University Welcomes Follow the Women to Nablus during their Campaign for Peace




NABLUS, West Bank – On Tuesday, May 13th, In cooperation with SIRAJ Center and several local and municipal groups, the Zajel Youth Exchange Program of the Public Relations Department of An-Najah National University welcomed over 160 women from more than 20 different countries riding their bicycles across the Middle East as part of Follow the Women’s 2008 Pedal for Peace.  Follow the Women was founded in 2004 by Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Detta Regan, to call attention to the need for advances in women’s and children’s rights, and an end to violent conflict in the Middle East.  The women arrived at Huwarra checkpoint to the southeast of Nablus and rode 10km to the New Campus of An-Najah.  The group was greeted by members of the faculty, staff and student body of the university, as well as municipal officials and community leaders. 



In his welcome address, Dr. Nabil Alawi, Director of the Public Relations Department, speaking on behalf of the University President, Prof. Rami Hamdallah, remarked of the importance of the women’s presence in Nablus in the context of the 60th anniversary of Nakba.  “Today the people of Nablus are jubilant and reassured by the fact that the international community is willing to cross hundreds of miles to demonstrate solidarity and concern for peace and love... Your visit is very symbolic because you are able to undermine checkpoints, barriers and the walling in of innocent people at a time when we are bitterly remembering the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their own homes and lands in 1948 in one of the most outrageous atrocities in modern time, known to us as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe.”


Detta Regan was invited to offer her remarks to the audience.  At times she was overwhelmed with emotion, and gratefully thanked the people of Nablus for their gracious welcome.  Ms. Regan spoke of her Father’s last wishes that she continue the important work of Follow the Women.  She remarked that the event was supposed to occur once, but now they are finishing their fourth ride.  Ms. Regan had attempted to come to Nablus in the past, but was denied entry.  For this reason reaching Nablus was not only a great success for Follow the Woman, but for Detta Regan personally.  She commented that she was “overwhelmed” by the group’s reception in Nablus.



Visiting home from his post abroad, the Palestinian Authority’s Ambassador to Australia, Dr. Izzat Abdul Hadi, joined the distinguished guests in welcoming the Follow the Women participants.  He stressed the importance of grassroots activism for creating a strong movement for the establishment of a free Palestinian state and an end to the conflict.  He argued that the large majority of Palestinian and Israeli citizens supported the idea of a two state solution, and that it was important for the Israeli government, as a part of the reconciliation essential to the peace process, to recognize their responsibilities for the events of the Nakba.  He thanked Follow the Women for their work, and encouraged them to continue spreading their message around the world.


The audience gathered at the Turkey Bin Abdul Aziz Theater was presented with a reading of a poem and a short story which presented the image of a bicycle in the context of the occupation.  The poem, "My Fast Bike", written and presented by Saed Abu Hijleh, recalled the personal pain of his loss, and that of his community under the violence of the occupation.  The short story, "The Lost Bike," authored by Ala Abu Dheir, details the eye witness account of the recently deceased Abu Raed Barakat's forced emigration during the Nakba. 


The University presented Follow the Women with a plaque in appreciation for their efforts in campaigning for peace in Palestine.  In addition, the group received a Palestinian embroidery from the Governor.


This year the riders from Turkey dedicated their ride to the memory of Pippa Bacca (Giuseppina Pasqualino di Marineo), an Italian artist who was murdered last year in Turkey.  The 33 year old was hitchhiking from her home in Milan to Palestine, campaigning for peace.  During her journey she wore a white wedding dress as a symbol of joy, peace, and love.  To complete Pippa’s journey, Follow the Women carried a white wedding dress with them on their ride from Beirut to Palestine.  They offered the dress as a gift to the University, hoping that it remains a symbol of Pippa’s hope here in Nablus.  Dr. Nabil Alawi accepted the gift on behalf of the University President, and said that it would be well cared for, and would become a part of the university’s permanent collection.


Following their welcome, the participants viewed the recently opened Nakba exhibition, a collection of images, organized by Zajel, that play witness to the events of that period.  Following a group photo and lunch, the women toured the Old City of Nablus.  Here they saw, firsthand, the wealth of historical and cultural riches that are the heart of Nablus.  In addition they were witness to the destructive effects of the occupation, on both property and human life.  A participant from Barcelona remarked, “[The Old City] is impressive, it’s so beautiful, it could be a great destination for religious and historic tours.”


The Follow the Women participants returned to the University’s Old Campus for cultural activities, which included a Dabka show by the Askar Development Center’s Youth Dance Troupe, as well as music and folkloric dance by the Popular Arts Troupe of the Dean of Student Affairs.


Ala Abu Dheir, Coordinator for the Zajel Youth Exchange Program, addressed the audience, calling attention to the importance of Follow the Women’s broad mission here in Palestine. “By journeying across the Palestinian landscape you are raising a call heard round the world.  You proclaim the reality of our lives, the hopes of our people, and you call on the world to act; to demand justice, and peace.  You show, by example, the strength of the woman, and you call to attention the needs of women in our society.” 


Local students and residents were very excited to see the group come to Nablus.  One young man remarked, “I was very excited to see it.  This is the first time anything like this has happened here.”  A young female resident voiced her desire to ride with the women.  “When I saw them I wished that I could ride with them, but… I couldn’t.”


The Follow the Women visit was an historic event in Nablus.  Several organizations were instrumental to its success, and the Zajel Youth Exchange Program is greatly indebted to them for their help.  They wish to extend their thanks to the Governor of Nablus, the City of Nablus, the Police Department, the Directorate of Education, Medical Relief, The Red Crescent, Askar Development Center, Amra, the Office of the Dean of Students and Project Hope.