Interview. We spoke with the general secretary of the Arab Campaign for Education, Refat Sabbah. ‘We will remain human if we exercise our solidarity. What is happening in Gaza is not just destroying lives, but our humanity.’

Refat Sabbah: ‘This war is against all of us: Christians, Muslims, Jews’

Refat Sabaah, the general secretary of the Arab Campaign for Education, president of the Global Campaign for Education, and founder of Teachers Creativity Center association in Palestine, gives us a lesson on peace in the most violent setting. There’s no salvation if we lose our humanity, not only in Gaza, but in the entire world. Hence, the call for collaboration with the Jewish global peace movement and international solidarity.

“In Gaza there are bombings everywhere that are killing thousands of children, women, people with physical and mental disabilities, people who have nothing. It is a genocide. What we are experiencing is horrible but, despite this, we must teach teachers, and students, human rights,” he said. “If we lose our humanity, we cannot continue to fight for our children. I fear that the crimes in Gaza will affect us for a long time, and it is not easy to convince teachers and students to continue to believe in humanity, but this is the centrality of education.”

How do you move in Gaza now, as educators, also operationally?

One of our offices in Gaza was destroyed by bombs. So, we are moving to different areas, particularly towards the South. Together with educators and volunteers we are trying to work with children, students, and families on their socio-emotional and psychological conditions. Our vision is global, not nationalistic. I believe if you feel global, you are global. I still believe in a global humanity, that’s why international solidarity is very important.

If you, from Italy or another country, participate in the administration, organization of pacifist anti-war activities, you are not only helping Palestine, but you are helping yourself to remain human because what is happening in Gaza will affect the entire world; writers, journalists, activists, women, children must participate. This is a message to the world. We will remain human if we exercise our solidarity. What is happening in Gaza is not just destroying lives, but our humanity. Solidarity is the place of educators and activists. We are not allowed to dehumanize ourselves, destroy the history of our humanity, otherwise men will kill each other everywhere and we will legitimize any violence.

How did the Teacher Creativity experience begin in Palestine?

I was a teacher between 1990 and 1994 when there was not full Israeli control over the education system, and the Palestinian Authority did not take over the education system yet. Israel tried to control the education system immediately after the beginning of the first Intifada, monitoring materials and teachers, closing schools, arresting teachers and students. In the beginning of the first intifada, I did organize popular classes for kids in the north of West Bank, in cooperation with Israeli peaceful movement, particularly with Arna Mer-Khamis.

Between 1990-1994 began the problems between students and teachers, between the students themselves and with their families. At that time, we feared that the entire education system would close, and we organized the teachers’ resistance. We addressed these problems by opening a dialogue among us, and in 1995 we created Teacher Creativity center to bring students and families together to face the crisis we were experiencing. There were civil problems; how we perceive others and ourselves. Without freedom of thought, speech and movement, the education system has no value…education should aim for freedom and humanity, because we cannot continue struggling for our freedom without a lot of love not just for ourselves but for the others who are different from us.

Is it possible to maintain and defend human values in face of so much violence by the Israeli military?

In a terrible crisis like war, people start to believe in nationalism, they can become racist. They start to believe that becoming nationalist is a way that can protect them, which is obviously a mistake. Then the hate speech starts to take over and control them. So always, even during a war, we must defend the revolution of human rights, a civil education that we are still carrying forward, looking at the social aspect, given that there is a strong link between academic and social results. Is there any value if a student is excellent in math and then kills someone? You have to be not only good in mathematics, but above all a good human being.

I was recently invited by a colleague to a conference on education in Ukraine. I told him: “we must be aware that we cannot lose our humanity and that nationalism is a mistake” Crises, like the one we are experiencing in Gaza, have a political, social and economic perspective even if we struggle to maintain a vision of this crazy world.

Radicalization and fascism, two sides of the same coin…

Israel’s militarism and violence have nothing to do with Jews. We must claim international solidarity together with pacifist Israelis and Jews around the world, by creating a global movement with all religions, a global alliance for peace, against no one. People must learn to be balanced, not to become radicalized because they will reach fascism before knowing it and without realizing it. If you think mechanically, you can become fanatical. The principle is the same as fascism: “we are right; they are wrong.” Radicalism also comes from a false interpretation of religion.

Given all of this, education is very important, because it represents the values that, as educators, in the Arab world and in Europe, we must support the understanding that radicalism can support imperialism and vice versa. The concept of radicalism should be discussed in education at all levels. I am afraid not only for now, but also after the war on Gaza and for this reason every voice in this world that calls for a ceasefire is important. Otherwise, we will pay a high price not only in Gaza… but all of us.

Do you feel solidarity of pacifist Jews on your side?

Most Jews are against the war and stand in solidarity with us. And we must listen to these voices who want to stop this massacre and we Palestinians stand together with all the Jews of the world who want to stop this massacre. Israeli communities are demonstrating for a call to stop the war, and in some cases even more than us! So, this war is against all of us: Christians, Muslims, Jews. Whoever justifies this war is committing a crime against humanity. We have relationships with many Jewish intellectuals who work for peace around the world. I personally work with many of them. The problem is the nationalist right and the radicalism that we see growing not only here, but always and everywhere. Without a culture of peace, we will experience radicalization around the world. And radicalism justifies fascism.

Lastly, this peace needs justice; otherwise peace without justice is a declaration of war.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!