Trending Topics:

Israel vs. #2 pencils: Israel refuses to allow SAT tests to enter the West Bank


As countless students around the world took the SAT a week ago, Palestinians from the West Bank could not join their ranks. The October SAT exam was cancelled for students in the West Bank: The Israeli authorities held the exams sent by the College Board for weeks, not releasing the tests to AMIDEAST’s office in Ramallah.

AMIDEAST is the only testing agency in the West Bank, serving over three hundred thousand Palestinian students. Yet Israel controls the flow of goods and people in and out of the ever-shrinking Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Israeli occupation impacts nearly every aspect of Palestinian life. In particular, the military occupation, illegal under international law, violates the basic right to education for Palestinian youth.

This SAT cancellation has been devastating for high school seniors across the West Bank who were planning to apply to college in the United States—including those from the Ramallah Friends School. As alumni of the school, we are proud of its emphasis on global citizenship. RFS has a rich history in Palestine. It was established in 1869 by American Quakers and has since been certified by the International Baccalaureate Organization in Switzerland. About half of RFS students are Palestinian Muslims and the other half are Palestinian Christians—the latter are descendants of the very first Christian community. We have been nurtured by values of peace, nonviolence, social justice, and equality—principles to which many Palestinian families are deeply committed.

Many Palestinians go on to the best universities across the United States each year, including Harvard. Recently, Harvard College admitted three individuals from RFS alone in one year. After graduating from college, many RFS graduates and their peers from other Palestinian schools return to Palestine because of the strong connection we feel to our homeland. We are eager to use the knowledge and skills we have gained abroad to help build a brighter future for the coming generations.

The College Board has announced that it will attempt to schedule a make-up test for those students who were supposed to take the October SAT. AMIDEAST suggested in an email that the tests were held because of an “administrative delay.” According to Michael Madormo, English teacher and Director of the College Preparatory Academy at RFS, “the SAT cancellation has been disheartening since it seems that the Israelis had the exams for weeks and despite efforts by UPS, ETS [Educational Testing Service], and AMIDEAST, the tests were not passed through customs.”

Palestinians have suffered from such profound lack of sovereignty for decades now. This latest SAT episode is merely a symptom of systematic attacks on Palestinian education.  During the first Intifada, Palestinian educational institutions were deemed illegal by the Israeli occupation forces, and our parents were forced to hold clandestine classrooms in churches, mosques, and private homes. During the second Intifada, RFS was directly affected by the bombing of a next door police station by the Israeli military and students were unable to attend school due to Israeli blockades and curfews. One of the authors of this article, Lena Awwad, could not attend RFS for three years due to extensive Israeli checkpoints, which prevented her from reaching school. By depriving this year’s RFS seniors the ability to take the SAT, and more broadly hurting Palestinian education, Israel is jeopardizing the academic trajectories of future leaders.

The Israeli policy of bulldozing and destroying Palestinian schools continues unabated. Israeli settlers in the West Bank harass and violently abuse Palestinian schoolchildren—and the hundreds of humiliating checkpoints, Israeli settler-only roads, and the apartheid wall significantly impede freedom of movement for Palestinians and the right to access school. Additionally, Palestinian academic institutions such as Birzeit University find it tremendously difficult to secure basic resources and supplies for their students such as books from abroad. Yet Palestinians are an incredibly resilient people. Despite the assault we face on our right to education and on our livelihoods in general, Palestinians have among the highest literacy rates in the Arab world and the region’s highest doctorates per capita.

It is daunting for us to explain the struggle of our families and nation under Israeli military occupation. It is difficult for others to imagine being prevented from taking an exam or, more importantly, to imagine having one’s right to education severely impinged upon because of a foreign occupying power. Palestinian voices are missing from mainstream discourse in the U.S. because of unconditional and blind support for Israel. Many Americans are conditioned to believe that Israeli policies are justified responses to security concerns. This raises the question, then, of what the SAT has to do with Israeli security. And this begs the additional question of when the right to basic human security will be recognized for Palestinians—a people that has been defenseless and stateless for far too long.

We hope that relentless Israeli policies enforced on our peers leading to the SAT cancellation will not impede their college application processes, and look forward to welcoming yet another group of Palestinians to Harvard in the fall.

This post originally appeared in the Harvard Crimson and has been republished with the author’s permission.

Lena K. Awwad and Shatha I. Hussein

Lena K. Awwad '13 studies neurobiology and Shatha I. Hussein '14 studies government at Harvard University.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

23 Responses

  1. pabelmont on October 17, 2012, 11:25 am

    Friends Schools and others should politely request that USA colleges and universities waive any requirement for SAT exams in the case of Palestinian students living where any government (Israel in particular) prevents the taking of the SAT exam.

    And indeed, they should ask the colleges and universities to make a public announcement of their disappointment in Israel (or other government’s) interference with normal practices of education in such a manner.

    • Abierno on October 17, 2012, 5:09 pm

      In this age of the internet, the College Board should e-mail the exams in a well encrypted program to appropriate administrative personnel. The exams can then be scanned and be returned similarly encrypted, by passing Israel altogether. Given the very serious issues of academic rigor in israeli high schools, this level of defensiveness regarding Palestinian acumen is not surprising. The presence of Palestinian students in competitive undergraduate and graduate programs (such as Harvard) gives strong and articulate voice to Palestinian students and youth as civilized and erudite. Also, the ever increasing pool of Palestinian graduates in international law, business, economics and science enlarge an the presence of a much needed professional class in Palestine as well as the Arab world.

      • annie on October 17, 2012, 8:48 pm

        abierno, this is exactly what i thought of. they don’t want palestinians at these prestigious institutions. the israel government doesn’t want them competing on the world stage with jewish students and they certainly don’t want them studying international law at the finest law schools in the country.

        it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

      • marc b. on October 18, 2012, 7:28 am

        abierno, this is really a perfect example of israel’s treatment of all of those under its thumb. they certainly make sure that lebanon is not an competitor, smashing its hopes for a consistent, robust tourist industry, interferring with its financial industries with the help of the US, etc.

  2. Bumblebye on October 17, 2012, 11:25 am

    Israel’s relentless interference in and blocking of educational opportunity for Palestinian children and students mean an academic boycott is long overdue. The Israeli governments own actions warrant such an international reaction. Someone should collate and present just one year’s worth of recorded incidences, and there ought to be an outcry from academics everywhere.

    • marc b. on October 17, 2012, 11:58 am

      mean an academic boycott is long overdue.

      damn fine point. all this kvetching over equivalency and proportion (what a joke) in the context of BDS. what, the inherent genius of israel, birthplace of the cherry tomato and fertilizer, is afraid to compete with intellectually inferior arabs? pfffftt. to every condescending, aloof academic; your hypothetical ‘plight’ doesn’t deserve a moment’s consideration until the kids get a chance.

  3. seafoid on October 17, 2012, 12:34 pm

    The Spanish didn’t allow the Aztecs to be educated post conquest. The English banned the Irish from education abroad in the 1700s. All occupations/settler colonial outfits come from the same well of cruelty.

  4. Stephen Shenfield on October 17, 2012, 12:35 pm

    I am inclined to see this as yet another step toward closing off channels of communication between the Palestinian territories and the outside world. That has even more dangerous implications.

  5. Avi_G. on October 17, 2012, 4:02 pm

    Cue sarcastic-and-playing-dumb voiceover:

    Wait a minute, but Israel claims that Gaza is the entity that is under siege — because of Hamas’ control — not the West Bank. And Thomas Friedman keeps lauding the BOOOOMING economy of the West Bank, all thanks to Israel’s easing of restrictions.

    So what gives?


    So is one to believe that Israel is actually playing the world for suckers? Is one to believe that Israel’s siege on Gaza — citing Hamas as the reason — is nothing but a convenient lie, a ploy?

    Say it ain’t so.

  6. DICKERSON3870 on October 17, 2012, 7:36 pm

    RE: “The October SAT exam was cancelled for students in the West Bank: The Israeli authorities held the exams sent by the College Board for weeks, not releasing the tests to AMIDEAST’s office in Ramallah.” ~ Awwad and Hussein

    DICK CHENEY: “So?”

    DONALD RUMSFELD: “Stuff happens and it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”

    “So?” says Dick Cheney [VIDEO, 00:51] –

    “Stuff Happens!” – Rumsfeld on looting after fall of Baghdad [VIDEO, 00:27] –

  7. CitizenC on October 17, 2012, 7:49 pm

    The article was passed around Boston on email, with this prefix:

    Dear Friends,

    After over a week of agonizing negotiations with the Harvard Crimson, we were finally able to publish this piece (please see the link below). It is written by Lena Awwad and Shatha Yasin, two Ramallah Friends School alums who are now at Harvard College. It takes a lot of courage to speak on Palestine at this campus. We would greatly appreciate your help in circulating this piece by email, Facebook, twitter, etc, and helping draw attention to this issue.

    • Abierno on October 17, 2012, 10:16 pm

      Another important issue raised by this situation is the fact that these high stakes tests are heavily security protected. The fact that Israel identified the packages and interdicted them is a direct violation of the security that surrounds these tests and which the college board goes to great length to maintain. If they were to be withheld from Palestine, they should have immediately been shipped back to New York. The issue is not only that Israeli officials withheld them, it’s that they kept them.
      If Israeli students were to have access to these tests as practice tests and training tools, it would give them immeasurable advantage internationally. Also, included would be the names and personal information of every Palestinian slated to take the test – thereby identifying the brightest and the best of young Palestinian students to Israeli/IOF agencies. In the hands of Israeli extremists this information could be used for intimidating tactics such as middle of the night physical, verbal or more serious harassment as well as administrative detention. Thus, students could be discouraged from even signing up to take the tests. This issue has the potential to represent serious international academic malfeasance and as such should be raised
      with college acrediting boards, the colleges as well the College Board which to date has done an outstanding job of protecting the security of their tests in order to make sure that every student – all over the world – has a fair and level playing field in the competitive stakes for college.

  8. annie on October 17, 2012, 8:54 pm

    from october 15th: US cancels Gaza scholarship program because Israel won’t let students travel

  9. Kate on October 18, 2012, 3:47 am

    Oct 17, 2012 2:52 PM EDT

    JERUSALEM (AP) – The U.S. State Department said dozens of Palestinian students whose SAT exams were delayed because of Israeli customs will take the test this Saturday.

    State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that about 100 students in the West Bank will sit the exam this weekend.

    “I’m happy to say that we have learned that this issue has now been resolved,” Nuland said.

  10. piotr on October 18, 2012, 1:36 pm

    Great. Probably someone from the State Department explained to Israelis that of course USA will not do anything about it, but Israel will look like total idiots and meanies. Which of course they are.

    There are tons of such examples. Israeli low/middle level officials hate Palestinians so much that they cannot resist opportunities to do something malicious. To them Palestinians are enemies, period. It happens in other places too, for example, president of Azerbaijan pardoned and promoted an officer who killed an Armenian officer while the two were sharing a dorm during some training organized by NATO. (USA expressed “concern”, haha). The resourceful Azerbaijani did not have a weapon, of course, so he used an axe. Importantly, his president pardoned him and promoted to gain popularity.

    This shows that any type of control, like customs, that Israeli exercise over Palestinians will be exercised as maliciously as they can get away with it. If they cannot utterly starve Palestinians, they would try to deprive it of anything that tastes well. When the ban on humus for Gaza was rescinded, they kept it for “humus with flavoring additions”. I thought that this is laughable until my supermarket had only plain store brand humus (I prefer pepper flavor, which was only Tribe or Sabra, not only more expensive but politically incorrect). Actually, plain humus is OK, but this ban on flavored humus reveals the mode of thinking, being utterly pointless otherwise.

    If they could spit to that humus, they would. Compare with the reports on Israeli soldiers shitting in Palestinian homes and offices. Kind of undignified. So what the high command did? They invented “shitting machines” that spray liquid with very durable shit smell, a.k.a. skunk water. I propose it to regularly raise the issue of “skunk water” when there is any discussion on Israeli ingenuity and technical achievements.

  11. proudzionist777 on October 22, 2012, 12:08 pm

    Facts, time and common sense expose Mondoweiss falsehoods.

    The SAT tests got hung up because Israeli Customs was closed for the Jewish holidays.

    • Woody Tanaka on October 22, 2012, 1:09 pm

      “The SAT tests got hung up because Israeli Customs was closed for the Jewish holidays.”

      LMAO. I’ll bet the people responsible for inflicting this on the Palestinian children it were sitting around in some basement in Tel Aviv when the truth of their evil ways was brought to light and they had to scheme an excuse to cover their immoral behavior:

      israeli 1: “We got caught with out racism on full display. What excuse are we going to use?”

      israeli 2: “Hey, I know, we just say it got caught up at customs for the Jewish holiday.”

      israeli 1: “Oh, come on. That holiday was a month ago. There’s no one in the world stupid enough to believe that. Besides, if this ‘customs’ excuse was true, wouldn’t we have said it before, when the story first broke?”

      israeli 2: “Don’t worry, we have a lot of stupid suckers and pud racists would be happy to push this lie as the ‘real story.'”

      • hophmi on October 22, 2012, 1:19 pm

        “The SAT tests got hung up because Israeli Customs was closed for the Jewish holidays.”

        Will you be publishing a correction?

      • Woody Tanaka on October 22, 2012, 2:26 pm

        “Will you be publishing a correction?”

        LMAO. Based on hearsay atop hearsay atop hearsay atop hearsay atop hearsay? No one in their right mind would. Besides, thre’s nothing to correct; the israelis didn’t allow the SAT tests when they were scheduled and now there is a rumor that they’re deciding to blame “customs.” (No doubt the tests for the Jewish kids just soared right through customs.)

      • proudzionist777 on October 22, 2012, 1:43 pm


        If you are interested in a ‘real story’, I shipped an automobile to Israel which delivery to me was held up because….Israeli Customs was closed for the Jewish holidays.


      • Woody Tanaka on October 22, 2012, 2:29 pm

        israeli 2: “And maybe we can have the stupid suckers and pud racists spread irrelevant stories about how non-comparable items were held up for the same reasons.”

        israeli 1: “No. It’s still too much of a stretch. Too many holes.”

  12. vered on October 22, 2012, 11:15 pm

    The long history of Israelis denying Palestinians the right of education, in one form or another –

  13. piotr on October 23, 2012, 1:53 am

    As Woody observed, the tests were shipped to Israel and Palestine probably at the same time by UPS, and arrived together on the same plane. However, some of these packages were delayed (by two weeks?) because of a SERIES of Jewish holidays, and some were not.

    I was thinking to mail two gift packages to Israel and Palestine on the same day to watch what happens, and to make wagers which one will be faster. Perhaps we can find two children to make a gift? Say

Leave a Reply