Report of July, 2003 workcamp

On the morning of July 12, 2003, Zajel Youth Exchange Program opened its July International Voluntary Work camp. The work camp ran from the 31st of July involving international volunteers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Belgium and the United States. 

Volunteers worked on different sites of the municipality park, which had been neglected since several few months. They also worked in the destroyed houses of the Old City, as well as some of the homes of needy people in Nablus.

Zajel organizes this activity in order to offer placements for the international volunteers who would like to gain a better understanding of the life, culture, religion and political situation in Palestine.

There were various cultural activities organized during the July workcamp. A workshop about the history of Palestine from 1917-1948 was given by Mr.Alaa Yousef, coordinator of Zajel Youth Exchange Program.  He explained the roots of the conflict and the emigration to Palestine from abroad as well as the Palestinian Uprisings against the English Mandate of Palestine.  This workshop gave a clear image about the deep roots of the Palestinian Jewish conflict before 1948.

The workshop also explained the events of 1948 war and its impact on the Palestinian community when one million Palestinians were deported from their villages and cities. 

A workshop on Christianity took place at the Catholic church in Nablus, George Saadeh, the Priest of the Catholic church in Nablus. He spoke about the tolerance between Muslims, Samaritans and Christians of Nablus who have lived over the past hundreds years in tolerance and coexistence. He also mentioned that all three monotheistic religion are based on the word of God and have the same goals but that it is politics which emphasize the differences.

A long tour to the old city of Nablus took place also. Volunteers had the opportunity to enter destroyed homes, inflicted by the Israeli invasions. They could see destruction of some houses, burnt merely a few hours before the tour by the Israeli occupation forces. The group could also meet the eyewitnesses of the old city who told their stories. The tour also included visits to the traditional sites of the old city such as the Turkish Bath.

A workshop on Islam and Terrorism took place at An-Najah National University, Dr. Nasir Al Shaer, the Dean of the College if Islamic Religion, explained the difference between terror and resistance, stressing on the right to resist the occupation. He also talked about the clash between civilizations and possibilities to have coexistence between them. He supported the idea of dialogue between different nations and pointed out that the American age does not represent the west and that there are still many nations who are interested in mature dialogue with Muslims. He responded to questions from volunteers about the old testament, promised land, and Islam phobia.

An interesting tour to the Refugee Camp of Al-Ein was organized. Both international and local volunteers visited the refugees in their units, interviewing them, and listening to their experience of the homelessness and the hard conditions they have gone through over the past half century. There was discussion about the refugee’s right of return and the implementation of international community decisions regarding refugees. The local volunteers themselves got great experience from the study visit to the refugee camp. The visits to the refugee camps of Nablus were extended by visiting Balata refugee Camp, the largest one in the West Bank as well as Askar Refugee Camp. 

Meeting with the governor of Nablus was also organized in order to get an idea about the impact of the current situation on the city of Nablus in the fields of economy and unemployment. The governor explained the Road Map and the hope that it gives to Palestinians despite its many flaws. The international volunteers discussed with him the new political developments on the ground and the importance of lifting the imposed siege around Nablus which has prohibited 180.000 citizen from movement for more three years.

A workshop on the Palestinian women was also prepared at the Family Defense Society. Mrs. Falak Al-Khayyat,  Director gave  a speech on the psychological impact of the Israeli occupation on the family. She explained how the work of the society is important in that they can provide a psychological release for the women, men and children who come to them for help.

Two British volunteers made a comparative study between the Northern Irish conflict and the Palestinian situation.  They presented the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland and drew parallels. Afterwards, volunteers asked questions about the current situation and the ongoing peace process.

Evening entertainment included visits to the Turkish Bath, coffee shops, parks, host families, wedding parties, Josef Tomb and the sports field.  In addition international nights were organized including a Korean night and an Italian night.  A children’s carnival was organized by the international and local volunteers and they did their best in order to encourage children to release the tension and pressure created as a result of the continued curfew and siege.

It deserves mention that the second International Voluntary Work camp of this summer will begin on the 10th of August and end on the 31st.