The Young Will Not Forget: Palestinian National Heritage Day at the School of Hope

            October 8th in Palestine had quite a unique feel. This day was not like any other at the School of Hope in Ramallah. Students and teachers alike dressed in traditional Palestinian clothing as the first step in their recognition of a great heritage. The clothing, of course, would not be the only thing that these proud people would recognize as their own.

            Following the first five classes of the day, students were led outdoors into the school’s courtyard. They were fed toasted bread, covered in oil an za’atar. This is a common food in the cuisine of Palestine.

When asked what he likes best about the celebration, an 11th grade student named Hammad said, “I enjoy everything but especially the food. I really like the bread with oil and za’atar.”  

The school’s multi-talented music teacher began playing the oud, a stringed instrument that vaguely resembles the guitar of the west or the sitar of Asia, as students filed out into the courtyard. He continued to play while other teachers prepared to give speeches to the crowd about the history of Palestine and her people’s identity.

“Everyone must know about these things because they are a very important part of our heritage,” Hammad said with a smile on his face. “I enjoy seeing the clothing, eating the food, and hearing the music.”

On a walk through the school’s courtyard, one would see waves of students clad in embroidered dresses, shirts, and robes from all different regions of Palestine. Some wore tunics of Majdali weaving from Gaza. Others covered themselves in heavier clothing from Bethlehem. Many of the boys and men were sporting a black and white keffiyeh either around their shoulders or on their heads. All of these students wore their ancestors’ threads proudly as they modelled them for their fellow students and teachers.

  Pictured: Students model clothing from Gaza.

When asked about his thoughts on the day, Mr. Islam, an English teacher at the school, said that the experience of his students is what he cares about the most.

“I enjoy seeing what my students learn,” said Mr. Islam as he watched the afternoon’s events. “Schools, students, parents, even businesses and all other types of organizations should do this.”

A foreigner visiting the area for the first time could have attended the School of Hope on this day and learned a great deal about the pride each person has in their identity as a Palestinian. A guest would see that heritage is just as important to the young students as their own modern lifestyles. Mr. Islam recalled the summary of a speech once given by the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, saying, “The old will die and the young will forget.” This statement was in reference to Ben-Gurion’s stance on the subject of the Palestinian identity.

Mr. Islam continued, “Young people are the most important part in understanding the heritage of Palestine. If they continue to care and learn, the identity continues to survive.”

It became quite obvious that the students cared deeply about their heritage when the dancing began. Young and old, student and teacher alike joined in the fun. When the music played, the feet moved. Numerous students began to pridefully dance the Dabke, linking arms and lifting legs. The Dabke is a traditional dance of the Palestinian people that consists of multiple moves: the taxi, inzen, badal, and harbish. All of these moves concern specific steps and moves that the dancers make with their feet.

Several 10th grade, 11th grade, and Tawjihi students excitedly demonstrated their knowledge of the traditional dancing in Palestine. Many have been taking dance classes and have nearly perfected their Dabke skills.

Numerous different aspects of traditional Palestinian culture were pridefully shared on Monday. The food, clothes, and dancing created a lively atmosphere at the School of Hope.

“As a refugee, I was not exposed to the same types of clothing that you saw,” said Ms. Mays, the Dean of Students. “Monday was the first time I had the chance to wear a top like that.”

Ms. Mays expressed pride in her culture and knew that her students were proud as well.

She continued to praise the events of National Palestinian Heritage Day when she said, “A lot of our students are from the city or communities near the city. People in the villages of Palestine still dress in traditional clothing. But the students from the cities are modernizing there heritage and making it their own. This is a good thing, they are proud of who they are.”

  Pictured: Students and teachers gather in the courtyard.

The students, teachers, and administrators all seem to agree that their heritage as Palestinians must be a source of pride. They know who came before them, what they wore, what they ate, and how beautifully they danced. Culture in Ramallah may be changing, but there is no reason to believe it is any less Palestinian. It may even be stronger than it has ever been. So, despite what was once said by Ben-Gurion, the young will not forget.