By Ahmad Abu Hussein
Does one need to wield a sword to fight for equality? What if one’s weapon of choice is an education at the oppressor’s university? Does that make him a collaborator? Those question arose when American Jewess Michelle Cohen Corasanti wrote The Almond Tree, an international bestselling novel about a Palestinian boy who grows up in Israel — an “Israeli Arab” like me– and his fight to overcome his circumstances. His weapons: a brilliant mind and an Israeli education.
Israel’s military rule of Palestinians didn’t begin in 1967. Rather, it started 67 years ago in 1948, when Israel adopted British martial law, which it used to rule us until 1966. From that point forward, our struggle has been more along the lines of the blacks in America after emancipation. We are fighting for our civil rights in Israel, among which is our right to equality in education. In The Almond Tree, the protagonist wins a scholarship to Hebrew University after beating all the Jewish Israeli students in a national math competition. At the university, a top Israeli professor recognizes his brilliant mind and takes him under his wing. Together, they go on to win a Nobel Prize.
Fortunately, The Almond Tree received a sea of Palestinian and Muslim praise. The Times of Israel had this to say, “Although possibly difficult for Israelis and Jews everywhere to read, The Almond Tree should be required reading for all, as when there is understanding of the other side, peace can be achieved.”
Sadly, a couple of misguided people claimed the novel’s protagonist was a collaborator because he went to an Israeli university. It is that absurd accusation I wish to address.
We, the Palestinians who live in what became Israel in 1948, attend Israeli universities. We have remained on our land against all odds– martial law, massacres, de facto and de jure discrimination. Not only do we struggle for equality within Israel, but we have fought to preserve our Palestinian identity, culture and vernaculars.
Rosa Parks wasn’t hailed for her role in the advancement of black civil rights because she boycotted white buses or schools. She was recognized because she fought for equality with whites. We are the Palestinian Rosa Parks. America is Israel’s greatest ally. Does that make Palestinians who attend American universities collaborators with the US government? Ironically, one of the two people who accused us of being collaborators is an American of Palestinian descent who went to college in the US and who makes her living writing about the suffering of our people from the safety of her American home. The other lives in Australia.
The Almond Tree is a story about two brothers; one chooses education, the other joins the armed struggle. The educated brother achieves fame and fortune, which he uses to shine a light on the plight of our people. The other ends up impoverished in Gaza, having given everything to our people. Michelle was not judging the brothers’ choices, nor did she glamorize a collaborator. She merely showed our reality.
Education has been one of our main weapons in our fight to achieve civil rights. Not only has our literacy rate continued to improve, many of us are college graduates with advanced degrees. Among the “Israeli Arabs,” only a handful of us have chosen the armed struggle. My brother was one of the few who did. He joined the military wing of Fatah and ended up in an Israeli prison. Four of my good friends from high school have been in Israeli prisons for the past 33 years. All five of them would readily admit that they chose the wrong method. I took the path of education. I support my brother’s family and I am in a better position to shine a light on our plight. Where did violence get my brother and friends? That is our reality as “Israeli Arabs.”
As Palestinians, our strongest weapon is the truth. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. It is a nuclear regional superpower with weapons of mass destruction. We have rocks and crude missiles. There are many ways to advance the struggle for freedom, justice and equality. Only a fool would consider us collaborators for attending Israeli universities which are partly financed by our taxes. Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Perhaps we should take heed of his wise words.
One would be hard-pressed to name even one “Israeli Arab” collaborator. They don’t come from our ranks. Today, education coupled with the internet and media are our strongest weapons in our fight for justice. We may not have used armed resistance, but we are fighting for equality.
Israel has made lasting peace with Arab and Muslim countries. We, like the majority of Palestinians, are interested in either a two-state solution or some form of secular democratic co-existence with the Israelis. Does our desire for peace make us collaborators? No, it doesn’t. It just shows we are in sync with the majority of Palestinians.
Ahmad Abu Hussein is a Palestinian from BaqaElgharbiyah village in the Triangle, where he lives with his family. He has a BA in Middle Eastern studies and an English teaching certificate from Hunter College. He is both a high school teacher and college lecturer as well as an award-winning author of the books: ELSA and To Study English. He is currently writing his third book, a novel, about a Palestinian from Israel.