Friends United Meeting Statement on False Accusations
August 14, 2017 | Richmond, IN – On August 9, 2017, a radical group published an article with gross mischaracterizations regarding the Ramallah Friends School (RFS) and the Go Palestine Summer Camp. Two US Senators -- Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) -- have since requested that USAID – a funder of RFS initiatives -- investigate such allegations.
Through decontextualization and distortions, the article falsely portrays our partner institution as promoting “extremism.” FUM and RFS strongly reject the smearing attempt and all accusations linking any of our activities to the support, affiliation or partnership with extremist elements. The record is clear of RFS’ deep commitment to Quaker faith and values, as well as a firm belief in coexistence in the Middle East. The Quaker peace testimony, with pacifism at its core, undergirds RFS’ mission as a school community and lies at the heart of all RFS programming. The school teaches, conflict resolution, opposition to militarism, the Holocaust, seeing the Light of God in every human being, and has a zero tolerance policy for violence. RFS has been nicknamed the “Oasis of Peace” by many of its friends and visitors. Peace loving individuals and organizations recognize, support and nurture our programs and encourage their growth, not attack them.
Friends United Meeting is a collection of Quakers embracing Quaker churches (meetings) and institutions across the United States and around the world. We have supported the establishment and running of the Ramallah Friends School, the Quaker school in Palestine, since 1869. The Ramallah Friends School launched Go Palestine seven years ago, bringing together 14-17 year old Palestinian diaspora youth and/or Quaker youth for a three week summer program each year. The main purpose of the program is to help these youth connect with their Palestinian and Quaker heritage.
We strongly reject reports stating that Go Palestine and RFS encourage campers/students to “hate Israel and idolize terrorists” as stated. Contrary to that, we encourage students to be open to other narratives and for those with the urge to act in response to the injustice and oppression they are living, we cheer their peaceful approach. We draw from history and give them examples of how liberation was successful through peaceful means.
The article in question, labels Go Palestine as “controversial,” and makes the defamatory accusation that the camp includes “lectures by militants, some with terrorist connections.” The article attempts to justify this allegation by citing the lecture that campers heard from Nasser Ibrahim, described as an “associate” or “affiliate” of a “terrorist” group. Go Palestine does not include radical individuals or groups on its itinerary. Nasser Ibrahim currently serves as Co-Director of the Alternative Information Center (AIC), a joint Israeli-Palestinian non-governmental organization. Campers visited the AIC to examine how Palestinians and Israelis work together to further peace and co-existence. Ibrahim volunteered to speak with them and the camp director accepted his invitation. Ibrahim talked about the work of AIC; nothing that was inflammatory or that alluded to violence was shared. He also did not receive any form of payment from Go Palestine. It is precisely because of the Ramallah Friends School’s commitment to coexistence that this informal talk with the campers was permitted to proceed.
It is an unreasonable burden for the Ramallah Friends School, given all of its programming, including the Go Palestine program, to have to conduct security checks on the background of every individual and vendor with whom students interface. The school does its best to ensure that all interlocutors with students share the Quaker commitment to nonviolence, tolerance and coexistence.
Considering the prolonged military occupation context of the West Bank, campers and non-campers alike are bound to encounter ex-prisoners and monuments for “martyrs.” The Go Palestine program properly contextualizes these experiences for the youth so that they do not have to process such overwhelming realities on their own. For instance, while touring Birzeit University, the tour guide stopped by the “martyr’s monument” for the campers to see. The article in question falsely characterizes all Palestinian prisoners and casualities as impacting only Palestinians who were engaged in violent acts, denying the casualities faced by innocent civilians and the wrongful detention of children, students, and political dissidents.
The article also accuses Go Palestine of the “rejection of Israel’s right to exist is an integral part of the camp’s ideology.” It cites a camper from Haifa’s country identification as “Palestine” to bolster this accusation. Go Palestine does not police how campers identify. Campers who are Palestinian citizens of Israel can simultaneously identify their hometowns as part of historic British-mandate Palestine (preceding Israel’s establishment in 1948) and recognize Israeli sovereignty there today.
The RFS is not a political organization. Rather, it is an educational institution empowering Palestinian youth through Quaker principles. Go Palestine’s rich programming, includes fun activities, sports, arts, community service, and travel for the youth to model intercultural and interfaith dialogue and coexistence, for boys and girls, and for the prayer and hope for peace in the Holy Land.
Rather than level unfounded smears against the Quaker institution in Palestine, those truly committed to nonviolence and peace, ought to support the Ramallah Friends School and the Go Palestine program. We are grateful to USAID, particularly the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program, for their commitment to the school and its demonstration of the best of American involvement and public diplomacy in the region.
For further information, contact:
Besan Jaawan, Communications and Development Manager
Ramallah Friends School: firstname.lastname@example.org
RFS website: www.rfs.edu.ps
Go Palestine Camp Website: www.summerinpalestine.org