Francesca / Italy:
Here I understand what
"identity" really means.
When I first
arrived, I didn't realize what I was going to do and how I was
going to feel. I’ve spent three weeks in this beautiful land, and
now when I have to leave, I feel really sad , Here I found love
and friendship in every one of the local and international
volunteers. When I look at the Palestinian kids, I often see the
strength and the solidarity that I don't find in my country, there
is nothing in particular I expected from this workshop, but now I
am leaving with so many emotions I never felt before.
I'm not really sure if
I gave something to these kids or not, but I am sure that they
gave me a lot, I feel like I am at home and I will never forget
this land , the colors , and the diversity of Palestine , Here I
understand what " identity " really means.
Palestine will stay in my heart.
These three weeks have
been the richest weeks of my life
It is quite
difficult to summarize three weeks full of feelings on paper.
These three weeks have been the richest weeks of my life in many
respects. I've made a lot of friends around the world and
especially from Palestine. I have to thank the local volunteers
for their help in the activities. Without them, it wouldn't have
been possible to do anything.
About the voluntary
work, I found it more rewarding than I had expected. Every time a
kid came to me with a smile or a piece of chocolate, or when they
come to the bus when we arrive at Askar, these images will be kept
deeply in our hearts for ever.
The organization of the
camp was also great. From the first meeting everybody took care of
us to make us feel safe. Maybe there was a lack of freedom,
especially in regards of moving around the city.
I feel I will be
leaving Palestine with a completely different view of the conflict
I have to admit that when I
came to Nablus, I already had an idea of what I could expect.
Needless to say I was totally wrong. The occupation and the latest
Intifada have taken their toll on Nablus, yet despite the hard
conditions the Palestinians opened their lives and hearts to us.
The work camp itself took some
adjusting to, yet all the experiences I will be taking home with
me made my three weeks here so worth it. I will never forget the
smiles of the children and the courage of the refugees living in
Askar camp. I have been lucky to travel a lot, but nothing will
ever compare with my visit here.
I feel I will be leaving Palestine
with a completely different view of the conflict here, and hope to
continue helping Palestine by sharing my experiences with others
back home in Canada.
I would like to thank the local
volunteers for their patience in trying to understand us, and for
opening their lives up to us. This has definitely been a wonderful
experience and I urge anyone thinking of volunteering in Palestine
to consider coming here. You will not regret it.
I hope to come
back and spend the rest of my life in this country.
As a Palestinian Italian, my aim in
this trip was just to see my homeland and to see with my own eyes
all the violence and the injustices that the Palestinian people
have to live through, but this work camp gave me a lot more. I met
people that are really special, especially among the local
volunteers; I found a kind friendship, respect and kindness that I
can rarely find anywhere else.
The strength and the enthusiasm of
the kids in Askar refugee camp are amazing as well. I really feel
that I got and learnt from these kids more than I gave to them,
But dealing with these kids made me feel bad and guilty because
they deserve a better future.
There are many things that I would
like to express, but words are not enough. Regarding organizing
and transportation, I have nothing to complain about. Everything
was great, especially the camp leaders who had to manage so many
volunteers in such a difficult situation.
From this work camp I got a lot more
than what I expected, so I just feel grateful. Nothing to say
about occupation and political situation since, as a Palestinian,
thoughts and opinions about this political situation are just
obvious. I am proud to be Palestinian and now I really hope to
come back and spend the rest of my life in the country.
I feel that I
can't stay away
At first, when I
arrived and saw what was going on and my bed for the next three
weeks, the sink that was going to be my shower, and tried to fall
asleep despite the ants and bombs, I wondered what I was doing
here, if I had made the right choice in coming. I didn't know if I
had the energy to start over again trying to be a friend to
another group of people that I would leave again in three short
But the second I saw the children's
faces I knew that there was no place in the world that I would
rather be. These kids gave me a gift of a type of happiness that
makes you forget material comfort, and allowed me to forget that I
would only be here for three weeks. I feel that here I am home. I
have been amazed in good and had ways by all that I have seen and
I know that I have made friendships that will last for lifetime.
I've gained so much knowledge and experiences that I can hopefully
share and use to try to explain the situation to people in my
country and I hope that in this way I can repay the children for
the gift they have given me and the people of Nablus for welcoming
us so open-heartedly. I hope that I can come back soon because I
feel that I can't stay away.
I am sad to leave
Because of my studies
I had been interested in the Middle East and Palestinian affairs
for many years. Finally I had the chance to join this work camp
and it was an even more amazing experience than I had expected. I
had a chance to live the Palestinian life for three weeks with
local and international volunteers.
Politically it was intensive and
there were tense times in Nablus during these weeks but we were
kept safe by the locals’ efforts. We visited many places and
organizations such as the Red Crescent and An-Najah National
University and we had workshops on many issues. Some of the
activities were cancelled because of the curfew or for other
safety reasons and we had to stay in the school where we were
accommodated. But, well, that is the way life is here.
This way we had a chance to see some
of the suffering of the Palestinians and we had a chance to work
every day in Askar refugee camp arranging activities for the
children who loved us even without any apparent reason.
There were so many touching moments,
many times left so sad and frustrated and depressed that I just
needed to be alone and think. That is the way I feel. There are a
lot of unprocessed feelings and thoughts to bring home.
Anyway, I have nothing to criticize about the arrangements; for me
it was easy to adapt to cooking for ourselves, sharing the
housework, and sleeping in classrooms (mattresses on the floor)
etc. I will not hesitate to come back to meet my new friends and
these children. I had an unforgettable work camp and that is why I
am sad to leave this place I love.
people welcomed us into their hearts.
My experience at this
work camp has been extremely moving! In the beginning I was
overwhelmed by the difference between Palestine and America, but
as time went on, and as I got to know the other volunteers and the
local children, I came to realize that there were not as many
differences as I had perceived, the moments I experienced here
will stay with me forever. There were comical moments as well as
very emotionally moving moments, and together they have made my
stay here in Palestine memorable.
Two of the most
memorable experiences for me were the tour through the old city
and the time we spent at Askar refugee camp with the children.
These two experiences helped me to better understand the
Palestinian hardships as well as their spirit. The Zajel Program
was extremely helpful in making us feel safe in this war torn
country while informing us on helpful topics such as Palestinian
literature, women in Palestine and conflict between Palestinians
and Israelis to name a few. The local Palestinian people welcomed
us into their hearts.
local volunteers were unbelievably helpful. They were willing to
risk their safety in order to make our stay in Palestine more
unforgettable, In short there are many factors that made this
project successful: the local volunteers, An-Najah National
University, Askar Refugee Camp, our means of transportation, bus
driver, cab driver, the other international volunteers and many
At all times I
Longing to go to
Palestine, I was hoping to witness the struggle of its people
first hand, to come to understand their perspective better, to
meet new friends, and lastly to let Palestinians know, if they
don’t already, that people from the USA respect them as human
beings, and care about justice. My three weeks here have provided
me with the opportunity to experience, do, and share all that I
I was able to glimpse the reality of
everyday life in Nablus, falling asleep to the sound of gunshots,
interruptions in entertainment or work activities in order to
scurry out of danger presented by clashes in the city, and the
restriction of freedom imposed by curfew. I had fruitful
conversations with local volunteers and other locals that made the
Palestinians’ perspective more clear for me, and created in me an
awareness of a nation with a beautiful culture and a tragic and
The tours of the old city, university
and refugee camp were extremely beneficial. Meeting with refugees
and hearing their stories were very important. I think that the
tour of Josef Tomb and the Palestinian authority buildings, as
well as the meeting with the governor, were all very interesting.
The trip to see the Greek Catholic priest was interesting, At all
times I felt safe. I believe that the rules and procedures set out
for us as well as the presence of local volunteers with us
throughout our time were reasonable and important for our well
being. Overall I felt that the schedule was full and provided for
an excellent experience.
For me it is the
I felt really safe
when I was with everybody. Somehow the camp leader was always
keeping us calm and I felt that everything was very well
coordinated, thus I was very happy. I came here with the
understanding that Palestinian culture would be very different, so
I was very open about trying new things. I think the most
culturally shocking moment was when we had to eat from the same
Nice seats, nice driver, nice
driving, very comfortable and always punctual! Great! I think the
most exciting moment was when we were driving up the hill to
The transportation to Nablus was very
nice and very surprising! The driver was the first Palestinian I
met so it was very interesting to learn from him. Although we had
problems with the language we were able to communicate quit well.
The workshops were very well done and
informative, but I was expecting something more substantial. After
security, voluntary work was the second priority, it exceeded my
expectation and as I said before '' for me it is the beginning ''.
I really understand that '' nothing
is planned '' in Palestine due to the uncertainty from the Israeli
army. Changes in schedules, lack of siesta times, sometimes no
internet etc. are just effects of the occupation. I think the best
thing to do is to tell the volunteers that we will experience lack
of communication, but that everything is fine and the best
experience was with Samah. She is really amazing and there is so
much to learn from her.
is just the beginning. This work camp was my first real field
experience in humanitarian affairs and I'm looking forward to
develop my skills to become a better person and professional, The
curfew opened my eyes so much that I learned that if I want to
work in humanitarian affairs I will be in curfew, shootings,
bombs, etc quite often so I wanted to learn as much as possible
about them. So now I am Zajel.
The local Zajel volunteers did an
amazing job maintaining our sense of safety and confronting so
much that I and one other volunteer coined the phrase "occupation
We experienced the frustration of not
being free to do as we are accustomed to doing. Beyond the normal
cultural differences, being in a place that faces daily invasions,
random "until further notice" curfews, and is under occupation -
there are no words to describe it.
The leaders of Zajel adapted as much
as they could, finding themselves responsible for 30 additional
lives: ours, the "internationals". I enjoyed being an
international. I love this term, so much nicer than foreigner. Our
"magic bus" was wonderful, and always a welcome sight .The food
was always delicious although it will be quite some time before I
want hummus again.The work camp was hard, simply because we wanted
to give more than just being in Nablus, but sometimes that is all
we could do because we spent so much time disciplining the kids.
About as much time was spent
disciplining us too. Saif, Fawaz, Safaa, Razan, Jihad, Mohammed,
Husam, Hakam, Samah and Sabeih were not just locals. They were our
informants and friends, I cannot find the words to adequately
express this all.
The speakers I found most beneficial,
the father who reminded me that Palestinians are Christians,
Jewish, and Muslims. The President of An-Najah National University
who represents the perseverance of the nation by furthering
education which shows a hope for a future. The professor, an
amazing man who was the only speaker to state this atrocity is
actually about human rights.
Politics will make you forget that sometimes Zajel provided me
with the chance to be reminded ……I am forever in debt, I am
forever in debt. But, I look forward to giving back again, again,
again and again.
Palestine are warm, open and friendly
This has been my first summer camp
and the first time I have been out of Europe. There are so many
aspects in Palestine. This kind of work camp is new to me and I
really wanted to learn how to deal with it. this was like a first
step and I am very grateful for this experience.
I can write about how sad this
situation is for the Palestinians but, to be honest, that aspect
(the political situation) didn't interest me anymore once I was
here. What really interests me is the way person all over the
world deal with tough situations.
I think Palestinians have three
things that Belgians don't have: religion, friendship and family.
These three things help Palestinians to keep strong. Don't ever
take them for granted. People in Palestine are warm, open,
friendly and considerate. In Belgium it takes years for two people
to become best friends, in Palestine it seems so easy.
Although I have problems with the
very intense and narrow contact and the ways of communicating with
others, I really find the Palestinian way of interfacing is more
valuable than the Belgian one! And the strong belief of the
Palestinians is another thing which makes them unique.
I myself was always
very critical when it came to religion. But not anymore. Now I
have seen that really being religious is sometimes the most
powerful weapon, while before I used to think that what you give
to your god, or what you give to your religion, is something
that’s not important.
Ivan / United Kingdom
All of the
Palestinians deserve a better fate than the extreme oppression
Thank you very much for providing me
with a wonderful and invaluable experience, I hugely enjoyed all
aspects of the work camps, and I feel that I gained much more than
I could possibly have hoped for. As far as the routine aspects of
the camp are concerned, I was pleasantly surprised. The food was
delicious and almost always plentiful. Most of the transportation
was done by bus and it was always superbly organized, although as
a result of this reliance on the friendly bus-driver we perhaps
had fewer chances to walk through the city than I would have
The generally excellent standard of
the basic aspects of the work camps enabled us to fully appreciate
the work and activities that we did during the day. The work at
Askar refugee camp was very rewarding indeed and pleasant at the
same time. An explanation of what was involved and expected of us
at the beginning of the work camp would have been welcome,
although our relative unprepared ness was compensated for by the
wonderful freedom that we were given to do exactly whatever we
wished with the children who were a pleasure to work with given
their friendliness and enthusiasm.
Indeed both of these characteristics
applied in equal measure to the staff who organized the work camp.
They were responsible, knowledgeable, caring, sympathetic and
particularly concerned about our safety and general well-being.
The local volunteers, meanwhile, were undoubtedly the most
interesting feature of the work camp; they provided a marvelous
opportunity for us to have our preconceptions of their culture and
society challenged and also to discuss polemical issues such as
religion and the peace process openly. The views and tales of the
local volunteers were supplemented by several lectures on topics
such as the role of women in Palestinian society and Palestinian
literature, whilst the speakers provided an interesting insight
into various issues.
At the end of the work camp I felt
that these interests had been incredibly well-served, and I would
have no hesitation in recommending this extraordinary work camp to
anyone with the slightest interest in Palestine. It is impossible
for me to express the extent of my gratitude to all the staff and
volunteers in this report, although I look forward to returning to
Nablus in the future and meeting all the friends that I have made
in this wonderful city. In the meantime, I must return to Britain
and share with others memories such as that of a refugee clinging
to the title deeds, dated pre-1948, of his property in Yafa and do
my best to persuade others that all of the Palestinians deserve a
better fate than the extreme oppression that they are currently
enduring as a result of the Israeli occupation and the
international community's disinterest in their struggle.
Joell / Sweden
What an amazing
My feelings during
the work camp have been more than divided. I will share with you a
short synopsis of my thoughts that I wrote in my diary one day, a
couple of lines that illustrate my feelings toward the Palestinian
people that I have known and about the situation in Palestine.
What an amazing people!!!
Even though I have been sick more
than I have been well during the last week, I have never been so
happy and so sad at the same time because the distance between
happiness and sadness is just minimal here. Yesterday we were
having a festival with songs and dance on one side of the road and
on the other we could hear the bullets of the Israeli soldiers.
Most of the time we knew who they were shooting at…. They were
children, because the children were throwing stones at them.
The night of the festival, the
Israelis were invading the city with their jeeps. From the news I
know now that nobody was killed, just a bunch of injured people.
And it's not strange that after a while in Nablus you don’t ask
“Was anyone injured?” You always ask “How many were killed?”
A couple of hours before we arrived
at the festival we went sightseeing in the Old City and had the
chance to see how the Israeli soldiers had left many parts ruined,
I have never felt the smell of death so close and so strong as
then. Along all the walls through Nablus you can see photos. Each
and every one of them illustrates someone that has been killed.
Another aspect of the camp that was
interesting for me was experiencing a Muslim city for the first
time, Many nights we had lovely discussions about religion that
taught me a lot and helped me to understand things I never
really so happy that I had the chance to experience this work
camp. I can never express my experiences in Nablus but you can
experience it yourself. That is what I think everyone should do.
Welcome to Nablus
After being here in
Nablus for three weeks, I really feel exhausted. It started with
the really adventurous mountain trip that really made me start
thinking right away about what these people really have to put up
with every day in their daily life, Not being able to take the
normal roads, not being able to go in and out of town whenever
they want, not being able to invite whoever they want whenever
they want because of the Israeli roadblocks that happen to be
closed just that day. It was really frustrating and I am just
starting to understand a little bit of the situation.
Coming to Askar refugee
camp was really overwhelming. Children came running to meet us at
the bus, I really felt like they enjoyed having us there and that
our visit made them happy, we talked about their dreams, hopes and
families, It was really touching hearing their dreams about stuff
that is so obvious for me, like having a house, being safe and
being able to live without tanks and guns wherever they go. It
really made me understand a little bit how much fear and pressure
they have in their lives. How they still managed to laugh and be
happy is for me a mystery but really wonderful to experience.
Living at the school
was really pressurized. Not being able to go out alone when you
want when you are living so close to other people all day is
really hard. Some days we could not go out to the planned
entertainment because of the Israeli invasions. This is something
that is part of Palestinian daily life and I believe that it's one
of the things I learned most from. Not being able to have your
freedom is so wrong.
Some days I was really
afraid when we woke up from shootings on the streets, sometimes it
sounded like the war was just outside our window and that made us
really scared and you felt like you have to be on guard all day
and night, You could feel the tension in the air and that
something was going on outside and all you could do was sit inside
and hear the shootings and the screaming. Not being able to help
the people that actually could be dying out there was so
frustrating! It's really crazy to realize that people actually are
living under these circumstances all year round.
The meetings with the
local volunteers were also a good thing to learn from, Hearing
their stories about the occupation, their religion and how their
life is really taught me a lot about how different their life is
from mine, I really learned a lot from them and I also came to
like this country and its friendly people, Also when walking in
the streets of Nablus, people where yelling at us "welcome to
Nablus, hope you enjoy your stay here". That really made us feel
so welcome here, before coming to Nablus people warned me about
harassment but during my stay here I only heard good things and
met friendly people.
Altogether I really enjoyed my stay here and I learned so much
from the people and from living under the conditions here. You
really can't imagine how the situation is until you've been here
and met the people, heard their terrible stories and shared their
life. I will take this experience home with me and I will share my
love for Palestine and my story with as many people as I can. I
owe this to the Palestinian people.
A sense of ‘love
The local help was outstanding by
work camp standards, very dedicated, and eager to help, patient
with our behavior, great leadership. Alaa was great to have as a
tough no-nonsense leader, Seif was great as camp leader, tough
when he had to be and had a good sense of humor when it was
needed. A tough job handled well.
Great Arabic class, Yusra a great
teacher, lots of fun activities planned, great schedule packed
with diverse activities, great ability for the leadership to adapt
to unpredictable circumstances, plenty of great pictures and video
taken and given, great food. Money well spent.
I fell in love with this concave city
of lights the moment I saw it the night of August and the work
with the local children was awesome, and the internationals were
great. One of the best run work camps I have been involved with.
I felt a peace here I don't get back in the U.S.A. Despite
occupation there is a sense of ‘love family’, coverage that one
has to really look for in my country. Maybe this can give comfort
to those who perceive the country I live in to be so great. In
fact maybe you have much more than we could ever understand back
in the U.S. It emphasizes my belief that all deserve human rights
Transportation was very good in
general. We always had adequate transportation. We also had taxis
with locals, the Red Crescent. One time we had a 7 person escort
from the Red Crescent during the curfew from the girl's dorm to
Living under a curfew/ occupation, we
were lucky because we were only interrupted a few times. We only
had curfew for one night, and we had restrictions so we
experienced a taste but only a small taste of what Palestinian
life may be like.
I really liked the sound from the
loudspeakers in the city during the call to prayer. It reminded me
to think of and thank God. Opportunities for leadership were
encouraged by Alaa and it was emphasized for us to take care of
our own living conditions, work arrangements etc. In this way we
were empowered. Great speakers/ lectures were informative and
questions were encouraged.
I think the family of Yusra, Hakam,
Yasmine and Mais are exceptional. Their attitude, enthusiasm,
spirit and dedication were stood out for me. They must have
incredible parents. Fawaz was essential to the camp. His efforts
helped make the camp run as smoothly as possible given the
difficult environment. He cared greatly that things should go well
and tried very hard to meet people's needs. He kept a positive
face even during personal trials.
My safety was especially looked after
as I seem to look like an Israeli soldier. This was appreciated.
Alaa did a great job asserting authority and using his sense of
humor to help manage the group. He was the glue of the camp.
Seif spent enormous energy directing
and running the camp. This tremendous understanding was
accomplished extremely well. He had fun joking with the volunteers
which helped the camp atmosphere. All the locals were very
supportive with us. They never complained about anything even when
they had to make a large number of trips for our various needs.
I discovered so
much about Palestinians
During the three
weeks of the work camp I used the word "beautiful" so many times:
the mountains of Nablus, the view from the top of the hotel at
night, the women of Palestine, and the smile of the kids in the
refugee camp - so many impression overall that Palestine is
beautiful. The program had great entertainments planned such as
the Palestinian folklore festival we went to, the barbecue trip we
had on top of the mountain, and the swimming pool was especially a
good idea to entertain and relax the volunteers. Because of the
situation (and at times the curfew) we were not able to go out as
much as we would have liked. Organized activities like those were
extremely valuable, and I think both the locals and the
international volunteers got on really well to make the best of
Having so many different kinds of
people from different countries was great especially when people
could introduce songs and games from their own countries that we
could all share during the free times: Salma's flamenco, Pun's uno,
met some really great people that I want to keep in touch with for
life and I am really going to miss the work. Working with the kids
in the Askar refugee camp was honestly the best thing I'd ever
done in my life. The kids are really really, really (Walla) great
and I love them so much.
So next time I hear the word
"Palestine" from anywhere the first thing which is going to come
up in my mind is the smiling faces of the kids from Askar, and
maybe the smell and the taste of the "konafa" sweets I ate and the
I got to know some of the local
volunteers very well, especially Mais who I got to know the best
perhaps due to being the same age (17) and also students from An-Najah
National University who I met during the exhibition with Mr.
Cleaning, washing the dishes and all
other housework we needed to do were tiring but actually quite a
good idea to introduce a kind of "team spirit" among the members
of the committee. The weekend visits were interesting.
Other highlights of the camp were learning about the Arabic
culture. I know I annoyed people because I didn't stop singing. I
discovered so much about Palestinians in the three weeks, and I'd
like to thank you all.
Not once have I
regretted that I decided to come here
Three weeks have passed since that
Sunday when I met a group of international volunteers at a
restaurant near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Those three weeks have
seemed to be the longest three weeks of my life due to all the
things that have happened, but on the other hand they have passed
so fast that I haven’t even had time to realize I'm actually here,
in Nablus, in Palestine.
The situation of Nablus as a city under full occupation became
painfully clear before we got here, because since the first moment
we reached here everything was so difficult, starting with walking
over Jerizim mountain in the dark, hearing the soldiers so close
to us, knowing what the driver who walked with us was putting
himself through to get us safely to Nablus made my heart beat
strongly. And it will keep beating for Palestine and its people.
Staying here for three weeks is not
really enough to understand it all, but it has been a good start
and definitely it has made me believe that I will return one day.
Those three weeks have been full of so many feelings. For me it
has been difficult being a part of all the happiness and jokes and
socializing with the other international volunteers since my mind
has been so full of thoughts about what I’ve been seeing all the
time: what's going on in Nablus, the occupation and the invasions
of the Israeli soldiers, the situation of never being able to plan
more than a few hours ahead is simply inhuman.
I have spent three weeks the same way
as the 200 000 citizens of Nablus live their lives every day. I’ve
felt frustrated about not being able to move around freely, not
being able to go out whenever and wherever I feel like. I've been
thinking that I can't experience the real life of Nablus, the
whole city out there, in the streets and markets, in the villages,
since I can't have my freedom. But later I realized that what I'm
experiencing is actually the real Nablus, the captured city, the
Nablus that has no freedom.
I've met people here with different thoughts and opinions that
gave me hope for the future of a free Palestine, but I‘ve also met
people who make me doubt that there will ever be a solution to
this conflict. But certainly I am not the one with the solution
for a peaceful future.
And then I thought about the tour we made in the old city of
Nablus, and how I felt when I heard all the real life stories and
saw the results of the Israeli invasions over the years. And I
realized so clearly how almost impossible it would be to think
constructively and objectively when every single person has lost a
friend or a relative because of the Israeli guns. But still it’s
amazing to me the amount of happiness, warmth and friendliness
that is there among the people, Everywhere I go there is someone
smiling at me, welcoming me to Nablus, asking me to tell the
people in my home about life here. And I smile back, thanking them
for welcoming me here.
I know I have so much to tell when I
get back to Sweden. So many things that I never knew about life
here, so many things no one who hasn’t come here can ever fully
There have been Israeli fire
shootings right outside my window. There have been times we ran
away from jeeps and tanks. There have been helicopters in the sky
and explosions, screams and ambulances almost every night. I have
felt so empty and helpless, but never ever afraid. Not once have I
regretted that I decided to come here to do my very small bit in
the struggle for peace for the Palestinian people.
The work with the children in Askar
refugee camp gave me a lot of joy. If my presence there has left
the children with some good memories and happiness away from the
pressured life they live, I can return home feeling not only that
I have gained something from this, but that I have also been able
to give something from myself. .
Now I have to leave Nablus. I have a strong feeling that it is the
moment to say "see you later "but not "good bye". Palestine and
its people have gained a place in my heart, a place that I think
they will keep forever.