Zajel Finishes the Second International Voluntary Work-camp  

In partnership with SCI Germany/Service Civil International, Zajel finished its second international voluntary work-camp this past summer, in which more than 30 people from the USA, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Korea, and Japan participated in a range of different activities. The work-camp was designed to allow interested and concerned volunteers to be involved in social development and reconstruction work in the city of Nablus - a city seriously impacted by the Israeli military occupation. Furthermore, the work-camp provided an excellent opportunity for the participants to gain a valuable first-hand understanding of the current situation in the occupied Palestinian lands, as well as experience some of the riches of Palestinian culture and form personal relationships with members of the local community. This process was highly successful for all involved.

As part of the program, the volunteers visited a number of community service, humanitarian, local government, and religious institutions in Nablus. This included a visit to the Red Crescent Society, where the international volunteers met a number of local volunteers, and heard about their personal experiences during the Israeli invasion of the Old City of Nablus in 2002. During this invasion, the Red Crescent volunteers, as well as the staff other humanitarian organizations in Nablus, were subjected to repeated violations of their basic human rights; constantly operated under personal threat of injury, death, and degrading treatment; and were prevented from carrying out services vital to the well being of the community. The volunteers were given a tour of the Red Crescent facilities, and introduced to the range of free services offered to the Palestinian community.

Next, the international volunteers visited the former compound of the Nablus city government, which was completely destroyed by repeated Israeli military activities. There they met with Mrs. Suhair Fretekh, the Co-ordinator of International Relations for the government, who explained that the government was forced to both suspend services, and move to a different, and far less suitable, site after a series of Israeli strikes over the past year and a half.

Finally, the work-camp members visited the Greek Catholic Melkite Church in Nablus, where they met with Father Youssef Jubran Saadeh, whom made a presentation about the long history of peaceful coexistence and tolerance between the Christians, Muslims, and Samaritans; the main religious groups in Nablus. He also explained the difficulties caused by the forced deportation of the Palestinian people who where transferred out of their lands in 1948; stressing the important connections the people still have with their homes, and their basic rights as refugees to return.

In addition to the visits, two important workshops were organized for the international volunteers. The first discussed the nature of Islam and its role in the global society, in particular debating the 'clash of civilizations' between the eastern and western worlds. As part of this, Dr. Nasir Al-Shaer made a presentation on the concepts of Islam, 'Islamphobia', and Terrorism. In this he discussed the role of the media in distorting news and providing inaccurate and biased portrayals of the situation in the Muslim world, and in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Following this, he discussed the difference between the legitimate right of resistance and terrorism, and condemned some of the violent actions carried out against civilians in the name of Islam around the world. He ended by calling for an immediate and open dialogue between both civilizations based upon common values, and mutual respect, while stressing the difference between western regimes and western people.

The second workshop was organized to discuss the developments of the 'Road Map' to peace, and the state of its actual implementation on the ground. As part of this, Dr. Abdul Sattar Kasim from the Department of Political Science at An-Najah made a presentation showing the impact of the Israeli 'apartheid' wall upon Palestinian lands. He explained how this was just one of many examples of the obstacles created by the Israelis that have made it impossible to carry out many of the agreements signed since the Madrid Conference in 1991 are needed to improve the lives of Palestinian citizens, and bring about a fair and just solution to the conflict.

Due to the Israeli invasion of the city of Nablus, the members of the work-camp were forced to move to the Askar refugee camp. However, there they were able to work with the Social Development Center, where they organized and participated in different activities with the children, most of who suffer physically and mentally from their inability to enjoy normal lives, and the impact of the daily threat of Israeli military incursions.

In addition to their work, in the best spirit of friendship and cooperation, the local and international volunteers played each other in a football match. During this, both sides were able to meet each other in an informal and friendly way, in which they could relax and have fun together, in spite of the situation around them.

After three weeks of experiencing life in Palestine, Zajel organized an official closing ceremony, in which the volunteers were offered heartfelt thanks by the administration. Mr.Sami Al-Kilani, the Director of the Public Relations Department, expressed his deepest respect and appreciation for the international volunteers who leave the comfort and safety of their homes so that they can come to Palestine and participate in activities that benefit the people of Nablus. He thanked them for their commitment to issues of human rights, stressed the importance of their presence in Nablus, and hoped that they received meaningful and positive experiences that they will carry with them all their lives.


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