The word "Freedom" is scribbled on the light-blue door of Jameel Aldweek's classroom in the New Kufar Aqab Girls School on the outskirts of Ramallah. It is a welcome reprieve from the swastika and "All Jews are pussies" emblazoned on the security barrier as I entered the West Bank. Aldweek, director of the Al-Razee Association and co-teacher of a new pilot project in two Palestinian schools, begins by asking the dozen sixth-grade girls in attendance, "What does democracy mean to you?" "Liberty and responsibility," one student immediately shoots back. "What is the link, then, between liberty and responsibility?" he retorts. The girls enthusiastically give examples of conflicting interests in their homes. One girl answers that often she wants to watch one television channel but her brother wants to watch another. Cooperation and dialogue are the keys to solving problems, Aldweek says. "It is forbidden to impose on the freedoms of others."
Aldweek stands relaxed and confident at the front of the classroom, gently encouraging the girls to participate. A soft smile graces his lips, and his eyes light up when they share an observation or experience in support of democratic ideals. His graying hair is matched by an equally peppered kempt mustache. Aldweek speaks to me in hushed tones about his goal of infusing Palestinian youth with tolerance and respect for differing races, religions, and genders. With ten schools in Jerusalem, he calculates, he could affect 400 families--and within a decade, he hopes for nothing less than a transformation of Palestinian culture.
Sounds dandy, no?
Read the next paragraph:-
He takes me back to his office, where two posters of Yasser Arafat adorn the walls. Arafat, I remark to Aldweek, was an autocrat who quashed dissent and democracy. Why, then, does he hang two posters so prominently? "It's a game," he replies cryptically. I push him further. "As a leader, we like him," he says, "but that doesn't mean I like everything he did."