Do Not Be Afraid To Go To Palestine
I am Lyne from Luxemburg and I took part at the Zajel Youth Camp in Palestine for two weeks full of profound experiences: Many Yallah's, group pictures, falafel, history, and many great memories. I am very grateful for all the places I've got to see, the stories I've heard and the friends I've made during my time here in Nablus.
By: Lyne - Luxemburg
Every day was packed with many activities and the two weeks felt more like a whole month.
In the next paragraphs, I'll try to describe how a day at the camp was roughly structured. In the morning we had breakfast at the university campus, prepared our workshops and then took part in an activity. We attended lectures on important topics such as the right to education and a question-and-answer session on the political situation in Palestine. On other days we would visit different institutions; the Samaritans, the Red Crescent and various companies in Nablus and its surroundings. Everyone was very welcoming and shared their knowledge with us.
The visit of the New Campus was very exciting as we got to see the different faculties and modern facilities. We had a big tour that we couldn't even finish because there was too much to see. The Media Centre was very impressive to me. Every day they broadcast worldwide and work on innovative concepts to create and distribute media content. I value their radio program, were people can send in voice messages via WhatsApp for their family members in jail to hear over the radio.
Balata refugee camp also made a lasting impression on me, and walking through the narrow labyrinth streets made me quite emotional. We had the pleasure to meet a woman at the Yaffa Culture Centre who talked to us about the history and future of the refugee camp. Overall I was struck by the openness and courage with which the Palestinians talked about their hard past with me, a stranger, they've only known for a short amount time.
After lunch at the university restaurant, socializing with students and leading the workshops we'd take trips to cities or smaller villages like Ramallah, Jericho, and Sebastyia. In the evening we had dinner at local restaurants. On the weekends we went on bigger trips to the Desert, Bethlehem, Hebron and the Dead See in the Jordan Valley.
I especially appreciated the visit to The Walled Off Museum by Banksy in Bethlehem. It's a very informative, well-curated exhibition, which attracts and many tourists and gives a good overview of the conflict. Another highlight for me personally was our afternoon in Sebastiya, a small village near Nablus with many excavated remains of a Roman town and an amphitheatre. We learned how to dance Dabka and were introduced to traditional music. Now I am seriously thinking about starting my mornings with Fayrouz singer when I get home.
Being in Palestine was like sweet-sour candy. In Palestine, everything comes together, the beauty and the pain. I saw many breath-taking places; the sunset and sunrise in the desert, the oldest olive tree, only a few meters away from the fence, and the stunning view on top of the mountain overlooking Nablus, during a dinner with local students. But I also heard many stories, from the not so distant past and the present, that shook me and made me more aware of the atrocities Palestinians have to go through on the daily basis. Beside all the beauty and history it was sad to see that double standards and racism reign in the Holy Land.
I want to underline that during our excursions the locals were always eager to explain to us the history and political situation of Palestine as fact-based and neutral as possible. So that the internationals could make up their mind and form their own opinion about the various issues.
What I loved the most was talking with other students and volunteers. The discussions we had, gave me a lot of insight and I got to know more about their culture, their struggles, their passions and what it means to be a young adult in Palestine. I enjoyed the interactions during the film production workshop I held together with another international volunteer. Exchanging ideas, inspirations and movies were fun and the students introduced me to some new films, which I am eager to watch.
Leading a workshop was a challenge at first because I am not a teacher, but I eventually got used to it. The students were all extremely patient, gave me a lot of input and were very forgiving when it came to slight changes of plan or improvisations during our class. Although everything turned out great, I wish I could have done more with the students or prepared better for every single class.
Do not be afraid to go to Palestine with the Zajel Youth Exchange Program to learn more about the country and its people. During the whole time here, I always felt very safe and in great company. The local students did take excellent care of the volunteers and made us feel like we were some kind of precious goods. They were by our side from dawn till dark, always making sure we had enough water with us and showing us around town.
The only slightly unpleasant experiences during the two weeks were the Israeli security checks and questioning at Tel Aviv airport, which framed the trip. But with a smile and high spirit, those brackets were manageable and nothing to be too concerned about.
I want to end this report with a big round of applause for the Zajel Youth Exchange group and the students at the An-Najah University. The key reasons why this work camp was such a success are the local volunteers and students, who all are so kind, intelligent and made me feel right at home. I want to thank the coordinators of Zajel Program for their enormous efforts, behind and on stage, and for creating this well-conducted symphony of new experiences for the international volunteers.
Thank you for sharing the history of Palestine with us and raising awareness for the cause. From now on that's what I actively try to do too.