"Palestine in a week" : Youth Exchange Camp
The project 'Palestine in a Week’ organized by Palestinian Youth Union (PYU), in cooperation with CADFA, and funded by Euro-med took place from the 2nd to the 11th of September 2013. It involved students from Britain and from Palestine to be part of an exchange-visit of ten days. The main aim was to give an opportunity to the students of both countries to exchange their experiences related to their lives and to work on developing further campaigns. The attention was mostly draw upon human rights issues and tourism, allowing the students coming from abroad, for their first time in Palestine, to explore the territory.
The visit involved 'energizers’ in the morning after breakfast where students played a couple of games to get ready for the day.
All the participants worked together on workshops such as 'activism’, 'finding a compromise’, 'trusting each other’, 'working together to build something for the future’. They were able to share their views upon different topics, to discuss and, thus, become aware of both realities and cultural backgrounds. The active participation of every students made the workshops really useful to build awareness of what is really happening in Palestine at the moment. Finally, all the activities engaged young people to participate in the development of civil society and democracy.
Both Palestinian and British students introduced their lives by presentations and cultural nights, where both groups prepared a short performance about their country and culture and they also both cooked their own traditional food.
Students visited three local universities: Al-Quds University, Al-Quds Open University and Birzeit University. The program also included the visit to some of the main cities of Palestine as Bethlehem, Aboud, Abu Dis, Ramallah and Jerusalem, as well as Aida refugee camp and the valley of Wadi Qelt.
Participants went to Mahmoud Darwish museum, a famous Palestinian poet who was forced to emigrate to Lebanon to escape the ongoing massacres by the Israeli Army as it occupied Palestine. The program also covered a visit to Abu Jihad Museum for the Prisoners Movement Affairs about the difficult reality that Palestinian prisoners have to face in Israeli jails.
At the end of the ten days, participants got together for an internal final evaluation about the project and their personal achievements. A final conference was also held in the participants’’ accommodation located near Ramallah during the last day of the visit. Here, students had time to prepare a presentation about a campaign to work on in the future and, in particular, to reflect on what they have learnt from the topic of students’ activism, which was discussed earlier during the project.
Not focusing too much on the aspects of the Israeli occupation gave me the opportunity, as a student coming from England, thus, the chance to really admire Palestinian culture, including its tradition, clothes, food and music. Songs were then often the soundtrack of our journey, underlining emotions and feelings.
However, I felt 'in-between’ most of the time during the whole visit. I struggled between the stunning old Palestinian villages and the ugly new Israeli settlements, between Palestinian products and Israeli ones both sold in the supermarkets. I also felt between the beauty of open landscapes as the village of Aboud and the claustrophobic reality of being in front of the separation wall in Jerusalem. Between delicious falafel balls and tear gas bombs both found in the same city of Abu Dis. Between the control over water by the Israeli authority and the natural water resource Wadi Qelt, in Hebron, where Palestinians were not allowed to enter for many years. I laid between what is considerate to be Palestinian territory and what is not. Between the multicultural cities like Jerusalem and the sad attempt by Israel to make those cities a one-religion and one-culture state. Finally, in-between being able to enter Jerusalem as a tourist coming from abroad, and see my Palestinian friends not able to, because not given permission by Israel.
This feeling of being 'in-between’ has always been with me for the whole duration of the project, even when taking off on the flight back to London, after being 'carefully’ checked and questioned by the Israeli authorities in Tel-Aviv airport.
What’s more, reading about Palestine in books and articles definitely contributes to the understanding of the situation happening there at the moment. However, most of the sources of information underline the sad reality, without giving enough voice to the beauty of the country and its own precious heritage.
Before going to Palestine, thus, I knew quite well about the sorrowful facts due to the occupation, its illegality and its dreadful effects on the population. However, after being there and having explored the stunning landscapes, met wonderful people, and eaten delicious food; the whole situation taking place seems to be even more heartbreaking. What’s more, experiencing in first person and witnessing the reality does, in fact, make you gain a much broader view on the issues affecting Palestine as a whole.
Thanks to the project I also got to discover how visiting Palestine means facing this overwhelming contrast between the beauty of the land, its heritage and culture with the dark and sad reality of the occupation.
Furthermore, when exploring the Palestinian territories all the stereotypes previously generated by an irresponsible media system, and quite spread in western countries, disappear. In fact, the positive sides are often unreported and, therefore, they remain unknown. Most of the news reports the killing, the bombing and they, thus, spread an image of terror and underdevelopment, which become easily associated with Palestine. Therefore, many people are afraid of visiting this country because often not well informed about the real situation. Promoting tourism in Palestine would be, thus, a great way to help the Palestinian local economy and to engage more people with the real issues, who eventually will become human rights activists and supporters of the Palestinian cause. For those who came from England, this visit has, thus, helped also to fight against stereotypes and prejudices, which often affect the way Palestine is seen and portrayed in wester countries.
Finally, 'Palestine in a Week’ has been amazing: a great opportunity to gain a hands-on experience and to see how it is really like to live in Palestine. Palestinians helped us coming from abroad to gain a much broader knowledge of the culture as well as of the problems affecting their community. Therefore, we all have learnt more about Palestinian heritage and culture, witnessing the impact that the occupation has on the daily lives of Palestinian citizens. Students from both countries had, then, the chance to share their experiences and struggles and to strength their hopes for a brighter future. Coming from abroad, we brought an international presence and we shared our prospective on the conflict between Palestine and Israel. We also made new friends for life and we left some of our tears there when living the country.
Hopefully in the future other projects like this one will take place and allow more people to visit Palestine and get a broader and more realistic picture of what is happening there. This would eventually help the creation of twinning links connecting British and Palestinian students and promoting solidarity between the two communities.
Finally, I would like to thank CADFA (Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association), in London, very much for giving me the opportunity to be part of the project.
Giacomo Tirelli - Student from Britain