Israel vs. No. 2 Pencils

As countless students around the world took the SAT a week ago, Palestinians from the West Bank could not join their ranks. The October SAT exam was cancelled for students in the West Bank: The Israeli authorities held the exams sent by the College Board for weeks, not releasing the tests to AMIDEAST’s office in Ramallah.

AMIDEAST is the only testing agency in the West Bank, serving over three hundred thousand Palestinian students. Yet Israel controls the flow of goods and people in and out of the ever-shrinking Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Israeli occupation impacts nearly every aspect of Palestinian life. In particular, the military occupation, illegal under international law, violates the basic right to education for Palestinian youth.

This SAT cancellation has been devastating for high school seniors across the West Bank who were planning to apply to college in the United States—including those from the Ramallah Friends School. As alumni of the school, we are proud of its emphasis on global citizenship. RFS has a rich history in Palestine. It was established in 1869 by American Quakers and has since been certified by the International Baccalaureate Organization in Switzerland. About half of RFS students are Palestinian Muslims and the other half are Palestinian Christians—the latter are descendants of the very first Christian community. We have been nurtured by values of peace, nonviolence, social justice, and equality—principles to which many Palestinian families are deeply committed.

Many Palestinians go on to the best universities across the United States each year, including Harvard. Recently, Harvard College admitted three individuals from RFS alone in one year. After graduating from college, many RFS graduates and their peers from other Palestinian schools return to Palestine because of the strong connection we feel to our homeland. We are eager to use the knowledge and skills we have gained abroad to help build a brighter future for the coming generations.

The College Board has announced that it will attempt to schedule a make-up test for those students who were supposed to take the October SAT. AMIDEAST suggested in an email that the tests were held because of an “administrative delay.” According to Michael Madormo, English teacher and Director of the College Preparatory Academy at RFS, “the SAT cancellation has been disheartening since it seems that the Israelis had the exams for weeks and despite efforts by UPS, ETS [Educational Testing Service], and AMIDEAST, the tests were not passed through customs.”

Palestinians have suffered from such profound lack of sovereignty for decades now. This latest SAT episode is merely a symptom of systematic attacks on Palestinian education.  During the first Intifada, Palestinian educational institutions were deemed illegal by the Israeli occupation forces, and our parents were forced to hold clandestine classrooms in churches, mosques, and private homes. During the second Intifada, RFS was directly affected by the bombing of a next door police station by the Israeli military and students were unable to attend school due to Israeli blockades and curfews. One of the authors of this article, Lena Awwad, could not attend RFS for three years due to extensive Israeli checkpoints, which prevented her from reaching school. By depriving this year’s RFS seniors the ability to take the SAT, and more broadly hurting Palestinian education, Israel is jeopardizing the academic trajectories of future leaders.

The Israeli policy of bulldozing and destroying Palestinian schools continues unabated. Israeli settlers in the West Bank harass and violently abuse Palestinian schoolchildren—and the hundreds of humiliating checkpoints, Israeli settler-only roads, and the apartheid wall significantly impede freedom of movement for Palestinians and the right to access school. Additionally, Palestinian academic institutions such as Birzeit University find it tremendously difficult to secure basic resources and supplies for their students such as books from abroad. Yet Palestinians are an incredibly resilient people. Despite the assault we face on our right to education and on our livelihoods in general, Palestinians have among the highest literacy rates in the Arab world and the region's highest doctorates per capita.

It is daunting for us to explain the struggle of our families and nation under Israeli military occupation. It is difficult for others to imagine being prevented from taking an exam or, more importantly, to imagine having one’s right to education severely impinged upon because of a foreign occupying power. Palestinian voices are missing from mainstream discourse in the U.S. because of unconditional and blind support for Israel. Many Americans are conditioned to believe that Israeli policies are justified responses to security concerns. This raises the question, then, of what the SAT has to do with Israeli security. And this begs the additional question of when the right to basic human security will be recognized for Palestinians—a people that has been defenseless and stateless for far too long.

We hope that relentless Israeli policies enforced on our peers leading to the SAT cancellation will not impede their college application processes, and look forward to welcoming yet another group of Palestinians to Harvard in the fall.

Lena K. Awwad ’13 is a neurobiology concentrator in Winthrop House. Shatha I. Hussein ’14 is a government concentrator in Eliot House.

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