Ramallah Meeting House - Centennial Celebrations
There have been Friends in Ramallah since 1869, when Quaker Missionaries from Maine established a school for girls. A Monthly Meeting was organised in 1890 with a membership of 35 people, though this was later laid down, and reconstituted in 1903, by which time the Friends’ Boys’ school had also been started.
The Meeting House was built and dedicated in 1910, principally through the efforts of Timothy B. Hussey, whose great-grandson was one of the people who attended the centennial commemoration on 7th March 2010. Friends came from the United States and from Europe to gather around the Meeting, which, though very small in numbers, continues to provide the focus for a substantial Quaker presence in the area, through the Friends Schools (still called “Girls” and “Boys”, though both co-educational now, with the “Girls” School catering for junior years, and the “Boys” School being the Senior school), the Friends International Center, the programmes run by the Americal Friends Service Committee and the Am’ari Play Centre.
The celebrations included cultural events to help the visitors learn more about the history and heritage of local Quakers. A guided walk around the rapidly developing city identified sites of architectural significance, some of which have been restored to preserve the historical character of Ramallah, which is in danger of disappearing through the pressures of development. Students at the Friends Boys’ School performed a wonderfully energetic Debke, local dance, to the great enjoyment of an appreciative audience. Singer Sana Moussa and some of her Nawa Athar Group gave a wonderful concert of traditional music in the Meeting House, which has excellent acoustics and lends itself very well for this type of use.
We also had inspiring lectures from Jean Zaru, the Clerk of the Meeting, on “Quakers in Palestine: The Role of Women”, and “The Quaker Peace Testimony; Speaking Truth to Power” by Max Carter and Jim Fine.
The Meeting for Worship on Sunday 7th March heard Jean Zaru’s welcoming address. It was attended by well over 100 people, many of them locals, and some Internationals working in NGOs in Israel and in the Occupied Territories. It was a very moving Meeting, with many messages of greeting, including from the Mayor of the Ramallah Municipality, and messages of solidarity, thankfulness and hope. The most touching bit of ministry was a little play performed by the young people of the Meeting, which portrayed John Woolman visiting a slave-owning family of Friends, and refusing to take any food or drink that had been made by slaves, and choosing to sleep with the slaves in their quarters rather than in the comfortable bed offered him. A poignant message from people living under ever more oppressive restrictions to their freedom of movement, and denied basic civil rights.
In spite of the warm hospitality and enjoyable celebratory events, the shadow of the military occupation was never far away – in the queues at the Qalandya and other checkpoints to travel to Jerusalem (which only internationals and Palestinians with a Jerusalem Residence Permit can do) or elsewhere in the West Bank, the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, and the roads that serve them, in the presence of the ugly wall that defaces the landscape, in the restrictions of supplies of water and electricity, and in the diminishing hope for a fair and just resolution to the conflict.
We found comfort in the creative ways Palestinian people, especially its youth, are finding to resist non-violently, and in the many dissenting voices from within Israel and the Jewish communities abroad advocating a just peace. The Friends International Center in Ramallah FICR has been playing a key role in creating opportunities to give these voices a platform, and to maintain a resource for use by local people. Following the celebration on 7th March, a consultation exercise took place to look at how best FICR can develop in future.