Zajel Closes International Work
“Meet Palestine – In memory of Asem”
The Zajel Youth Exchange Program of the Department of Public
Relations at An-Najah National University, ended its 2006
International Work Camp “Meet Palestine, In the Memory of Asem”
with an official closing ceremony at the University auditorium.
The work camp ran from July 12th-30th,
2006, and could count on the participation of 24 international
volunteers from 11 different countries in Europe, Africa,
North-America and Asia, and on the assistance of over 20 local
Palestinian volunteers. The aim of the International Voluntary
Work Camp was to provide international
volunteers the opportunity to meet and discuss the Middle
Eastern conflict, share ideas, enhance their practical skills,
foster exchange between Palestinians and the wider world, and
give assistance to members of the Palestinian community.
Local and international volunteers worked
in the Social Development Center of Askar refugee camp,
where they hosted workshops in drama, circus, dancing, arts,
sports, games, and music. The workshops were both educational
and recreational, and provided some welcome psychological
release and all-important fun to the children of the camp. Many
of them suffer stress due to the occupation and its effects on
daily life. The workshops hosted by the camp participants
brought a ray of sun to them in testing times. Due to a
prolonged Israeli invasion which prevented access to Askar
refugee camp for a number of days, the volunteers also
contributed their efforts to the city services of the
Municipality of Nablus.
Apart from providing an opportunity to volunteer at Askar
refugee camp, the International Work Camp also offered its
participants an inside view on cultural, social and political
life in Palestine. This educational aspect of the camp took the
form of study tours, lectures on diverse subjects, discussions,
meetings with prominent local and extra-local figures, and a
host of cultural activities.
Zajel means “messenger,” and it is our firm belief that cultural
exchange is crucial to change the situation we live in. Our
international volunteers will hopefully spread what they have
learnt and seen here to their families, their communities, and
their media. However, cultural exchange happens on many
different levels, and the camp also fostered exchange on a micro
scale. This was not only beautiful to see but also just as
important – it means Palestine got under everyone’s skin and
it’s there to stay.
Our sincerest thanks go out to
everyone who made the Zajel International Work
Camp 2006 “Meet Palestine; In the memory of Asem” a
success. Thanks to An-Najah University, to the Askar Social
Development Center, to all local partners without whom this
endeavor would not have been possible, and last but not least to
all the local and international volunteers who contributed time,
hard work, courage and heart.
The official closing ceremony was held in the Zafer Al-Masri
auditorium of An-Najah National University, and was attended
by the local and international volunteers, representatives of
various partner organizations, representatives of the Ministry
of Education, and representatives for An-Najah National
speech was given by Saed Abu-Hijleh, Director of the Public
Relations Department of An-Najah National University, who
thanked the international volunteers for showing their
solidarity and support, especially in these times of great
instability in the region.
His speech was
followed by a short word by Alaa Youssef, Coordinator of Zajel
Youth Exchange Program. Mr. Yousef expressed his gratitude for
the trouble-free proceeding of the camp, despite all odds. He
mentioned, “We were preparing ourselves for an early end of this
camp and had an urgent evacuation plan ready. That didn’t happen
and we continued the camp despite all the difficulties! Your
determination pulled us through.” He also paid tribute to Asem
Yousef, a talented young local volunteer who passed away earlier
this year. The International Work Camp “Meet Palestine” is
dedicated to his memory.
The next speaker
was Mr. Amjad Rifai, Director of the Social Development Center
of Askar refugee camp. He expressed his gratitude for the
excellent working relationship between the Zajel Program and the
Social Development Center, and concluded his speech with a
heartfelt word of thanks to the international volunteers for the
great work they performed at Askar refugee camp.
The final word
was reserved for Holly Kilroy, a work camp volunteer from
Ireland who, in her eloquent and touching speech, undoubtedly
spoke for all the international participants when she said, “the
perception of Palestinians in the west has been distorted and
their plight is ignored by media, we will talk to people when we
go home. The people of Nablus are ambitious, we saw their life,
we have learned in this work camp more than we could have got
from many books. We have shared laughs and smiles and the people
of Nablus have been incredibly welcoming”.
After the speeches, both international and local volunteers
received an official work camp certificate of appreciation from
the work camp steering committee. The ceremony was followed by
lunch in a nearby restaurant.
In the evening, the volunteers were invited to a Debka
performance (Palestinian folkloric dance) at Askar refugee camp.
It was the last goodbye to the children they had been working
with over the past weeks, and the goodbyes were understandably
emotional. The evening was concluded on a happy note with a
birthday party for Abulhassan Al-Jaberi, an international
volunteer from The Netherlands.
original aim of the work camp was to offer its participants the
opportunity to work with the children of Askar refugee camp at
the camp’s Social Development Center, and despite the fact that
an Israeli road block prevented the volunteers from going to the
eastern part of town where Askar is located for four entire
days, they still managed to bring a lot of joy to the camp’s
children. The road block formed part of a major military
campaign by the Israeli army which left six Palestinians dead,
more than 50 wounded, and an entire building complex used by the
Palestinian Authority and several municipal services destroyed
The volunteers hosted workshops in drama, circus, dancing, arts,
sports, games, and music at the Social Development Center of
Askar refugee camp to children aged between six and twelve, each
workshop brought a mix of educational aspects and plain old fun.
Nuno Coelho, a volunteer from Portugal, explains some of the
activities of the children in the arts workshop, “I was
designated as responsible for the Arts classes and we've been
doing drawings, doing some masks, hats, anything that we can
possible make out of paper, carton, scissors, glue and coloring
pencils.” The workshops not only aimed to teach children new
ways of expressing themselves, but also emphasized essential
life skills including collaboration, self-analysis, empathy with
others and community building.
Next to the workshops, the international volunteers also
produced a wonderful mural on one of the walls of the Social
Development Center. The mural was a collaborative effort under
the direction of Nuno Coelho, and turned out quite nicely.
Due to the above-mentioned roadblock, the organizers were forced
to implement a Plan B for voluntary work. During the interval
when work at Askar was impossible, both local and international
volunteers contributed their efforts to aid the Municipality of
Nablus. They devoted many hours of hard labor to cleaning up the
Lectures & discussions
The educational part of the International Work Camp 2006 took
the form of a mixture of lectures, discussions, documentary
screenings and study visits. The program was varied and
thought-provoking. Mr. Saed Abu-Hijleh, Director of the
Department of Public Relations, lectured on the history and
political geography of Palestine. Alaa Yousef, coordinator of
the Zajel Youth Exchange Program, gave a slide presentation on
the history of Palestine in pictures. The presentation focused
on images of Palestine before and during the Nakba (The
Catastrophe) of 1948, and drew on the extensive picture archive
of the Zajel Program.
Ms. Maysara Soboh, introduced the issue of women’s rights
in Palestine, and the role of women in the Palestinian
liberation movement. She interlaced her broader analysis of the
role of women within Palestinian politics, culture and society
with a personal account of her own experiences and growing
involvement with feminism.
Mr. Daoud Abu Seir, a member of the Palestinian Legislative
Council associated with Hamas, gave a much awaited talk on the
history and program of this party. After the talk, a barrage of
questions was fired at Mr. Abu Seir.
The program of lectures was complemented by documentaries
partially or entirely set in Nablus. “Such a normal thing,” made
by Rebecca Glotfelty, was screened, as well as “Route 181,” a
gripping documentary by Eyal Sivan and Michel Khalifi which was
very much appreciated by the work camp participants. Mohammed
Ali, a participant from Britain, remarked: “The documentary was
a reality check to what we believe about the situation in
Palestine, especially for all of us coming from England and
Europe. I wish this documentary would be distributed all over
Another documentary, “Shots that bind” by Kloie Picot, was
screened as an introduction to a talk on journalism in Palestine
by two local photographers,
Ala Badarneh and Abdul Raheim Qusini, who work for
Reuters . Kloie Picot produced the film when working as a
long term volunteer for the University in 2003. The film shows
the triumphs and sorrows of the local press corps during the
2003 invasions of Nablus.
A very successful initiative was a night of discussions
moderated by international volunteers Gregory George and
Abulhassan Al-Jaberi on a number of controversial topics: the
right to return, bombings and a one- or two-state solution. The
moderators managed to steer the discussions away from the
clichéd and the night was useful in generating some heated
discussion and interesting lines of argument.
The lecture program also fostered cultural exchange by having
international participants give talks on the history and
politics of their home countries: Holly Kilroy and Rory Myles
Byrne presented on the history of Ireland, Misha Ovtchinnikov on
Switzerland and its political system, Gregory George on the
influence of the Israeli Lobby on US foreign politics, Loes de
Kleijn talked about The Netherlands’ culture and political
system, Isabel Suárez Garzón and Amaia Bengoetxea Monteys
presented the history of Spain, Nuno Coelho talked about
Portuguese history, Zubair Hoosen about the history of South
Africa, and Moon Kyungyoung about Korean history.
Next to the program of lectures and discussions, numerous study
visits gave the work camp participants the chance to get to know
the local landscape of political, religious and cultural
organizations better, and provided an opportunity to meet key
local policy makers.
camp participants had the opportunity to visit the city council
and talk with Adly
Yaish, the current mayor of Nablus, who
explained the dire financial situation of the municipality, and
measures the municipality is taking to minimize damage due to
the occupation. They also visited Bassam Al Shakaa, who was the
first elected mayor of Nablus from 1976 to 1981, and survived an
Israeli assassination attempt. Mr. Al Shakaa gave a very
interesting talk on Palestinian politics in the sixties,
seventies and eighties, intermingled with his own autobiography.
on the program was a visit to the Yafa Cultural Center in Balata
refugee camp, where the volunteers received a talk on the
history of Balata and the activities of the center by Head of
the Board, Tayseer Nasrallah. This was followed by a
gripping eye witness account of the Nakba. The evening was
concluded by a tour of Balata refugee camp.
Though a predominantly Muslim city, participants got a taste of
the cultural diversity of Nablus through a lecture on Christians
in contemporary Palestine by Father Yousef Saadeh of the Greek
Orthodox Church of St-George in Nablus. There was also a visit
to the Samaritan community on the top of Mount Jerizem where
they received an introduction to Samaritan beliefs.
visited a number of local medical and charitable NGO’s: the Arab
Women Union Society Orphanage and Hospital, Palestinian Medical
Relief Center, and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. Adam
Kershaw, volunteer from Britain remarked about the latter, “a
lovely place, colorful and sunny, apart from all the windows
which had been broken from the Israeli bombardment of the
compound just below.”
A visit to the industrial zone of Nablus clearly showed the
economic stranglehold the occupation exerts on the city, but at
same time it was also a tribute to how the entrepreneurial
spirit of the Palestinians perseveres despite all odds.
Similarly ambiguous feelings were evoked by a tour of the old
city of Nablus, which showed the city in all its ancient
splendor and contemporary liveliness, but at the same time
testified to the immense toll – in buildings and in human lives
– the occupation has taken on the city. A visit to Joseph’s tomb
and the eerie post-apocalyptic site of the former compound
administrative complex further hammered the point home.
Of course, no work camp would be complete without a chance for
some down time and fraternizing. The local volunteers prepared a
full program of activities that included a traditional Dabka
performance (Palestinian folkloric dance) at An-Najah National
University, a visit to a Turkish bath (complete with nargila and
sweets), visits to coffee shops, local restaurants and rooftop
hotel patios, and the sampling of delightful alcohol free
The highlight for many was a picnic on the northern mountain of
Nablus with singing, dancing, talking and eating delicious food
in the mouth of a huge cave overlooking the whole city.
In the spirit of fraternity and exchange, the international
volunteers were literally invited into the lives of our local
volunteers. There was a lovely birthday party at his family’s
house for Nidal Sbeih, a local volunteer who’d just turned
twenty. His family prepared a feast for all of the guests, and
the party ended with cake and singing “Happy Birthday” in at
least ten different languages. Guests were also kindly invited
to a wedding, which was a special and unforgettable experience
in its own right.
Some first impressions:
Mohammad Ali (Great Britain):
Nablus is truly a city which you can fall in love with, its
people are the most welcoming and filled with love for us all! I
am honored to have had the opportunity to come here.
Nuno Coelho (Portugal):
Language barrier! Kids don't know such
a thing. We all communicate with gestures, smiles, funny faces,
some basic Arabic or English words. We get along very well.
Adam Kershaw (Great Britain):
Life here goes on. No matter what happens every night, and how
much life is made difficult for the people of Nablus by the
Israelis, life goes on, and every moment is an adventure...
Sometimes it seems like every conversation here is tinged with
politics, religion and news, but then I think we all enjoy the
debate, and having so many different types of people means it's
always a learning experience but always fun too.
Lu, Holly Kilroy’s mum (Ireland):
You're like mini united nations there; only that you all appear
to functioning rather better than the bigger one!
Thanks to all!