November 20, 2023
In California Schools, Palestinian History Is Off-Limits
By Peter Lucas
After backlash from pro-Israel organizations, Santa Ana’s ethnic studies courses discussing Palestine were put on hold. “You’re asking us to erase a people off the face of the earth.”
Raija Hammad’s eyes wandered across her Santa Ana classroom. As one of the only Palestinian American students, she was hopeful for her high school history class’s plans to discuss the place her community had called home for generations. But as she waited for her teacher to wade into the deep history of the Middle Eastern region, she was left feeling isolated during the handful of surface level discussions. “Everybody was scared of making people uncomfortable,” the 18-year-old, who graduated this summer, remembers. “Which is upsetting, because it’s an uncomfortable subject, [but] there’s no way around it.”
In April, the Santa Ana Unified School District began to address that discomfort. In accordance with California’s impending 2029–30 ethnic studies graduation requirement law—the first of its kind in the country—the school board approved two world history and geography ethnic studies courses that offered insight on the forced displacement that led Palestinian families to call Orange County, and its landmark Little Arabia, home.
But that hope was dashed as soon as news broke out of the district’s plans. The local Jewish Federation of OC said the curricula “framed Jews as colonizers” and contained inaccurate material, claiming the class violated anti-bias guardrails in the state’s ethnic studies requirement law. Pro-Israel Jewish activists at a subsequent meeting said the courses were one-sided and smeared the curriculum with divisive attacks that only took a simple search through the approved frameworks to disprove.