Windows on the World — Part 1

by Barbara Thompson-Book, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN

It has been said that books, including books for children and young adults, can act as “windows on the world.” When we give our children books about places they have never visited, but have heard of from family members, the news, movies, or other print media we offer them glimpses of what living in a culture other than their own might be like. This echoes Holly Johnson’s post in August, about using international books to help inform our children’s understandings about geography and the world at large. She wrote, “I find it important to educate young people about geography and the present reality of a particular region.” Of course in today’s electronic environment, information on just about any topic is at their fingertips via Google or any of several search engines, thus providing another window to the world. The issue then becomes, how can we, as teachers, use both high quality literature about worlds other than the one we inhabit, and bring credible internet sources together to support that literature? That is my intent for the next four weeks — to link incredible stories of places I have not visited except in books with internet sources that have helped inform me about the material I experienced in the books through reading.

My search began when I read The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, by Anne Laurel Carter. I had picked it up as part of a reading assignment for a conference. Little did I know that it would send me on a month long investigation into the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. The book’s protagonist is a young teenage girl, who at the age of six is apprenticed to her grandfather as a shepherd in Palestine instead of being sent to school. As we watch Amani mature as a shepherd, we also watch as the Israelis encroach on Amani’s family’s property, taking away the pasture the sheep need for food. Reading this novel made me realize how ignorant I really was about the crisis in the Israeli/Palestinian territory. And so I read more, and I searched the internet for information that might help my college students better understand what was taking place in that small area of land, which has been fought over for centuries. They in turn can take what we discuss in the college classroom and share it with their own children in their classrooms.

There are several good books that serve as introductory informational books on the topic. People at Odds: Israel and the Arab World by Heather Lehr Wagner, is a basic informational text which outlines the current conflict beginning in 1917 with the British occupation and subsequent decline of the Ottoman Empire. It chronicles the history of the conflict through 2001. Three Web sites that can also assist the reader in gathering more information are:

In a Nutshell: Israeli Palestinian Conflict
This first site has basic information regarding the conflict. It has a variety of maps and time lines that clearly outline the basic facts about the conflict and has multiple links to other sites including biographies of all the major leaders of the various sides of the conflict.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
This is another site with simple information covering both sides of the issue. This is a small part of a larger site Pro/Con, which examines both sides of many controversial issues. On the larger site there is a teacher’s corner outlining basic uses of the Pro/Con site aligned with National Reading/Language Arts Standards and National Social Studies Standards. It makes reference to more than 100 lesson plans by schools and states with PDFs of many teachers’ lesson plans categorized by topic. Not all the lessons deal with the Israel/Palestine conflict. The site itself appears to be updated daily. The lesson plans were last updated on October 5, 2009 (as checked on December 2, 2009).

Reuters AlertNet Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
This Web site outlines the crisis in several ways. It provides a brief discussion of the conflict with a hyperlinked button if the reader wants more details. The side bar is updated by the minute as news stories are filed, and a tab features links to other pertinent Web sites.

These particular Web sites are more appropriate for teachers, giving them basic background information, however, older readers could access maps and details on their own.

Two other non-fiction books provide illuminating views into how the conflict has affected young people in the area. In their Own Voices: Palestinian Refugees and Immigrants Speak Out by Nabil Marshood gives a brief introduction to the conflict and introduces the reader to five refugee and immigrant young people whose lives have been deeply affected by the conflict. In Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Child Speak, author Deborah Ellis interviews children of several faiths represented in the conflict: Islam, Hebrew, and Christian. The children/adolescents talk about their experiences living in the territories and what their dreams are for the future.

Two Web sites that will help teachers understand the issues related to faith are:

Embassy of Israel for kids
This kid-friendly site introduces children to the country of Israel. There are buttons for history, symbols, currency and a postcard game that features a series of postcard with pictures of Israel and a multiple choice quiz on the facts gained from the other buttons. When I clicked the “Embassy” button, it took me to the official embassy site for Israel and I wondered how long it would take for a child to find the link on the left-hand side of the screen to return to the kids’ site.

Palestine History
This site is not as child friendly as the Israeli site, but it has a lot of straight forward information about Palestine. It opens with what happened on whichever day you use the site, and the historical events that happened on that day in Palestine. Scrolling down you can click on a chronology of Palestinian history, important leaders and their biographies, and important historical places such as the Dome of the Rock and Al-Asqa Mosque. There are a number of maps.

There are many powerful novels written mostly about young adolescents, living in the Palestinian/Israeli territory. Habibi (meaning darling in Arabic) by Naomi Shihad Nye, recounts the story of an American/Arab teenager, Liyana, who moves with her family (brother Rafik, father and mother) to Jerusalem. Her Palestinian-born father, a doctor, and her American mother decide that it is time for Dr. Abboud to return home to help the Palestinians living in Jerusalem. What follows is an eye-opening experience for all members of the Abboud family. Liyana develops a friendship with a Jewish teenage boy, Omar. Mrs. Abboud must deal with not being Arab in a close-knit Arab family. Dr. Abboud confronts the reality of Arabs living in Jerusalem when he is arrested, and other members of the family are injured in a raid.

In Checkpoints, by Marilyn Levy, Noa, a sixteen-year-old Jewish girl living in Jerusalem with her family, befriends an Arab girl (Maha) attending Hebrew University while visiting her sister, Shoshanna, an accomplished violinist. Maha lives in the “occupied” section of Jerusalem. At the same time, Noa’s older brother Ari, is doing his two years required service to the Israeli state. Ari has been informed he will be sent to the West Bank as a security officer. He decides to become a “refusnick” and is sent to jail. Things come to a head when the family heads to Noa’s grandmother’s home in Netanya, a city near the Mediterranean for Passover. As Noa’s family drives north, she experiences some of the “checkpoints” that her friend Maha had been living with all her life in Jerusalem. The novel ends in a climax which changes everyone’s lives forever and makes Noa re-evaluate what it means to be Arab and Jewish in this shared land.

A Little Piece of Ground, by Elizabeth Laird with Sonia Nimir, gives the reader an opportunity to feel what it is like to be a young Palestinian boy, living in the occupied territory of the West Bank. The book opens with Karim Aboudi, a twelve-year-old boy, and his family being trapped in their apartment in Ramallah due to a strict curfew. He and his family have been stuck in their apartment for two week since a gunman had shot two people in an Israeli café. All Karim wants to do is get out, and play soccer. When the curfew is finally lifted, Karim finds a rocky field and begins to build a soccer field. As he is doing this he meets Hopper, a boy of his age who lives in the nearby refugee camp. Together, the two build a friendship as they build the soccer field, only to have it all dashed by the Israeli army. This story echoes the encroachment described in The Shepherd’s Granddaughter.

Finally in Ibtisam Barakat’s Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, the author recounts her family’s experiences beginning with the Six Day War in 1967, and their having to flee their home in Ramallah for Jordon. Her memoir, takes us through growing up in a refugee camp; sharing an apartment with another family; returning to their home, only to be sent to an orphanage when the Israelis made it impossible for her parents to care for them. She tells of planes flying overhead and of family sticking together. And when time comes for her family to flee again, the reader is left with the feeling of inevitability of the Arab refugee, but also with hope.

In reading these novels, I was struck by some common threads:

  • the importance of food to both Arab and Jewish cultures.
  • the love of soccer, which crosses all boundaries.
  • the plight of the Arab refugees.
  • the suffocation experienced by both Israelis and Palestinians as they cope with the fallout of the occupation.

Web sites that support the reader in gaining more insight to the culture described in the novels, can be found without much trouble.

About.com: Middle Eastern Food
This is a great starting place to explore easy recipes mentioned in the books (particularly Hummus). It is updated weekly and includes the author’s biography. One weakness is that it has a lot of ads. One of the many positives of this site is that it has videos demonstrating how to make a variety of foods (e.g., pita bread, hummus, tahini sauce).

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency
The United Nations has posted this website featuring refugees from Palestine. It has a great deal of information and is visually appealing. The UNRWR was established in 1948 to help with the hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees who were forced from their Palestinian homelands with the UN Agreement which partitioned Palestine into an Israeli Homeland and an Arab Homeland. The creation of Israel displaced about 750,000 Arabs (as documented in 1950 by UNRWA) and now numbers around 4.6 million Palestinians who qualify for UNRWA services.

Soccer plays a big role in most of the novels. I couldn’t find a “perfect” soccer website, so I have three that aren’t the most commercial and do in fact have information about how to play soccer.

Kids First Soccer
This is the site of a professor of Physical Education at California State University, Los Angeles. It has videos of different soccer moves (though they maybe difficult to project for an entire class). On the side bar there are links to the site author’s scholarly work, as well as hints about coaching philosophy and the rules. It’s not very child-friendly. It has a great deal of links to products the soccer enthusiast can buy.

Kaboose
This is a small part of a larger Web site designed to entertain children with games and information. The soccer section is aimed at the child who already knows the game. That said, there are some interesting features such as a soccer time line, World Cup trivia, and crafts and food recipes. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of advertising on the site.

Soccer for Parents
Again, this is a site for adults, but it does contain all the rules of soccer and has free downloadable guides. There are a number of links that take you to other sites trying to sell you products for your soccer player.

Finally, raising sheep (and olives, but I’m not going to suggest you start an olive grove — that takes decades, which makes what’s happening to the Palestinian groves so sad, is a part of several of the novels. Sheep 201, while not in the Palestine/Israeli area, tells you everything you need to raise sheep. It is not the most child friendly, but it has pictures, and a great deal of information.

Please let me hear about your favorite Israeli/Palestinian resources, whether electronic or paper, informational or fictional by leaving a comment. Next week we’re off to Mexico, Central America, and South America.

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