Reflections of the International Volunteers - International Work camp, September 2015
Zajel is an incredible experience. I am enjoying every second of it, thanks to the Zajel team and the local volunteers who are very welcoming, friendly and sharing with us the Palestinian culture and taking us around the city. Nablus and its Old City are wonderful, as well as the old and new campuses. Teaching has been very challenging so far but also rewarding and I hope to be useful for my students. Our trips to Hebron and Bethlehem were very emotional and confronting. From the apartheid wall to the ghosts city of Hebron, the tons of checkpoints we had to go through and all the stories we heard from Palestinians living the conflict and the occupation. It was the realization of what is really going on in Palestine. I am extremely impressed by the way Palestinians handle the conflict and their perpetual hope in the future.
Sedina – USA/ Bosnia
Prior to discovering the Zajel Student Exchange Program, I believed that Palestine was a unmitigated military zone with no hope for the people who resided in it. This very idea exists in the mind of many people in America and I decided for myself that experiencing Palestine was the only way to dismiss projected misconceptions of this beautiful country. My initial encounter of every activity or trip was to say the least shocking, each in their own way. Conducting classes in the old and new campuses of An-Najah National University was the most rewarding aspect. I was able to teach students a variety of topics and in the process I simultaneously learned from them. I quickly learned throughout my visits within the West Bank that each city has its own culture and struggle. The Old City of Nablus was a lovely and educational experience, thanks to the local volunteers.
Hebron and Bethlehem were the most difficult due to the extreme level of military occupation and apartheid wall presence. But regardless, it remains the most touching and insightful trips. We were able to hear firsthand the stories everyday Palestinians face and have faced due to the violence imposed by Israel. This perspective was a pivotal component needed in order to understand the complexities within the Palestinian cause. The pinnacle part of Palestine for me was interacting with the people. From the local volunteers, University students, and the entire community. I have never felt so welcomed in my entire life and all expectations of hospitality were surpassed. The generosity, warmth, kindness, and congeniality were continuous to which I cannot express enough gratitude for. My trip to Palestine will never be forgotten and I will make sure that one day I will return.
One of my final trips was to the Old City of Jerusalem. This was one of my most anticipated trips because of the holiness and spirituality that suppose to exist there. Being Muslim, my objective in going was to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayer. Once entering the Old City, we found it nearly impossible to locate where the Mosque was within the quarters. There were no maps, no signs, When we asked for help we either were told "there is no Mosque, its closed" or we were maneuvered purposely to the opposite direction. Once we remembered that Alaa told us the way to the Mosque was to "follow your heart", we finally found it. The struggle to get in didn't end there, as we were heavily questioned on the sincerity of being Muslims. Although once we finally entered, we felt right at home. Our faces got brighter and our hearts opened up. We no longer felt out of place and lost. It was inside the Mosque, praying, that I found something more than spirituality and holiness. We all agreed that inside, we found a piece of ourselves.
Upon arriving in Palestine nothing has been what I expected, from the Old city of Nabulus and your thriving University to the desolate streets of Hebbron. It has been a very emotional journey. Bethlehem was also a very difficult place to visit. The workshops have been challenging, but very rewarding.
The Zajel Summer Workcamp exceeded my expectations; the experience was above and beyond what I had ever imagined. I had decided to attend the camp on rather short notice, applying for the camp only two or three weeks before it began. I was looking to get involved in volunteer work but being my first time I wanted to attend a program that was both informative and educational. I came across Zajel online, and having always had a huge interest in Palestine the work camp was exactly what I was after. Zajel was an opportunity not to be missed and I applied right away. As many of the girls have stated Nablus, the University, and the entire West Bank, was nothing as we had imagined. The media paints a very vivid picture of the situation in the West Bank, and yes, to a degree some of this information is correct. Life is more difficult than in any of the countries we come from and you, the Palestinians, face daily challenges you needn't face, such as, water shortages, power shortages, and restriction of movement; a complete monopoly over your freedom. But despite this adversity what shone through was your strong character. Life goes on, and the Palestinians are a shining example of this; not only do you carry on, but you do so with both pride and dignity. Like Sedina, what Dorte said really struck a chord with me "You welcomed us into your home when you are not even welcome in your own home.” Despite the hardships you face, you welcomed us into your homes and hearts with no reservations. Your warmth and generosity blew me away.
In my workshops I faced many challenges with a number of students, I was conflicted about which approach to take, my easy breezy democratic approach was getting nowhere, but I didn't want to be too hard on them either. Adopting the Palestinian attitude (of the majority at least) I persevered and meet somewhere in the middle (don’t ask my assistants). It was at the end of the workshops I realized that I may not have been able to completely open the door for them in just two weeks, but I had at least crept it open, paving way for the next person or idea to enter their minds and hopefully to have a positive influence on them. And if they didn't learn anything from me, I am sure as heck hope they were at least entertained (again, don’t ask my assistants for details). There are many things I am still digesting from the camp and my time in Palestine, and I have a 40 hour plane ride to mull over my thoughts, so I can add to my reflection then. But thank you Alaa for making this possible and all the local volunteers for all the hard work, time and effort you put into this camp. You truly made this a memorable experience, one that I will cherish forever. And thank you to all the other international volunteers; I couldn’t have gone through this with a better bunch of girls.
I have enjoyed all of the trips and experiences. Hebron city was the most challenging one, Palestine is different than I expected. Before I arrived here I had a lot of fears. fear that my travel probably ends on the first day at the airport, fear not to be of help for the students, fear of Palestine itself, fear of the uncertainty. But then I arrived here and I received a warm welcome, there is a well organized schedule for the whole stay.
We have experienced and learned new ideas, it feels like we are here for months not only two weeks. From trips to the old city of Nablus to Hebron, Bethlehem and Haifa, everything was well arranged and amazing, we enjoyed every second of our time, what made the trips so unforgettable, exciting, enriching and emotional; were you guys. You were so friendly, It was a pleasure listening to you. Thank you so much for sharing us your stories. You guys are the reason behind what makes Palestine special and great place, and why we save your country in our hearts.
I felt so happy to be so welcomed here. I was never treated the same in another country, It is sad to see that you guys are not welcome to your own country. I was so thankful to hear your testimonies, I am angry for the injustice you are experiencing.
The title of this program was "shape the future". I felt a little bit powerless to change the situation of Palestine. But I think this was also not the goal of this program. I am only a small human in the world and I cannot solve the whole problem by my own. But I can cause little changes in the minds of the people around me and with that. We, the international volunteers, can shape the future of your country. We can share your stories with the international community and put pressure from outside. But this will not be enough.
The visit to the old city of Nablus was really cool, it is a good thing that people have a lot of stories to tell about. the Palestinians always have something to tell about the occupation because they have patriotism and solidarity to their county and that is really important, Nablus has something that is very unique, The situation in Hebron is weird, My trip to Palestine was a great opportunity to understand what’s happening there. I used to read the news, but in the European media, it’s difficult to know what’s wrong and what’s right. See by my own eyes made me realize the difficult life of the Palestinians. However, people still find the strength of being patient, welcoming and kind. In Bethlehem, life is more peaceful, But you feel that something bad comes closer. Settlements are not far… I could feel in the air the desire of the settlers to transform the city in a second.
We visited the West Bank city of Hebron which is known to be the "heart of the occupation". It's almost impossible to be able to explain our full experience, but each photo speaks a thousand words!
Throughout our trip we were subjected to multiple identification checks, crossed through over 10 checkpoints, followed by over 12 soldiers and watched Palestinians being harassed by Israeli settlers.
Shuhada Street in Hebron, which was the main street for Palestinian's was closed in 2000 by the Israeli military. Palestinians were forced to leave their shops and warehouse's and are restricted from using the street. To this day, none of the shops have been reopened and the street remains closed to Palestinian vehicles and pedestrians. The street is now labeled as "Jewish Only" and on the very rare occasion a Palestinian holding a foreign passport may be allowed in. we were lucky enough to gain entry into the street.
Kahina – France- Algeria
My purpose was to observe how is life in Palestine. I didn't expect that the university could be so huge. If we listen to the news, we imagine Palestine as vast "War Zone". Thanks to the local students who shared their own experience with us, I could see how people are threatened. I am frustrated for the not being able to make a big change, This makes me feel that I need to do more to help the Palestinian citizen, I would like to thank the local volunteers. Thanks to Zajel, I could say; Palestinian people are unbreakable