Nybyggare, Strömsborg, Valhalla, Vallby 1900C

Nybyggare, Strömsborg, Valhalla, Vallby 1900C
Strömsborg, Valhalla, Vallby 1900C

onsdag 30 maj 2012

Signe Ekblad and the Swedish School in Jerusalem 1922-1948

Sammanfattning: Signe Ekblads verksamhet i Jerusalem 1922-1948, av Inger Marie Okkenhaug.
I mars 1942 får Signe Ekblad mycket uppmärksamhet för sin framgång som rektor för en mycket uppskattad läroanstalt i Mandatet Palestina. Vid firande av hennes tjugoårsdag i Jerusalem visades att Signe Ekblad var en del av Jerusalems samhälle, inte bara, brittiska och arabiska, utan även av de judiska samhällena. Denna händelse bekräftade att hon erkändes som en officiell representant för Sverige. Hon tillhör det internationella samhället i Jerusalem och i hennes privatliv får ses i det faktum att trettio gäster, brittiska, arabiska och judiska vänner, dök upp vid en privat fest. Hon firades officiell när den brittiska distriktskommissionären kom för att gratulera henne. En tid senare, i samband med hennes 50-årsdag, gav svenska staten henne en hedersutmärkelse.35

Det kan ha varit en önskan eller behov av Signe Ekblad att se sig själv i ett historiskt perspektiv som skapade hennes fokus på att inspirera annan svenska kvinnor som hade stannat kvar i Jerusalem, som en St Birgitta pilgrim. När Ekblad tillfrågades om hur hon kände om sin roll som missionär och arbete i Palestina, svarade hon med ett citat från St Birgitta, som kom till Palestina i 1370-talet: "Jag är bara en budbärare från en stor och mäktig Gud. Han är ansvarig för uppdragen jag får och vart han skickar mig. Jag har bara att lyda honom ".36

Uppenbarelserna av St Birgitta var inte fel att citera. Tvärtom, de var praktiska och konkreta, och ofta inspirerade av faktisk social ojämlikhet och skillnader. Här ser vi en likhet mellan dessa två kvinnor som var och en på sin egen tid drogs till Jerusalem. Signe Ekblad hade också en uppenbarelse av en pedagogisk uppdrag i "det heliga landet". Denna kallelse ledde till mycket praktiskt och konkret arbete bland den arabiska befolkningen i en tid av stora förändringar i Palestina.

För att lyckas i det starkt patriarkala koloniala samhället, placerade Ekblad sig själv och den svenska skola nära de brittiska härskarna. Medan hennes arbete inom både hälsa och utbildning syftade till att ändra den dubbla uppsättningen av patriarkala strukturer, arabiska och västerländska. Hennes ställningstagande var viktiga attribut som påverkade palestinska flickor och kvinnors liv under denna period.

Swedish Missiological Themes, 94, 2 (2006)
Signe Ekblad and the Swedish School in Jerusalem 1922-1948
Inger Marie Okkenhaug

After World War I, France and England, the new rulers of the Levant, were to rely heavily on private agents, and especially missionaries, in providing health and educational services in the new mandate areas of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.1 In Palestine the most important private schools were owned by various Anglican and Catholic mission organizations.2 However, one of the prestigious primary schools for Arab girls in Jerusalem was owned and run by the Lutheran Swedish Jerusalem Society – SJS (Svenska Jerusalemsföreningen). The headmistress from 1922 till 1948, Signe Ekblad, who was a central player in the organization’s work, was also involved in healthrelated projects. This essay attempts to situate Signe Ekblad and her educational and social work within the context of Mandatory Palestine. The aim is not merely to focus on the Scandinavian missionary’s strategies for handling the ”colonial encounter”, but also to study the encounter empirically as a complex interaction with local peoples. How did the Swedish institution have direct bearing on the local population?
This encounter is seen from the Swedish perspective, as my sources are entirely Swedish, consisting of the SJS journals and Signe Ekblad’s reports and letters to the board in Uppsala.3 While Sweden was not a colonial power at this time, the Swedish institution belonged to the Western imperial presence in the Levant. In an analysis of the tensions and power relations between missionary and local population, -- the participants in this kind of Western social mission work – I will argue that one must take into account the personal aspect and religious context. Thus, it is necessary to focus on Signe Ekblad’s own understanding of her mission in Palestine. She was 28 years old when she arrived there and she spent most of her adult life in the country. Ultimately, my aim is to develop a picture of the ways in which Signe Ekblad’s efforts contributed to the daily lives of the people in Jerusalem.

Theoretical Framework
Wars often bring about changes in material conditions, beliefs, ideologies and gender systems. In the words of Albert Hourani: ”Wars are catalysts, bringing to consciousness feelings hitherto inarticulate and creating expectations of change”.4 This is especially true for World War I, both in Europe and in the Levant. The Ottoman province of Greater Syria (including Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Transjordan) suffered immense losses during the war with as many as 500 000 dead from hunger and disease. These extreme conditions led to women having to take over the role of the head of the family. This was a breakdown in what has been termed ”the classic patriarchal bargain”, in which women offered their obedience in exchange for security. The basis of the patriarchal bargain was shaken by the inability of men to provide for their wives.5
Elizabeth Thompson has shown how this restructuring of gender roles became a fundamental precondition for the formation of civic order in the French mandate areas. The same can be said for Palestine. She introduces the term ”paternalism” to describe the Mandatory system of rule. Paternalism is a system of power defined by the ability to control the distribution of benefits (not by recognition of the rights to benefits). Mediating elites emerge between the state and the mass of citizens to broker these benefits by winning privileged access to them from the state, and by using that access to control the unprivileged majority. The second attribute of paternalism is that it defines authority as that of the father, essentially male, and passed down from one male to the next.6 During the Mandate period in the Levant, the system of power can be termed paternal colonialism.
Palestine, like Syria and Lebanon, was theoretically ruled by a mandate from the League of Nations (a mandate that included recognition of the nationalist movement, Zionism, that competed with the Palestinian Arab population). In practical terms, however, there was a high level of colonial intervention. As described by Ilan Pappe, among others, the British tried to influence local agricultural policy, educational infrastructure, medical services, and political orientation. The clear aim was limited modernization, since full urbanization was deemed a dangerously uncontrollable process. ”The colonial officials thus allowed only a slow process of change; the local social elite was to be left intact but subordinate to the British officials, who would mediate between village and government.”7
In the system of colonial paternalism, Signe Ekblad became part of the ”mediating elite”, by which her educational scheme and later health-projects were recognized, encouraged and partly financed by the Mandate state. In the educational hierarchy, Ekblad was placed under the Department of Education, headed by Humphrey Bowman, ”a quintessential colonial educator”,8 and she acted as a mediator between her Arab staff, pupils and parents and the colonial authorities. However, as a woman, she was subjugated to the gendered hierarchy of power. How did Ekblad define her position in relation to the British colonial authorities, to the local population and to the gender hierarchy that was one of the essential attributes of colonial paternalism?

Background: Swedish Patriarchy
Signe Ekblad (1894-1952) was the eldest of eight children in a middle class family in Stockholm. Low church and free-church movements that had a strong position in Sweden in the late nineteenth century inspired her father, Karl Ekblad. He ruled the family in the manner of an Old Testament patriarch, and did not pick up on notions of women’s rights that were budding in some milieus in Sweden at the time. When Signe wanted to study at the university, her father sent her instead to a teachers’ seminary. All her brothers qualified for university, but Karl Ekblad refused his daughter the same opportunity. However, without her father knowing, Ekblad qualified for university in 1920. Later on, after several years in Palestine, she studied for and received an MA in Semitic languages at Uppsala University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in Scandinavia.9

Did Signe Ekblad choose to go to Palestine to avoid a stern, patriarchal father? Her father’s authority had so far been decisive for her life, and by succeeding in taking the matriculation exam, she had challenged and transgressed his authority. By leaving Sweden she would be able to control her own life. She might have feared a confrontation with her father; Ekblad had a strong personality and had been described as a masterful woman. Even so, in her autobiographical texts, she describes her decision as a religious calling. These texts Ekblad wrote late in her life and it might have been coloured by almost thirty years of practice in Palestine. In practical terms her calling to work in Jerusalem was a way to break out of the patriarchal authority that had been formative for her life so far.10
However, Ekblad’s calling was also inspired by the Swedish settlement movement’s work among the poor industrial workers living in the slums of inner Stockholm. She had been at the settlement, Birkagården, from 1915 till 1918. Birkagården was established in 1912 by members of the radical Christian, intellectual and cultural elite in Sweden. It was based on the British settlement movement in East End of London, and combined practical Christian-inspired work and education with social justice. Social Christianity, reconciliation between the classes and help-to-self-help, not charity, were the central points of this movement. Both in England and in Sweden the settlement movement contributed powerfully to the establish- ment of the welfare state.11 
Signe Ekblad was profoundly influenced by her three years of work at Birkagården.12 Her interest in social work stemmed from this period and so did her calling to become a teacher. A teacher’s career would enable her to implement some of the ideas she had learned during these three years. Thus, when Ekblad wrote of her calling to go to Jerusalem, it was not an emotional surrender to religiosity. On the contrary, she described it as a sober consideration, influenced by the knowledge of the sufferings of fellow human beings.13 In her autobiography Ekblad did not define ”suffering”, but judging by her life, it becomes clear that for Ekblad a good Christian is a practical, energetic person, who shows her Christian faith through humanitarian work – as she had done in her work among the poor in Stockholm. This combination was clearly seen in Signe Ekblad’s comprehensive contribution at the Swedish School, where the calling became a catalyst for a successful career as teacher, leader and social worker. This was also in line with the ideology of the organization she was to work for, the Swedish Jerusalem Society (SJS).

The Swedish Jerusalem Society
The Swedish Jerusalem Society established a school in Jerusalem in 1900. The organization started out as a mission to the Jews, ”to conquer the Holy Land for Christ”. However, after the two first years of its existence, proselytizing was never a part of the SJS agenda. Their first missionary, Henrik Steen, himself a converted East European Jew, came to Palestine in 1900. His mission was to proselytize among the Jews. In the same manner as other evangelization projects aimed at the Jewish population, this was a failure. Steen recommended that the SJS change their work to social work among the Arab population. After that time, the SJS never attempted to evangelize, but defined their mission as practical health work and educational work.
In practical terms, in the years before 1918, the SJS worked almost exclusively among the Christian Arab population, and after the war also among the Muslim population. Its founding fathers came from the elite of Sweden and among its early members a high number were clergy. The organization continued to be middleclass/ upper middle class. It has been described as an official organization within the Church of Sweden under the protection of the Swedish royal family.14
The founding fathers were strongly influenced by the German Protestant organization ”Jerusalem-Verein zu Berlin” and their activities in Palestine. However, the Swedish King insisted that the SJS should not be part of the German organization, but that it should represent the Swedish nation. With the encouragement from the ”Jerusalem-Verein zu Berlin”, the Swedish organization established a school for girls in Jerusalem. The school was open to both Jews and Arab, but the great majority were Arab Christian children. In 1909 the Ottoman authorities recognized the institution under the name ”École de la Sociéte de Jérusalem”. Thus the school was an official part of the Ottoman educational system and was to represent a continuation from Ottoman times to the post-war British system.
During World War I, British, French and Russian missionaries were expelled, while the Swedes’ good connections with Germany, Turkey’s ally, meant that the Swedish school was kept open with the help of German women missionaries. However, four years of war and disaster had marked the school. The bad physical conditions were a surprise to the new headmistress when she arrived in the fall of 1922.

The Mandate Period
Signe Ekblad’s first impression of the school, located not far from Damascus gate outside the city walls, shocked her. The sign on the front gate said ”Kindergarten” and not ”school”, as she had expected, and the playground was small and in bad condition. Ekblad started work at once. Instead of spending one year on studying Arabic before taking over the school full time, as the mission board had decided, Ekblad gave herself one month before taking over all responsibility. During the first term, there were 62 children of whom 43 were Greek Catholic, 8 Protestant, 7 Muslim and 4 Roman Catholic. But did the Swedish school have a role to play in a post-war, British ruled Palestine? This question had to be answered in Ekblad’s first report to the mission board. The organization also owned and ran a hospital in Bethlehem, and with low finances, these two enterprises competed with each other for the necessary support from the Board in Uppsala.
The great restructuring of gender roles that had come about as a consequence of the war had also changed the views on women’s possibilities in life. Women had had to take over the role of the head of the family. This led to a growing acceptance of women’s education and employment in Palestine as well. After 1918 the Anglican schools had waiting lists for girls wanting a modern education.15 There was clearly a need for girl’s schools and Ekblad saw the opportunity for Swedish educational work. She wrote back to the Board in Uppsala, saying that the Mandatory school system welcomed the Swedish school for Arab girls. However, it had to be ”a good school with a good Kindergarten”.16
From 1922 the Swedish school did receive state funding, like other private schools in Mandatory Palestine. Thus the school was part of the British Mandate’s educational system, which supported and was depended on by private schools. The British system never became substantial enough to cater to all Arab children. As a result of state policy, many girls had no public school to attend. Official policy routed girls into private, and mostly religious schools, while it offered more direct support for public education of boys. The only higher state education for girls that existed for Arab girls during the Mandate was two teacher colleges. Jewish society in Palestine had a much better educational system and with the process of consolidating the Jewish (Zionist) society, educating Jewish children in Hebrew schools became more and more important.17 Signe Ekblad knew and understood this dual, separate educational system. When mission supporters in Sweden noted the lack of Jewish children in the Swedish school, Ekblad pointed to an analysis of the British government’s educational policy in Palestine. She argued that while the Jewish population had schools for most of its children, only 41 per cent of the Arab boys and 18 per cent of the Arab girls had the opportunity to go to school.18 This meant that boys’ schools outnumbered girls’ schools by a ratio of more than ten to one.19 Ekblad concluded that such facts clearly indicated that the Arabs needed help in developing their educational system. She told the mission supporters at home that: ”We are needed among the Arabs”.20 This was a mediating agent speaking. The Arab population needed help on their way to a modern society. Thus Ekblad took on the role of a parent supervising the Arab population in their struggle for better education. The British Mandate authorities also shared the aim of modernizing Palestine. However, the British wanted to avoid the hazardous leap forward that could produce anti-British nationalism, as seen in Egypt and India. The colonial officials thus allowed only a slow process of change.21 In terms of educational policy, this meant that rural, primary education for boys was given priority. Urbanization was an evil to be avoided. The Mandate authorities did not give priority to education for girls in the cities, which to a large extent became an arena for private schools (both Christian and Muslim).
Thus, the Mandate system gave openings for a private educational institution like the Swedish school, which also met a real need among the Arab population. The increase in pupils made Ekblad’s ambitions grow. In 1928 she could invite the Director of Education, Humphrey Bowman, to a large new school built on an impressive site owned by the SJS. Bowman praised the new buildings, emphasising the importance of the school for Arab girls in Jerusalem.
Personally, this was not a small victory for Ekblad, who had single-handedly convinced a sceptical board in Sweden that this was a viable project. She had spent her summer vacations in Sweden fundraising and had won the support and admiration of the Governor of Jerusalem, Edward Keith-Roach. Around the year 1930 there were 250 pupils in the Kindergarten and the primary school. The boys had to leave the school at the age of 9-10, when they began second or third grade in another mission school (often Anglican) or a state school. The girls who were allowed to continue in the ”higher school” left for similar institutions after the fourth or fifth grade. Arabic was the main language of instruction, while English was also taught since the parents wanted their daughters to master the language of the Mandate power. Bowman’s support, and the praise of the Swedish minister in Cairo, Baron Harald Bildt, who earlier had advised against the building of a new school, testify that Ekblad had succeeded in her ambition of making the Swedish school into one of the best Christian, pedagogical schools for Arab children in Palestine.22 It was important to her that this work was recognized and lauded by the British colonial power. Even so, Ekblad was not part of the exclusive Mandate ruling society. One way of receiving respect by the ruling elite was through university degrees. When she received an MA in History of Religion, English and Semitic languages (studying at the same time as she headed the school), Ekblad was partly motivated by the idea that it would increase her own and the school’s standing with the British rulers if she had a university degree.23
In the gendered Mandate society, where the state systematically discriminated for men over women (using Thompson’s phrase), Ekblad could offer Arab girls, who were able to pay the fees, a good primary education. However, gender was only one of several dividing factors in Palestine; class and regional divides also influenced life-opportunities. There was a great divide between the poor, urban population and the wealthy middle class in Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa. This social pattern was also seen in the backgrounds of the pupils at the Swedish school. The regular pupils came from families who could afford to pay the school fee, and a majority was Christian. Even so, in her educational project, Ekblad also wanted to include ”the poorest girls in Jerusalem” from the Muslim area.24 She established a course for girls who could not afford schooling. The course consisted of basic Arabic, English and ”other subjects that might be of help”. She herself characterised this project as ”significant social work”. In practical terms it was a ”help to self-help” project, aimed at enabling women to support their families financially. The girls were ten to twelve years old, and had not had much schooling before. In the course, they were taught sewing and were allowed to stay until they got married. The girls, who were often undernourished, were given a meal at school and they received treatment for trachoma.25 This health work was after some time expanded and all pupils who needed it were given treatment. The health department recognized its importance, and it received a relatively large part of Jerusalem’s public administration budget.26
But the Swedish school was not only a well kept, modern institution with beautiful Scandinavian design furniture and textiles imported from Sweden, surrounded by a blooming garden. Being true to her experiences from Birkagården and the settlement movement, Ekblad also saw her pupils’ lives in a larger context. In her articles the emphasis is often on the difference between the tourist’s experiences of picturesque ”Biblical” Jerusalem and the social reality she knew and of which the Swedish institution was part. Poverty, unhealthy housing and malnutrition are frequently mentioned in her descriptions of the poorer part of Jerusalem’s Arab population. She underlines that this was the reality in which a large part of the population lived, even if it was not visible to the tourist gaze. Ekblad showed the link between on the one side, social conditions, with high unemployment and poverty, and on the other side, religious and political extremism. To this social challenge, Ekblad reacted with viable action: She initiated and organized a soup kitchen for the forty to fifty girls in the sewing class, a service that was extended to also include their mothers and younger siblings.
This soup kitchen, called the ”Green Hall”, was established as part of the school in 1938. This was also one of Ekblad’s projects, which she initiated, financed and organized in addition to her full time position as headmistress. In times of political and social crisis, as for example during the Arab revolt 1936-1939, around one hundred children from other schools and their mothers and smaller sisters and brothers also received food at the Swedish school. At another time of crisis, during the war of 1947-1948, Signe Ekblad organised soup kitchens for the poor in the old city. Teachers and pupils from the Swedish school contributed to this work.27
However, Ekblad realized that her contribution only gave immediate relief and she argued for a total social-political change concerning the living conditions among the poorest section of the population. Who were to blame for these social conditions? Ellen Fleischmann writes that missionaries’ ”testimony and observations about Middle Eastern women’s status are monolithically negative and condemnatory, depicting women as abject and degraded, conditions they attributed to Islam”.28 This is not true for the images and ideas expressed by Ekblad in her texts. Islam is not mentioned
as the cause of poverty and her descriptions of Muslim girls and women are not by any standards ”monolithically negative and condemnatory”. Ekblad wrote, for example often of the poorest girls in the school and she was especially concerned with their future possibilities. Many got married at the age of 13 or 14. These girls could expect a life of hard work and submission, both in relation to their husbands and older wives. Ekblad does not, however, describe these girls only as victims. On the contrary, several of the young Muslim girls are portrayed as strong-willed and active individuals, who developed efficient strategies in order to obtain influence in their homes.
Ekblad never explicitly mentions who or what was responsible for the existing social conditions. Her real concern was, however, the great extent to which the people seemed to accept the conditions they were living under without expressing discontent. The parents of her pupils did not complain, but seeing that Ekblad and her colleagues were genuinely interested, they told the facts of their daily life in a disengaged, matter of fact manner. The worst part, said Ekblad, was the stoic acceptance of their situation; they did not long for or did not know of a better way of living. ”How can one help those who do not realize that they need help?” was her question.29 Again Ekblad took on the role of a parent caring for children who did not even know that they were in need.
The poor social conditions mentioned above, stand in great contrast to the wealthy Arab homes Ekblad sometimes visited, as seen in the following visit with one of the girls in the sewing-class, who had hurt herself. Ekblad walked the girl home. The girls’ mother, however, was at work. She worked as a cleaner at the house of a wealthy Arab family and that is where headmistress and the girl walked. All the women of the house got involved in the visit and Ekblad was invited in for coffee.30
In this article the main focus is on the great love between mother and daughter, a portrayal of the mother as exhausted, half-blind and ill, and on the society of women. They sit together in the well-furnished, bourgeoisie living room with a plush sofa and a piano – probably the room where the men of the family entertained their male guests. What these women from very different religious and social backgrounds could agree upon, while
they for a short moment occupied the men’s area, was the belief in a religious world. Islam or Christianity; it does not really matter in this connection.
The gender-segregated society is a theme Signe Ekblad often reflects upon and she saw the existing patriarchal structure as the basic foundation of Palestinian society. One of her main aims was to contribute to change in this paternalist system. In this project of challenging the gender hierarchy, Ekblad found allies among her Arab female staff of teachers. Already a few months after she came to Palestine, Ekblad described a visit by an Arab mother (who spoke English, which indicated that she had at some point attended a mission school) and an American missionary woman. They came to ask for the Arab woman’s daughter, Viktoria, to be exempted from school fees. Ekblad’s Arab colleagues assured her that this family had the means to pay for their daughter’s education. The family had two sons in a British mission school and they paid fifteen pounds a year for each son in school fees. Even so, the family was not willing to pay the fee for their daughter, which was less than one pound per year. Ekblad’s written account of this meeting reveals a profound indignation of the existing gender hierarchy:
I shall remember the tone and the manner when the English speaking Arab woman answered, ”But she is just a girl! Who would want to waste money to keep a girl in school?” Afterwards the words ”just a girl” has often come to my mind. What is a girl here? The parents are not congratulated when a girl is born; instead family and neighbours lament the fact.31
This concern with the plight of girls can be understood when looking at Ekblad’s own background. Her own educational opportunities had been blocked by a father’s notion of ”she is only a girl”. This experience enabled Signe Ekblad to identify with the conditions that Arab girls lived under.
It is worth noticing how Ekblad created distance between herself and the Arab mother and American woman missionary on the one side, and allied herself with her female, Arab colleagues, whom she called ”comrades”. In Swedish ”comrades” (kamrater) implies a form of working friendship. It also entails shared work experience and solidarity. These qualities were central in the ideology of the settlement movement and Ekblad’s years at Birkagården, where equality among people regardless of class, race and gender were essential ideals, and should not be underestimated as a fundamental influence on her relations with her staff in Jerusalem.
In this article Ekblad showed a nuanced picture of ”Arab women”; they could be reactionary mothers, but also educated teacher-colleagues. Even so, Ekblad also included a nuanced picture of the ”missionary woman”. The American missionary is seen as just as reactionary as the Arab woman. However, Ekblad not only experienced Arab society as patriarchal, but also the British. The following incident underlines this notion. Ekblad got involved in the process of obtaining visas for two Swedish bishops and their wives, who planned a visit to Palestine; however, it was only the men who needed entry permit and Ekblad comments: ”The wives of the bishops did not need any permits, since in this country women are not valued enough for the authorities to care about what they (women) are up to.”32 ”The authorities” were the British mandate government. Women’s suppressed status was thus not necessarily a result of Islam and Arab culture. To Ekblad, women’s subordination could also be a fundamental characteristic of a Christian, Protestant culture.

The Other’s Gaze
How did the Arab pupils, parents and staff relate to the Swedish school and Signe Ekblad? This fundamental question I cannot answer. The sources simply are not here. This issue is, however, not unique to the study of the Swedish Jerusalem Society, but so far typical of existing mission-related research. One of the few studies of Arab women’s response to mission education is written by Marilyn Booth. She concludes that
it is the missionary teacher’s sensitivity to her local context, and her commitment to a place, a language and a rising generation of Arab girls who craved education, that receive emphasis and praise. Moreover, it is suggested that these were teachers who treated pupils and other teachers with respect and a lack of hierarchical thinking. Finally, there is a suggestion that the encounter between teacher and taught was not a one-way street; that the missionaries as well as their ”targets” were influenced and changed.33

While this study is concerned with American and British missionaries, I would argue that it might also be a description of Signe Ekblad. It is difficult to tell to what extent she identified with the Arab population in Jerusalem. But Ekblad’s account of the clearing up after the school was bombed in December 1947, is revealing. The material damage was great, including 262 broken windowpanes. All the teachers and neighbours and friends helped. Ekblad describes the feelings of solidarity, spirit of community and empathy that she experienced from her Arab surroundings: ”I do not think I have ever felt such love’s kindness that I felt yesterday from children, (female) teachers and neighbours.”34

In March 1942 Signe Ekblad received much public attention for her success as rector of a highly regarded educational institution in Mandatory Palestine. The celebration of her twentieth anniversary in Jerusalem showed to what extent Signe Ekblad was part of the Jerusalem society, not only the foreign, British and Arab, but also the Jewish. This event also indicated to what extent she was recognized as an official representative for Sweden. Her belonging to the international society of Jerusalem in her private life is seen in the fact that thirty guests, British, Arab and Jewish friends, showed up for a private party. She was also celebrated in an official event, where the British District Commissioner came to congratulate her on behalf of the city. Some time later, in connection with her 50th birthday, the Swedish state gave her an honorary recognition.35
It might have been a wish or need to see herself in a historical perspective that made Signe Ekblad focus on the inspiration by another Swedish woman who had stayed in Jerusalem as a pilgrim, St. Birgitta. When Ekblad was asked how she felt about her role as missionary and the lack of converted souls after a life of work in Palestine, she answered with a quotation from St. Birgitta, who came to Palestine in the 1370s: ”I am only a messenger from a great and powerful Lord. He is responsible for the message I carry and for where he sends me. I have only to obey him”.36

The revelations of St. Birgitta were not full of quotations from the Bible and the Fathers of the Church. On the contrary, they were practical and concrete, and were often inspired by actual social inequalities and disparity. Here we see a similarity between these two women, who each in their own time were drawn to Jerusalem. Signe Ekblad also had a revelation of an educational mission in ”the Holy Land”. This calling led to very practical and tangible work among the Arab population at a time of great change in Palestine.
In order to succeed within a paternalist colonial society, Ekblad positioned herself and the Swedish school close to the British rulers. However, her work within both health and education was aimed at changing the double set of patriarchal structures, Arab and Western, that were essential attributes of Palestinian women’s lives during the Mandatory period. 

1 E. Thompson Colonial Citizens. Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon Columbia, 2000, pp. 61-63 and I. M. Okkenhaug ”The quality of heroic living, of high endeavor and adventure” Anglican Mission, Women and Education in Palestine, 1888-1948 Leiden, 2002. In Aleppo and Beirut Danish and Norwegian women missionaries were among the private agents that established orphanages, hospitals and schools for the many refugee children who were in need of care. See I. M. Okkenhaug ”Bodil Biørn: A Lifetime Dedicated to the Armenian People (1905-1934)”. Work in progress, to be published in the conference proceedings ”90 Years After ... Exploring New Avenues of Research, A Symposium on the Armenian Genocide”, Jerusalem 2005.
2 See Okkenhaug 2002
3 One exception: One elderly Arab I met in Jerusalem earlier this year told me that one of his sisters had been a pupil at the Swedish school in the 1930s. He had gone to St. George, the Anglican schools for boys. Both schools he told me were ”the best”. Jerusalem, Sept. 2005.
4 A. Hourani A History of the Arab peoples 1991: 316.
5 D. Kandiyoti ”Bargaining with patriarchy”Gender & Society 2 (September 1988) pp 274-89. Quoted in Thompson.
6 Thompson pp. 66-67. Thompson distinguishes paternalism from patriarchy thus: Paternalism is fluid and negotiated. Paternalism is historically constructed, and not a timeless structure of relationships.
7 I. Pappe A Modern History of Palestine Cambridge, 2004 p. 74.
8 Ibid. 74 
9 See S. Björklund Signe Ekblad Uppsala 1954
10 On Lutheran women and calling, see P. Markkola Gender and Vocation: Women, Religion and Social Change in the Nordic Countries, 1830-1940 Helsinki 2000.
11 See K. Bentley Beumann Women and the Settlement Movement London/New York 1996. Birkagården , http:www.birkagarden.se 

12 G. Björck Sverige i Jerusalem och Betlehem. Svenska Jerusalemföreningen 1900-1948, Uppsala 2000, p. 18-19.
13 S. Ekblad Lyckliga Arbetsår i Jerusalem Uppsala 1949: 26 

14 Björck, pp. 13-17. Their religious background was Church of Sweden, influenced by evangelical revival from the English Lord Rastock. 
15 Okkenhaug 2002
16 Björkman 1954, p. 42
17 Okkenhaug 2002
18 The mission supporters wanted to convert Jews. 19 Fleischmann 2003, p. 38. 

20 Ekblad 1949, p. 145. Numbers from 1940 21 Pappe p.74. 
22 Svenska Jerusalemsföreningens Tidsskrift, nr. 3, 1926.
23 R. Murray & E. W. Albertson Läka, lära, tjäna: Svenska Jerusalemsföreningen under åttio år Stockholm 1982, p. 99.
24 Ekblad p. 18-19.
25 Ibid.
26 Ekblad, 1949, pp. 18-19. 

27 Ibid.
28 E. Fleischmann The Nation and its ”New” Women: The Palestinian Women’s Movement 1920-48 Berkely/London 2003, p. 34. 

29 Ekblad 1949, p. 57. 
30 Ibid, p. 63. 
31 J. O. Johansson & S. Norin Född i Jerusalem: Svenska Jerusalemsföreningen etthundra år Ingelstad 2000, p. 13.
32 Ekblad 1949, p. 62.
33 M. Booth, ”She Herself was the Ultimate Rule”: Arab biographies of missionary teachers and their pupils Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 2002, 4: 429.
34 Johansson & Norin 2000, p. 128-29: The Jewish shopkeeper next door also helped in clearing up the school.
35 Björkman p. 115.
36 http://www.katolsk.no/biografi/birgitta.htm

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