A month ago, Lajee Center concluded its 18th annual International Summer Work Camp – a two-week programme, where participants work on the ground to support Aida Camp’s community in developing the only free, recreational space in the Camp as well as attend lectures and meetings with leading Palestinians in the fields of media, education, health, politics and social work.
This year, the participants represented eleven different countries – Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Cyprus, France, Germany and Singapore.
For most of the participants, it was their first time being in the West Bank and the camp served as an important means for them to learn about and witness first-hand, the ongoing occupation in Palestine.
As some of them expressed, “just coming here, being in this place, seeing watch towers and an 8-meter-tall apartheid wall along the playground where families gather and play, witnessing the inhumane conditions and systems the Palestinians are subjected to daily such as at checkpoint 300, is an experience that no amount of words, reports or videos can encompass. You have to be here to truly comprehend the reality of the situation.”
The participants also had the pleasure of visiting numerous civil society organisations, attending lectures on the restrictions of expression, the critical water situation, prisoner's lives in Israeli jails, and the struggles of women under occupation. These lectures were enhanced through the screening and subsequent discussions of documentary films made by members of Lajee.
They also learned how to cook traditional Palestinian dishes from the families in Aida, learn basic Arabic, visited cultural and historical museums and meet with people in different refugee camps, villages and towns around the West Bank.
The field visit to Al-Walajah Village allowed the participants to observe for themselves the systems put in place to restrict the rights of Palestinians to their own farms and property. They saw houses that had been demolished by the Israeli forces due to the fact that they had been built or renovated without a building permit (which has to be issued by Israel but never is) and rebuild repeatedly through collective efforts of the entire village. They also saw the ways in which settlements were strategically built to eventually cordon off Palestinian towns from one another.
The tour in Hebron also enlightened the participants on the conditions of which Palestinians there had to live, through security checkpoints in and out of the Old city, surrounded by extremist Israeli settlers who, in certain areas, live above them on the second storey and throw rocks, acid, urine and dirty water onto the Palestinians below. There are around 4900 soldiers deployed to protect roughly 500 settlers in the Old city of Hebron. The participants also saw that there were streets exclusively meant for settlers and also others exclusively for Palestinians. An interesting observation was how the areas meant for settlers were mostly empty ghost towns, symbolically exerting Israeli presence in the area. It was also strange to learn that the Ibrahimi mosque was split into two, a Muslim and a Jewish section after a massacre that happened in the mosque whereby an American-Israeli soldier, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on the Muslims in the mosque who had gathered for the morning prayer. The attack left 29 people dead, some as young as 12 years old and another 125 wounded.
However the participants also had the pleasure of experiencing the immense natural beauty of Palestine. They managed to unwind through camping in Mar Saba desert with the youth of Lajee as well as visited Battir village to watch the sunset together towards the final days of the Summer Work Camp.
All in all, the participants “found the 2018 summer camp to be an eye opening and amazing educational experience. We learnt so much through listening to people’s powerful personal accounts, attending thought-provoking lectures, visiting villages and cities and seeing first-hand what life is like for the Palestinians. This international camp programme was really well structured and skilfully organized. It made it possible for us to attend seminars and meet with people we otherwise may not have been able to if we had come individually.”
Another participant expressed that “sometimes it was difficult to digest and process the stories we were hearing, especially now that I can put a name and a face to the stories”. This opinion was shared by other participants as well, but while it was difficult to process the horrific stories heard, the personal accounts allowed the participants to get to know these storytellers on a personal level as well as strengthened their motivation to spread the message of the Palestinian struggle.
Also importantly, the participants were impressed by the presentation of facts and figures as well as balanced opinions throughout the duration of the camp. They were not fed with propaganda, as some participants admitted that they were afraid of experiencing.
The participants also expressed immense gratitude for the hospitality and care characteristic of Palestinians that they had experienced. They expressed that they felt extremely welcomed, supported and well taken care of by everyone they met throughout the duration of the summer camp. They hoped that in any way possible, they could have impacted the community the way the community in Aida had impacted them.
A participant reflected on the volunteer work that the team did, cleaning the roof and gardens of Lajee. “It was nice to get a chance to do a little volunteer work and make a small contribution to the really positive and successful youth and community work done at the Lajee Centre.”
All the participants left feeling hopeful to return to Palestine and to Aida again, to visit the friends they have met here through Lajee. They also left feeling a strong sense of purpose, to contribute to the Palestinian struggle by sharing their experiences with others in the international community.
They entire team of participants would like to thank everyone whom they have met during their experience in the summer camp especially Mohammad Alazza for planning and coordinating the camp, Salah, and Zayd who coordinated the activites during the summer camp as well as took care of the participants daily, Shifa and Samer who cooked the daily meals, Nidal and Amahl for the enlightening lessons, and the rest of the Lajee team for an amazing experience.