Students of An-Najah have great desire for understanding the world
I am writing this testimony from my room in Bristol, where I live in England. On attending the The An-Najah National University`s youth exchange program, from the moment I arrived in the park in Nablus up until the final day in Bethlehem, I was greeted with warmth, friendliness, sincerity and interest. Throughout people would ask me why I had chosen to come to Palestine of all places, when so few others did. I have always been interested in the politics of the West-Bank, and have become fairly familiar with the situation through various methods of research.
By: Jake Andeson
However, as it is when observing something through the filters of the internet, friends, politicians and the media, away from the existence on the inside, you form a reality that is shaped by subjective ideas, creating a morphed re-presentation of an already manufactured reality.
It was only after getting to Nablus on a Sunday evening, arriving at a park and being served ice cream floating in some delicious home-made lemonade, with a group of students, all interested in life and education, in humanity and with a desire for understanding the world. We spoke about American Literature, about James Baldwin, about culture and about life in the UK and Palestine. This moment was so far removed from my perception of this region. I had forgotten that Palestine was a real place with real, fantastic people, because in my head it was a cause I was dedicated to. It was a cause that I believed was humanitarian, but on reflection on it now, was really only political in nature. I was viewing it as an expression of global politics, a piece in the games of politicians. I had been a sucker to the mystification perpetuated by the media and by governments; even if my views were counter to the dominant message, I had lost simply by playing the game.
I was extremely happy to have this busted out of my head, and communicate with people with no preconceptions of who they were and what they were like. The people I met on the first night in the park, with you I shared conversation, laughter and ideas, were not in isolation. Everywhere I went I encountered thoughtful, intelligent and considered discussion on a number of things. During the first lesson I was teaching, in English conversation, I exposed my ignorance distinctly. We were having a discussion about the word 'civilisation', it meanings and uses in the English language over the course of history, and the cultural effects of this concept. I was prepared to try and discuss this with the students claiming a small degree of authority, and found myself getting schooled by the whole class. I learnt more from them than they learnt from me over the course of the two weeks that I was teaching, no doubt.
The human layers to life in Nablus was something I hadn't even considered, naively, until I was there, but is the only real aspect of the whole thing. When going through life it is each person's experiences that form their being, their sense of humour, their past-times, what they like, their morality, how they can be happy, what everything means, they shape their understanding on why things are as they are. What I didn't understand before I went to Palestine is that generally people don't instinctively have a 'bigger-picture' viewpoint, they do not see their situation as a set of historical events (although these are extremely important in Palestine) that are removed from everyday life. It is everyday life that shapes people.
As my Palestinian friend told me; it is the restrictions on movement, cultural exchange and resources that are the things that form the psyche of the Palestinian people. It is a place of vast knowledge, and a huge resource of human capability, but it is stuck in a place that looked very similar fifty years ago. I believe he felt that Palestine is kept away from a rapidly developing world by Israel in order to starve it of any possible growth or development itself and, in so doing, reducing it's power in the technologically advanced world we occupy. I don't believe that the Palestinian people I met will let themselves be starved of this, and certainly I saw ambition to discover new things and develop in all the students I spoke with. The yearning for knowledge was by far the greatest I have ever come across. I was put to shame every day by the young people of Palestine, not that they would believe me, in their desire for knowledge, their refusal to be victimised, their ability to treasure joy with such delicate hands, and bring joy out of others, as well as their straight up intelligence, and their sense of humour.
Throughout my stay there were some extremely difficult times to bear. Every day I met more and more people who had suffered immeasurably, having been torn apart either by death, imprisonment, or the destruction of homes, and i heard more and more stories of torture and abuse at the hands of the Israeli military. They were never told to me as a way of gaining my sympathy or horror though, as I might have expected, but with a cold matter of fact that was never looking for a reaction. There were moments where I felt hopeless and confused, frustrated by the seemingly helplessness of the situation. I could see no solution, no change, in fact only an increase in the abhorrent conditions that the people deal with every day.
Unfortunately I returned as cynical about the political situation as when I arrived, if not more so, but have been lifted by my human experience in Palestine. I have never come across such interesting and beautiful people, and I will be returning soon to continue my journey with the people and the region, and hopefully being able to do anything I can to help and be a positive force in an extremely difficult situation.