Statement of Solidarity with Palestine from NYC Educators

Palestinian children pass in front of an Israeli checkpoint as they walk to their house in Al-Shuhada Street, which is largely closed to Palestinians, in the city center of the West Bank town of Hebron, on September 24, 2020. Hazem Bader / AFP via Getty Images.

In its most recent of several military attacks since its founding in 1948, the state of Israel killed at least 212 Palestinians this past May, including at least 61 children. As educators, we are tasked to raise the next generation to understand themselves and the world, to treat all people with dignity and respect, and to have the knowledge and skills to thrive and act with integrity. As we teach our students to understand the world and seek respect and justice for all people, we have no choice but to speak out against the injustice being committed against the Palestininan people. Our profession demands that we work for life, that we work for peace, and that we work for the opportunities for all people to thrive.

As such, we feel especially obligated to show our solidarity with Palestinian teachers and students who live within the occupied territories as well as within Israel’s borders. We recognize that the challenges they face in teaching and learning are manufactured by the Israeli state and its program of ethnically cleansing Palestinians, who are indigenous to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. These challenges include passing through military checkpoints on the way to school; being routinely arrested and interrogated by Israeli soldiers; the confiscation of school equipment; teaching and learning in overcrowded classrooms as a result of school buildings being regularly bulldozed and building permit rejections; being unable to teach Palestinian history as a result of Zionist censorship; and the suffering of PTSD by a generation of Palestinian children living under continuous military bombardement and siege. It’s been estimated by the Norwegian Refugee Council that there are 10 attacks on Palestinian education by Israeli authorities and settlers a month. Clearly, apartheid and ethnic cleansing are teaching and learning conditions which no educator should accept, for themselves or others.

As U.S. taxpayers, it is our money that pays for the weapons that Israel uses to attack Palestinian infrastructure, roads, agriculture, hospitals, COVID clinics, water processing plants, homes, families and communities. Over $3.8 billion yearly of taxpayer money funds the purchase of weapons by the Israeli military. New York City alone gives almost $145 million dollars a year to the Israeli military — a sum that could fund 1,793 elementary school teachers, 96,349 people to receive food assistance, or 24,933 students to receive Pell grants. This is money taken from the families of New York City by a nuclear power with one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. We simply cannot be silent while money for our families and children here go instead to terrorizing families and children abroad.

As members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), we recognize that our union is also directly complicit in the funding of the Israeli military’s attacks on Palestinians. According to the US Department of Labor, in 2020 the UFT had at least two bonds invested in the State of Israel, in the amounts $100,00 and $65,000. Additionally, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten is part of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), a Zionist organization which has opposed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sactions (BDS) movement against Israel. Because of their own beliefs, and without the consent of the membership, the UFT is financing Israel. We answer the call of our Palestinian colleagues and demand that our teacher unions discontinue the funding of Israel’s settler-colonial military. As Palestinian American activist Ali Abunimah reminds us, “I think teachers have to get involved because they already are. For teachers whose unions are part of the AFT, their name is being used to support unjust policies. They have to decide whether they’re going to take that in silence or speak up for justice.”

We have decided to speak up for justice. We call on educators in the U.S. to show their solidarity with the Palestinian people. One way is by teaching the history of Palestinian oppression, as we would the history of American slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, antisemitism, and South African apartheid. Websites such as TeachPalestine.org have a wealth of resources for history and literature courses. We also call on unionized educators to have their unions endorse BDS, a movement that aims to put non-violent pressure to end the Israeli regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people. BDS was founded in 2005 by Palestinians, in an effort to force the Israeli government to comply with international law by:

  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194

We call on educators to follow the lead of other unions that have endorsed BDS, such as: unions of graduate workers at the University of California (UAW Local 2865), UMass Amherst (UAW Local 2322), and New York University (UAW 2110), as well as teachers unions such as the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF).

We understand that a show of solidarity in the classroom and in the union may be difficult. It requires confronting forces that limit academic freedom as well as union democracy. Just this month the appointed leader of the NYC public school system, Chancellor Porter, publicly signaled on Twitter that a principal will be punished for emailing staff resources on how to show solidarity with Palestinians. Despite the challenge, it is vital that we continue to show our support for a free Palestine — and the more of us who can actively show our solidarity the better protected we will all be from attacks by employers and union bosses. And doing so will allow us to simultaneously play a role in protecting our academic freedom and democratizing our unions.

We are obligated to respond to the injustice wreaked on historic Palestine. The rights and dignity of Paestinians are equivalent to that of all humanity. Paestinian land has been colonized for over seven decades. We support BDS as a step in correcting for this injustice: by putting pressure on the state of Israel to end the ongoing occupation and colonization of all Palestinian land, and to allow Palestinian refugees the right to return to homes from which they were expelled by the Israeli military as recognized by UN Resolution 194. We also support the demand that the U.S. stop funding Israel’s military, and impose sanctions on the Israeli state to end the ongoing apartheid and occupation. As educators, we will do our part in the movement for justice for Palestinians, and for equal rights for all peoples of all faiths in historic Palestine.