Involvement in the Middle East
The Quaker presence in the Middle East goes back to the 1860s, when the first Quakers from Maine, USA arrived in Lebanon and Palestine. A community of Friends grew around the schools in Ramallah and Brummana. Palestinians encouraged American Friends to found a girls school in Ramallah, which was built in 1869 with the support of London Yearly Meeting. In 1901 the Friends Boys School was built. Both schools are now co-educational; the Friends Girls School has grades Kindergarten to 6 and the Friends Boys School grades 7 to 12.
Meanwhile London Yearly Meeting supported an existing school in Brummana, Lebanon. The school was founded by Theophilus Waldemeier, a German missionary who became a Friend as a result of contact with a travelling party of Friends led by Eli and Sybil Jones. A Monthly Meeting of Friends continues in Brummana to this day.
The Meetinghouse in Ramallah
A local Friends Meeting began to grow in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Following early difficulties, the meeting was revived in 1903 and a new stone Meetinghouse was built and dedicated in 1910. Ramallah Friends and Friends from the worldwide family celebrated together its centenary in 2010, committing themselves to continue to work for peace and justice and a pluralistic society. The banner inside the garden wall of the Meetinghouse, visible from the gate on the main road reads ‘Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse – A century of witness: working for justice and peace.’
The Friends’ community in Palestine has lived through the last years of the Ottoman Empire, the First World War, the British Mandate, the Second World War, the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, the 1948 War, the Nakba, the rule of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the War of 1967, the first Intifada, the Gulf War, the Palestinian Authority, the second Intifada, the Wall and the continuing Israeli military occupation. Despite these structures of violence and domination, Friends have always encouraged the signs of hope in the community and continue to do so. The Meetinghouse was a place of refuge for Palestinians fleeing their homes in 1948 and 1967, and a place for many community projects over the years.
Projects and activities
In the aftermath of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the American Friends Service Committee provided services to the refugees in Gaza. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees took over this work in May 1950. Since then AFSC has continued to work with Palestinians and with Israelis. The programme reflects AFSC's dual commitment to work for peace and justice and humanitarian assistance. Currently the AFSC runs a youth programme across the occupied Palestinian Territories with offices in Gaza, Ramallah and East Jerusalem. Its Middle East Regional Office is based in East Jerusalem.
The Am’ari Play Centre was established in 1974 with the financial support of Friends in Europe and the US and was housed in the Annex of the Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse. It later moved to Am’ari Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of Ramallah. It provides one year of pre-school education for up to 50 five-year-olds in the camp.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is an initiative of the World Council of Churches, begun in 2002, on a model developed by Quakers. QPSW is responsible for the co-ordination of the contribution to the programme in Britain and Ireland.
In the Gaza Strip, Quaker Service Norway (QSN) has supported 13 kindergartens since 1993. QSN pay a large percentage of the teachers’ wages through a grant from the Norwegian Development Agency, donations from Quaker organisations and other donors. The kindergartens were established by AFSC in the 1970s, and are now run by a local Palestinian NGO. The project was expanded in 2006 by providing training and counselling services for all teachers and parents of the Palestinian Early Childhood Education Programme, to help them deal professionally with the many cases of trauma they see in the children in their care.
In 2002 Ramallah Friends, in partnership with Philadelphia and Baltimore Yearly Meetings, renovated the Meetinghouse, the Annex, and grounds. After renovations were complete, the Meetinghouse was rededicated in March 2005 and the Friends International Center in Ramallah (FICR) was established as a ministry of the Meeting. Friends worldwide have joined in supporting the Meeting and the ministry of FICR.