel’s treatment of Gaza would be quite different, and here is where the video upsets that narrative. The analysis does not downplay the enormity of past destructions of Gaza; rather, it attempts to place the sieges and wars in context with Israel’s mistreatment of all Palestinians across Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Israel. Furthermore, the video sheds light on Israel’s larger settler-colonial ambitions throughout Palestine using strategies of dispossession, displacement, and concentration.

The production team behind Gaza In Context poignantly combats the alienation and silencing of educators such as Dr. Salaita, whose views were not allowed to be expressed on a campus. So long as fear and rejection of Palestinian voices exist, there will be a desperate need for pedagogical projects particularly intended for the time of worldview formation. By molding a truthful and unique context for Israel’s siege of Gaza, the film as the focal point of the larger project serves as an imperative tool for educators across the United States to pivot the next generation’s understanding toward justice for Palestinians.

1. Kapitan, Rima Najjar. “Academic Freedom as a Fundamental Human Right in American Jurisprudence and the Imposition of ‘Balance’ on Academic Discourse About the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.” Arab Studies Quarterly 33.3/4 (2011): 268-81. Web.

2. Strindberg, Anders, and Mats Wa?rn. Islamism: Religion, Radicalization, and Resistance. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2011. Print. 

Sarah Dickshinski, Abby Massell, Zoë Reinstein, and Mirvat Salameh are Summer 2016 Interns at The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.

The views in this brief are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.