Determined to Stay: Palestinian Youth Fight for Their Village is based on visits Jody Sokolower and her daughter Ericka made to Israel and the West Bank between 2012 and 2019 to “research” the situation of Arabs in East Jerusalem. They spent most of their time in the community of Silwan (Siloam), a quarter of East Jerusalem southwest of the Old City, inhabited by Arabs and a small number of Jews. Relying on conversations with residents and activists, Determined to Stay accuses Israel of aggressively driving out the Arabs by expanding the City of David National Park, damaging and demolishing Arab homes, arbitrarily arresting young people, and making life so miserable for the Arab population that families will leave.
The book is prominently featured on the website of Teach Palestine, where it is offered as a free curricular resource to teachers. Presenting itself as an example of “anti-racist” education “grounded in an ethnic studies framework,” in reality it is anti-Israel propaganda designed to teach naïve, ill-informed students to demonize and hate Israel.
Determined to Stay is as much about Sokolower and her daughter as it is about Silwan. The author announces that she is a “white, Jewish high school social studies teacher.” She quotes her daughter’s distress at seeing Israeli soldiers on the train to Jerusalem: “If I grew up in Israel, told from elementary school that I needed to defend my country from Palestinian ‘terrorists,’ would that be me with an Uzi on my shoulder?” (Note the scare quotes around the word “terrorists.”) Encountering Sokolov Street in Jerusalem, she draws a parallel between herself as a “white settler on land stolen from the Ohlone” (a West Coast Indigenous tribe) and putative Sokolov relatives “living in a house stolen from Palestinians” (p. 186).
Sokolower is free to feel any guilt she chooses over the color of her skin. Whether she and the Teach Palestine team have the right to impose their guilt on American teenagers in public schools is another question.
Research or Prejudice?
Though Sokolower makes passing reference to an earlier time when she introduced her students to both sides of the conflict, she is explicit about her intentions this time around:
Ericka and I agreed that our interviews and research would be based in Palestinian reality. We weren’t going to pretend to be “even-handed” about what was happening in Silwan—we both felt strongly that the Palestinians were fighting against a clear injustice (p. 33).
In other words, they set off on this “research” trip with their minds made up.
Tellingly, Sokolower opted to work with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), a radical pro-Palestinian organization. In 2009 MECA raised $75,000 for British MP George Galloway’s “Viva Palestina” convoy following what the notorious Galloway labelled the “massacre in Gaza.” The alliance was shut down by the UK Charity Commission in 2012 over its financial mismanagement. At Teach Palestine, Sokolower works with MECA’s executive director, Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch, who has claimed that “Zionists have never abandoned their plan to get rid of Palestinian [sic] completely and to confiscate all Palestinian land. . . . Palestinians in East Jerusalem face ethnic cleansing every day.”
Sokolower’s anti-Israel prejudice was on full display her first morning in Silwan, when she set out to find a pharmacy. The Palestinian one near Jaffa Gate was closed, but a passerby pointed her towards “a fancy, underground Israeli mall, a sanitized, upscale version of the Old City, with wide stone sidewalks, carefully pruned trees and flowers in pots, and an international array of stores: Abercrombie & Fitch, Tommy Hilfiger, North Face, Swarovski, and a supermarket-sized drugstore. No Palestinians anywhere. . . It was astonishing how easy Israel made it to opt for convenience and familiarity. Next time, I told myself, I would wait for the Palestinian pharmacy to open” (p. 37).
Anything Israel does, even building an attractive modern mall whose stores are open at convenient hours, is a sin against Palestinians. Perhaps on her next trip Sokolower should visit Hadar Mall in West Jerusalem’s Talpiot district, where you can’t walk two feet without crossing paths with chic young Arab women in tight pants and headscarves. Or she could go to Lacasa Mall over the Green Line in Ramallah, whose website proudly proclaims, “LACASA MALL is a first-of-its-kind destination that features hundreds of new shops and services to explore.” It features an Aeropostale, a Toys “R” Us, a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut. Apparently the people of Ramallah enjoy a “sanitized, upscale version of the Old City” as well.
Underpinning Sokolower’s argument is intersectionality, the left-wing dogma that all social structures reflect a power differential between oppressed groups (read: people of color) and oppressors (read: white people). With her sympathies exclusively engaged by Palestinians (Sokolower never acknowledges that Jews have been victims in the Middle East), she constructs fanciful parallels between Palestinians and Black and Indigenous Americans.
Enter Nick Estes, “a citizen [sic] of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and cofounder of Red Nation, an Indigenous resistance organization,” to write the book’s introduction.
“It would have helped me so much to learn about Palestine, to be able to see the connections between what has happened to my people and what is happening to the people of Palestine,” he asserts.
Really? Exactly how could learning about “Palestine” help a Lower Brule Sioux understand his situation better than the evidence before his eyes in South Dakota? Indeed, Estes admits that he never actually got to Silwan, the focus of Sokolower’s research, during his visit to Jerusalem (p. 3).
How “intersectionality” plays out between Palestinians and American Blacks is equally fuzzy. Areen, a 16-year-old girl from Silwan, complains, “The police stop us all the time”; an African American boy echoes the sentiment: “I feel like I have a bullseye on my back. Every man in my family has spent time in prison. Some days I think no matter how hard I work in school, how careful I am in the street, I’m going to end up there, too.”
“That’s how children in Silwan feel, too,” agrees Sokolower. It’s a clever and often used strategy– piggybacking on high-profile American causes to gain progressive sympathy for the Palestinian “underdog.”
Misinformation: The Map that Lies
To contrive a dubious parallel with Indigenous Americans, Sokolower interviews Corrina Gould, a Chochenyo/Karkin Ohlone, about her campaign to resurface the West Berkeley Shellmound, an ancient site currently covered by a parking lot. Two map graphics posit intersecting narratives of oppression: “U.S. Colonization of North American Indigenous Lands” and “Zionist Colonization of Palestinian Lands.”(p. 125) Each contains four maps, with gray representing the land before extensive colonization (1784 in the United States, 1917 in pre-mandate Palestine), and three successive maps using black to indicate colonial encroachment upon uncolonized territory. The fourth map in each graphic is almost a solid black mass, representing “colonized” land.
As outlined in an analysis of similar anti-Israel maps (there are many variants in circulation) in The Tower, maps like these fail to differentiate between private property and sovereign land. Sokolower labels land on which Arabs lived “Palestinian,” which is deceptive, because “none of pre-1948 Palestine was under the political authority of Arabs or Jews.” It was a British Mandate, and indeed “was the first time a discrete political entity called ‘Palestine’ [not Arab-controlled] existed in modern history.” Equally deceptive is labeling “every single patch of land not owned by the JNF as Arab or Palestinian”; in fact, much of it was desert, not owned by anyone.
Looking at the shrinking gray area in Sokolower’s maps, a naïve student can only conclude that, starting in 1917, Israel grabbed more and more “Palestinian land” in successive imperialist wars until there’s almost nothing left in Arab hands today.
Misinformation: The Six-Day War
Sokolower’s version of Israeli history rests on hearsay, not reliable sources. She quotes Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch to explain the onset of the Six-Day War: “From 1948 to 1967, the West Bank, including Jerusalem, was under Jordanian rule. . . In 1967, Israel attacked Egypt and started a war between Israel on one side and Egypt, Syria and Jordan on the other.” (p. 101)
In fact, Israel went to war in 1967, striking Egypt preemptively, because Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser expelled UN peacekeeping troops from Sinai, engineered a buildup of Egyptian troops on the border, and blockaded the Straits of Tiran, in and of itself a casus belli. This was a defensive war against four enemy nations whose leaders openly declared their genocidal intentions:
“Our basic objective will be to destroy Israel,” declared Gamal Abdel Nasser, May 26, 1967
“In the event of a conflagration, no Jews whatsoever will survive,” bragged Ahmed Shukeiri, future chairman of the PLO
Israel’s defensive action was entirely legal.
Misinformation: Al-Aqsa Mosque
It has long been a staple of anti-Israel propaganda that Israel intends to take over Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Sokolower quotes Sara, a fourteen-year-old girl from Silwan, to echo that unfounded accusation:
“It’s hard to be a young woman here. Because the settlers are trying to take over Al-Aqsa Mosque, we women and girls have been demonstrating—occupying the mosque to keep it safe. (p. 61)
Sara’s slur has been a feature of Arab incitement for almost a century. In 1929, it was Mufti of Jerusalem (and Nazi collaborator) Haj Amin al-Husseini’s claim that Jews were attempting to “usurp” Al-Aqsa that incited an anti-Jewish pogrom, culminating in the deaths of 133 Jews. In 2022, stirred up by accusations that the Israelis were about to storm Al-Aqsa, Arab youths hurled stones from the mosque onto Jews worshipping at the Western Wall.
What is the truth? When the Israelis won back Jerusalem in 1967, they recaptured the Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated. General Motta Gur raised the Israeli flag above it, but General Moshe Dayan, watching this through his binoculars from Mount Scopus, radioed Gur to take it down, with the words, “Do you want to set the Middle East on fire?” After the war, Dayan met with the Muslim Waqf, the body that governs the Muslim site, formally returning it to their governance. This was a gesture of unprecedented magnanimity. Under the agreement with the Waqf, Jews may visit their holiest site, but are not allowed to pray there, Despite numerous Arab claims to the contrary, Israel under both right-wing and left-wing governments has not sought to change this status quo. They have never tried to storm Al-Aqsa.
Misinformation about Water, Roads and Schools
Accusations that Israel discriminates against West Bank Palestinians in water allocation and access to roads are another anti-Israel libel that Sokolower’s daughter buys into:
“For Palestinians, water is rationed and very expensive. You can always spot a Palestinian house by the water storage tank on the roof. Israelis, even those living right next door to Palestinians. have unlimited water.. . . Some of them shoot holes in the Palestinians’ water tanks for target practice” (p. 20).
Perhaps Ericka didn’t look closely at the roofs of Israeli houses. There is a water tank on each of these as well, and they don’t represent a shortage of water. They hold water to be heated by solar panels, an energy-efficient system in a country with a lot of sunlight. Israeli homes generally have white tanks and solar panels; Palestinian tanks are usually black, which retains the heat. Nor does the accusation that Israel denies water to the Palestinians withstand scrutiny. Under the Oslo accords, it is the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, that is responsible for water management and that fails to use the funds it receives through international aid to repair burst pipes and maintain water quality.
Ericka also claims that “there are separate roads for Israelis and tourists that Palestinians can’t use; they even have different license plates” (p. 20). There is a reason for this: Some roads in the West Bank were closed to West Bank Arabs after the eruption of the Second Intifada, when suicide bombers used them to infiltrate Israel, but these roads are open to all Israeli citizens—Muslims, Christians, Jews, Circassians. Nor is it surprising that they have distinct license plates, since West Bank Arabs live under the Palestinian Authority, not Israel. Israelis are not allowed to drive on many West Bank roads under Palestinian Authority control.
Ericka also complains that “the schools are separate; Palestinians don’t have the same legal rights as Israelis; everything is segregated” (p. 20). Is Ericka aware that the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA run their own schools and set their own curriculum? Or perhaps she is confusing West Bank schools with Israeli schools, which, like schools in many parts of bilingual Canada and Belgium, serve each population in its own language. This has nothing to do with “segregation”; it reflects respect for each community’s heritage.
Misinformation about Home Demolitions:
The book offers several anecdotal accounts of home demolitions in Silwan. The same Sara who alleged that the Israelis were trying to take over Al-Aqsa reported on the demolition of her family home when she was eight years old:
“They were standing in front of the door of our home. I went to see, but the house was surrounded by police and their dogs. I asked my older sister what was going on. She told me to stop talking. I asked her why. ‘They have come to bulldoze our house,’ she said. ‘If you don’t stop talking, they will hit you.’”
The book ignores another side to the issue of home demolitions. In 2003, Justus Reid Weiner published Illegal Construction in Jerusalem, in which he summarizes the accusations by Arab Jerusalemites:
According to the narrative, they have no choice but to build illegally, and, as a consequence, they run the risk of being snared by the Municipal inspectors. Those caught by the inspectors face economic catastrophe, not to mention psychological trauma, if city bulldozers demolish their unlicensed houses. The argument continues to the effect that Arab Jerusalemites (Arab residents of the city who reject Israeli citizenship), many of whom are poor, are discriminated against in the delivery of public services and amenities. All of the aforementioned discriminatory treatment, so the argument goes, is premeditated – aimed at Judaizing‟ Jerusalem. Thus, the municipality stands accused of using the artifice of the planning law to force the Arab residents of Jerusalem, and their growing families, to abandon the city.
Weiner takes these on point by point:
- The wait time for building permits was virtually the same (four to six weeks at the time he wrote the report) for Arab and Jewish residents. (Executive Summary, p. 9)
- Rather than “Judaizing” Jerusalem, from 1967 to 2000, Arab construction outpaced Jewish. (Executive Summary, p. 4)
- Contrary to the claims of NGOs, the media, and the foreign press, home demolitions are not arbitrary, but are governed by “[p]recise and demanding procedures . . . in all parts of the city.” Chaotic, unplanned construction harms Jew and Arab; because it “vitiates the possibility of later providing proper infrastructure” (like sidewalks and room for two-way traffic). Buildings not built to code may collapse through structural weakness or earthquake. (Executive Summary, p. 14)
Had Sokolower been interested in learning the other side of the story, she could have done what this reviewer did – googled “illegal construction in Jerusalem.”
Misinformation: Arbitrary Arrests of Young People
The Arabs Sokolower met repeatedly accuse Israel of arresting and mistreating young people.
Sahar Abbasi, deputy director of Madaa (an organization that claims to provide psychological and other assistance to arrested children and their families) claimed that her organization “heard terrible stories about what was happening to children in Room #4 at the Russian Compound . . . where the Israelis interrogate and torture people they have arrested. The children were denied food, water, and access to the bathroom. Even young children had their hands and legs zip-tied for hours. They were humiliated and threatened” (pp. 41-42). The word “torture” is used but not defined, and none of these accusations is substantiated.
Stories of cruelty to children will make a powerful impression on sensitive young readers, who can’t distinguish between hearsay and evidence. Had Sokolower intended to be fair, she might have presented NGO Monitor’s analysis of similar accusations made by UNICEF in their 2013 report, “Children in Israeli Military Detention”.
NGO Monitor notes that “older minors are often involved in the most serious and heinous offenses,” among them the “brutal 2011 murder of five members of the Fogel family, including killing a baby in her crib” by Hakim Awad, age 17. These reports also ignore the reality that “Palestinian minors commit violent crimes due to incitement by the Palestinian Authority,” and that the PA provides a “monthly salary” to the families of detained minors. NGO Monitor also points out that UNICEF’s investigators relied on reports from biased, anti-Israel NGOs and did not perform independent investigations of their allegations.
Archeology or Politics?
The opening salvo in Determined to Stay is an allegation that on February 1, 2009, a fifth-grade classroom in a girls’ school in Silwan fell into the cellar of the building, injuring some students seriously. A teacher attributed the accident to excavations by Elad, the private organization carrying on the archeological work in City of David National Park, under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority. This was denied by Jerusalem mayor Nir Birkat, who attributed the accident to recent rains. (pp. 13-14)
Given the political bias on both sides, it can be hard to get to the bottom of this story. But Sokolower has picked sides. She relies on statements by Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO that claims to be “working to prevent the politicization of archaeology in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Despite its protestations of neutrality, Emek Shaveh is hardly apolitical. It accuses Elad of using “archaeological sites to dispossess disenfranchised communities.” Its use of the term “settlers” for Jewish residents of Silwan erases the village’s Jewish history: Yemenite Jewish families lived there from 1882, only to be driven out by Arab pogroms in the late 1920s. Channeling Emek Shaveh, Sokolower claims that Elad disregards non-Jewish artifacts in the course of its excavations; for her part, she disregards the Muslim Waqf’s practice of dumping layers of soil from the Temple Mount and President Mahmoud Abbas’s denial of the presence of the Jewish Temple on the site.
Sokolower questions the historicity of King David, disparaging biblical archeology in favor of social and feminist history and Marxist class analysis. Emek Shaveh proposes, instead, “a story which is not included in the Bible – one which tells where and how the city dwellers lived, where the ruling elite resided and which were the areas for the poor.” The real purpose of the City of David dig is to buttress “the eternal bond between the nation of Israel and Jerusalem,” says Sokolower, sardonically quoting a statement from a City of David tour guide. (p. 78) But is it any more surprising that a Jewish state prioritizes Israelite remains than that America prioritizes sites like Boston’s Old North Church or the battlefields of Gettysburg?
In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Sokolower cites a claim that “[for the Israelis] there is no room for Canaanite, Palestinian, Phoenician, Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Arab, Muslim, and Christian names. . . . There is room for only a single narrative.”
This will come as a surprise to anyone who has visited archeological museums and sites throughout Israel, which highlight multiple strata from the past. Just for starters, Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum, which runs programming to bring Christian, Muslim and Jewish children together, displays artifacts from the Canaanite, Egyptian and Babylonian past; the Tel Qasile site in the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv showcases twelve layers of settlement, including an excavated Canaanite temple and a reconstructed house from the pre-Israelite era.
In validating Emek Shaveh, Sokolower gives the nod to an NGO whose CEO, Yonathan Mizrachi, has posited moral equivalence between Israeli archeology and Hamas terrorism: “[Elad’s] tunnels, like those of Hamas,” he stated in 2014, “are being dug under a heavy cloak of secrecy. . . . They are also being dug under the houses of uninvolved civilians, in this case Palestinians. However, while the Hamas tunnels are described as serving terrorist purposes, these tunnels have been authorized by the Supreme Court of Israel, and all the relevant arms of the state have been mobilized in their support.”
Education or Indoctrination?
Schools and teachers are in positions of power and trust, but in a liberal democracy parents’ rights trump teachers’ rights. Parents have the right to expect their children to learn some basics: reading, literature, writing, math, science, geography and history. They also have the right to expect a propaganda-free education for children who spend six hours a day, ten months a year, at school. When schools violate this trust – when they indoctrinate instead of educating – they transgress the boundary between home and school: while parents have the right to inculcate their offspring with their political values, schools do not.
Determined to Stay is integral to the Teach Palestine curriculum. It is designed as a classroom resource, and crosses all the red lines:
- It adopts intersectionality – a controversial theory antithetical to the beliefs of many parents.
- It tars white people as oppressors and Black, Arab and Indigenous people as victims, thus imposing Critical Race Theory on students.
- It eschews balance, explicitly declaring that there are not two sides to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and refusing to explore counter-arguments to any of its accusations.
Jody Sokolower wants schools to “teach Palestine.”
We are living at a time of significant geopolitical challenges to Western democracies. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s expansionism recall the threats of Nazism, Japanese fascism and Communism of the last century. If there’s anything our students need to study in history, it’s the rise of Marxist ideology, the Russian Revolution, World War I, the rise of fascism and World War II. If there’s anything they need to read, it’s 1984, not Determined to Stay. Some things come first; teaching “Palestine” – the pet project of a small but very vocal community — isn’t one of them.
 https://www.ngo-monitor.org/ngos/middle_east_children_s_alliance_meca_/ Accessed May 1, 2022.
 http://www.thetower.org/article/the-mendacious-maps-of-palestinian-loss/ Accessed May 2, 2022. There are various versions of these “Palestinian Land Loss” maps in circulation.
 Quoted in Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn. New York: Harper Collins, 2016, p. 270
 https://besacenter.org/truth-behind-palestinian-water-libels/ Accessed January 10, 2022. According to this February 24, 2014 report, “The Palestinians refuse to build water treatment plants, despite their obligation to do so under the Oslo agreement. Sewage flows out of Palestinian towns and villages directly into local streams, thereby polluting the environments and the aquifer and causing the spread of disease.”
 https://www.commentary.org/michael-totten/the-myth-of-jewish-only-roads/ Accessed January 10, 2022
 The book is out of print. For an excellent executive summary, see https://jcpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/illegal-construction.pdf. Accessed May 19, 2022. Highlights of the book are available at https://www.jcpa.org/jlmbldg.htm. Accessed May 19, 2022.
 From Executive Summary of Illegal Construction in Jerusalem: A Variation on an Alarming Global Phenomenon, by Justus Reid Weiner, 2003. https://jcpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/illegal-construction.pdf. Accessed May 19, 2022.
 For NGO Monitor’s analysis (“The Origins of ‘No Way to Treat a Child’: Analyzing UNICEF’s Report on Palestinian Minors,”) see http://www.ngo-monitor.org/reports/origins-no-way-treat-child/ Accessed May 19, 2022. For the UNICEF report, “Children in Israeli Military Detention,” see https://www.unicef.org/sop/media/216/file/Children%20in%20Israeli%20Military.pdf Accessed May 19, 2022.
 https://emekshaveh.org/en/booklet_online/ Accessed May 19, 2020. According to Emek Shaveh, the famous ancient inscription that commemorates the completion of the Shiloah water tunnel may not have been written by workers under orders from King Hezekiah, but rather “by a collective.”
 Ibrahim, Nassar. “The Bustan in Silwan: All-Quds Will Lie on Forever and Resist in Its Own Way,” Al Bustan in Silwan. Alternative Information Center, 2012. Cited by Sokolower on p. 79.