My internship at SZOIL dominated my stay in China. The shifts were Monday to Friday, from 9:30 to 17:30, with some voluntary extra time and a couple of weekend activities. I had very nice colleagues, not just my fellow CRCC interns, but the whole team working at SZOIL, from the regular Chinese staff members, to three other student interns from China, Nepal and Sri Lanka. While each of us worked on our own projects, we often lent a hand to each other, or had a break from one and did something different for a while (which is how I ended doing the variety of tasks mentioned below). Moreover, one of SZOIL’s regular workers, whom supervised my work for the GHL, taught us how to use some of the machines in the lab. I only used the laser engraver and cutter, as 3D printing required designing and that’s something I’m awful at.
(If you haven’t, check the first part of my latest blog series ‘CRCC Asia Internship in China’ before reading this one: https://findingmyselfinsideme.com/2017/09/25/crcc-asia-internship-in-shenzhen-preparation-arrival-and-induction/)
After a long three-day weekend of being ill and trying to recover, my first day of work as an intern in China came. I had to wake-up early and meet the rest of CRCC Asia interns in the lobby of Apartment One, to take a group picture before heading to our internships. Most, if not all, interns worked for companies which weren’t near our accommodation. Fortunately, for the first day of work, CRCC staff members took us by minivan to our workplaces. I was not the only CRCC intern working in SZOIL, my assigned company, there were three others CRCC participants coming with me: a student from a university in Northern England, a student from an American university, and a fellow Sussex student. I had only spoken briefly to two of them before the start of the internship, so I didn’t know much about any of them, but hoped for the best, as they would be my co-workers for a month.
The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
Visiting important places and learning about political and social issues were amazing aspects of the BZU work camp. Although it only lasted nine days, my knowledge on a variety of issues expanded. I could also practise some strategies I learnt whilst in Singapore to improve my cultural intelligence. And I experienced living in a different environment, hearing a different language daily, eating different food… Although, without doubt, the highlight of the camp were the people, from Palestinians to international participants (like me).
As I always say, I’m not a good socialising and I was scared about that aspect of the camp. I didn’t want to be my usual self and stay in a corner away from the fun 24/7, nor did I want to force myself into uncomfortable or awkward situations. I just wanted to have an opportunity to be social while staying true to myself. Fortunately, I had many of those opportunities and the majority went quite well. Much better than I expected. I widened my networks and made many acquaintances throughout the camp. I even think I made friends with whom I would like to stay in touch, very possible in the era of social media.
The majority of conversations I had whilst in the camp were 1:1 or small groups of 3-4 people. This made it easy for me to feel comfortable and talk freely. Every day I engaged in conversations with different people about a variety of topics. There were people with whom I spoke daily, others with whom I spoke now and then, and others with whom I spoke once or twice. Regardless, all the interactions were valuable in different. Sometimes they were just fun. Others they were politically charged. Sometimes they were about sharing experiences and thoughts. Others they were about discussing and arguing (respectfully) about contemporary issues.
As expected, the occupation in Palestine was a frequent topic, nonetheless there was always something new to learn when it came up. I heard people talk about their experiences trying to enter Israel and Palestine through the airport in Tel Aviv and through the border with Jordan. They were stopped for several hours for no apparent reason, other than being of Palestinian heritage or/and having an Arab background/name. I wasn’t shocked by any of this, I’m not unfamiliar with ethnic profiling, but it was still disturbing to hear. Some of them thought Israel did that to scare them from coming back to the region again, which is believable.
Another topic of discussion regarding the occupation was whether if Palestinians wanted a 1 or 2 state solution. One of them argued that they tried the 2 state solution, Gaza and West Bank were meant to be for Palestinians, but the checkpoints, settlements and the Wall happened, together with constant arrests. Hence, the question is whether if Israel wants a two state solution. Another Palestinian said that the issue wasn’t about one or two states, but about the right of Palestinians to exist, be free, end the occupation and develop their region. This line of thinking can be linked to complaints I heard regarding the checkpoints (were Palestinians are humiliated and treated like prisoners and animals) and the constant needs of permits to move around for Palestinians. In fact, when we visited Jerusalem, the majority of Palestinians in the camp couldn’t come with us, which made the day bitter-sweet.
Hebron was also a topic that came up now and then. Hebron is a main city in the West Bank to which we were meant to go, but we couldn’t due to ongoing tensions. Hebron is the most critical place in the West Bank: there are two Israeli settlements in the middle of the city. To protect the settlers, the IDF is present. The situation in the area is similar to apartheid. Palestinians in Hebron suffer from attacks from settlers, and due to the IDF, resistance is tough. It is a bit surreal how Israel has settlements in a main Palestinian city, but as I was told, it is the mentality of colonisers and oppressors: power and control. Hebron is an important economic and commercial era, many imports from China go there and are exported to other parts in the West Bank. I was told that buying there is cheap. Meanwhile, Ramallah is the main city for shopping and fun. Nablus, Bethlehem and Jericho are more historical and cultural areas.
The last conversed issue regarding the occupation that is worth talking about is the Wall. I saw it for the first time when we were coming back from Jerusalem after a day out. My main thoughts were how the international community allowed this to happen. Then, some international participants talked about how in Europe they got rid of the Wall of Berlin and promised to never step that low again, yet there was that monstrosity in the West Bank, separating families, villages and neighbourhoods.
The Israeli occupation in Palestine was not the only political and social issue I talked about with participants in the camp. I had conversations about topics like marriage, dating, religion, governance, race, ethnicity, Europe, Brexit, Turkey, democracy, the USA elections… I never felt uncomfortable discussing any of these topics because I’m used to do it in university and because many people in the camp were very educated, good at debating and respectful about others’ opinions. That’s something I liked a lot about the people I met in the camp: I could discuss issues I care about outside an anglocentric environment. In addition, I realised I had various things in common with various participants in the camp, when comes to personal experiences, knowledge and opinions.
Leaving politics and social issues aside, there were various fun and nice social moments whilst in the camp. We had an afternoon session of painting pots, we went to a music festival whilst in Bethlehem, we hanged out in some bars in Ramallah… My favourite moment was being invited to eat to the house of one of the Palestinian participants, together with two European girls and another Palestinian. It was a very spontaneous invitation that turned out to be a great decision. His mother prepared traditional Palestinian dishes for us: maqluba, dolmas and kousas. They were delicious! We also had coffee and tea.
Our pal’s young cousins and siblings were around the house too, we spoke with them. After eating, he showed us his family flats and his pet pigeons. At some point his father, who is a taxi driver, came. We spoke with him for various minutes. He shared with us some anecdotes of working as a taxi driver in the region, mainly the negative stereotypes of Arabs that Israelis have and share with foreigners, which he challenged thanks to his good conduct as a taxi driver. I felt a lot of empathy and frustration, I understand how it feels when you have to prove you are not what is told about people like you. Overall, the afternoon in our pal’s home was very pleasant, the Palestinian family had remarkable hospitality with us.
Socialising, living and travelling around the West Bank nine days gave me a good taste of Palestinian life. I miss certain aspects of it. Mainly the food. Before going to Palestine, I had never eaten Middle Eastern food before, other than Turkish food. I remember being unsure about eating hummus for breakfast on the second day on the camp since the one I ate in Singapore wasn’t very nice. Now I miss having hummus with khubz (a common type of bread similar to pita, the world also means ‘bread’ in Arabic) for breakfast every day. I also miss eating falafel and some pizza-like dishes (I don’t remember their name sadly). And deserts like baklava and kanafeh stole my heart.
At the end of the BZU work camp, I was very sad to leave, although I needed to leave. My physical health was very irregular while my mental health showed signs of emotional exhaustion. I couldn’t wait to go to the doctor in England and carry out tests to see what was wrong with me. I also couldn’t wait to go back to quietness and loneliness after a summer of daily interactions and experiences. While various international participants stayed behind, I left Palestine the day the work camp ended, the 11th of August, together with a participant from Germany. We had to cross through a checkpoint and it was a negatively bizarre experience, although because of our European passports & non-Arabic names, we had no troubles.
On our journey to the airport I was scared about having problems. I had read various accounts on how leaving from the Ben Gurion airport in Israel can be problematic. It is regarded as the “safest” airport in the world, although I wouldn’t describe it as such at all. My companion and I separated when we arrived because we had to check in through different terminals. Before checking my luggage, I was briefly “interviewed” by a security officer. She asked some random questions about my luggage and then checked my passport for minutes. I could see the confusion on her name whilst reading my details, as if something didn’t add up.
Finally, she asked “”where are your surnames originally from?”. I didn’t know the answer, I just mentioned my parents’ birth countries. She didn’t know my mum’s home country, I had to explain there are three Guineas in Africa. After my response she stared at my passport for a few more seconds and then gave me a sticker with a number, which I had to show after checking my luggage and going through immigration. The number I given was a ‘5’, meaning I was 1 number away from the highest level of threat (the airport uses a system of 1 [low] to 6 [high] to determine how suspicious are passengers). I didn’t even mention I’m learning Arabic and that I visited Palestine. I knew that Arabs and Muslims, people with Arabic / Islamic names and people who had visas from Arab / certain Muslim majority countries got a 5 or 6 by default. I didn’t expect it for me, although I wasn’t that surprised.
Obviously, I wasn’t very pleased with this, not only because I was racially/ethnically profiled, but because I had to wait for minutes while my hand luggage was thoroughly checked before I went to the area where my departure gate was. However, since I’m black hence used to this, I got over it. At the end of the day, I don’t live in Israel. But there are black people and Arab people who live there and go through similar and worse situations every day. I was actually lucky to have an EU passport, I know that travelling with an African passport would be much more troublesome. Moreover, when I met my German companion before she boarded her plane, she told me she was given a 6 and asked various uncomfortable questions, because she was heading to Jordan and Lebanon through Greece. I didn’t have it that bad after all.
Talking about my nine days in Palestine requires over four blog posts, even though I had to condense my experience because I didn’t want to bore people with unnecessary details. As you may have realised, I didn’t add many personal comments on reflections on what I witnessed and learnt, mainly regarding the Israeli occupation in Palestine. Needless to say, I still support the Palestinian cause 100%. Needless to stay, my dislike of the Israeli state and its treatment towards Palestine increased. I would be happy to write a reflective account on my experience if it weren’t because of my current struggle to write essays and informative blog posts. That’s why I wrote a freestyle reflective poem. My opinion on social issues normally flows better in poetry than in essays. So here is a link to my poem, titled “History is Today”: https://findingmyselfinsideme.com/2016/09/05/poem-history-is-today/
This is the fourth and last post of my blog series “BZU Work Camp in Palestine”. I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to new series on the future.
One of the main reasons I liked the BZU work camp was that it was not just about sightseeing: it was about understanding the Palestinian situation better. There were aspects of the Israeli occupation you could see (checkpoints, The Wall, destroyed infrastructure) but others required explanation because they weren’t visible enough. When applying to the program, I was hoping to learn more about the politics and social aspects of the issue. Fortunately, my desire was fulfilled. We had lectures from first aiders, an activist, a politician and an academic. We had presentations about different community groups. And we carried out experiential learning by volunteering with those groups. It was an enriching educational experience I want to share with you.
Palestinian Red Crescent Society
Representatives from the organisation gave us a small lesson on first aid the day after we arrived. The topics were heat related emergencies and bites, oriented towards real issues we could have during the camp. The West Bank is a hot and dry place full of nature. Although we normally had a first aider with us during the camp, it was good to be made aware of simple things that could be lifesaving. In addition, while I have attended various first aid courses before, I never went through those topics: it was a new knowledge for me.
Right 2 Edu (Right to Education)
Right 2 Edu is self-funded grassroots student campaign that began in BZU in the 1970s, with the objective of providing legal assistance to staff and students incarcerated by Israel. At present, other aims include: documenting, researching and raising awareness about the occupation; building an international campaign; advocating for a proper Palestinian curriculum; connecting with supporters from the international community; and opposing illegal violations by the Israeli state. At heart of the campaign is the desire of securing full access to quality education for Palestinians, covering from political to economic aspects. Currently there are around 80 students from BZU detained in Israeli prisons and the campaign offers them legal representation. The Right 2 Edu has carried out two tours in USA universities, visiting 40 institutions in the first one and 37 in the second one, with the purpose of explaining their ambitions and creating alliances.
Education is a very important element of the Palestinian cause. When the 1st Intifada happened, education was made illegal in Palestine by the Israeli government: educational institutions were shut down for 4 years. To keep educating themselves, Palestinians created circle study groups in their homes, were teachers taught them. After picking up on this, the Israel government introduced a ban than prohibited more than 10 people to gather, trying to prevent these study groups. Nevertheless, Palestinians kept circulating knowledge in smaller groups till the ban ended.
Another reason why education is significant is because of the role the curriculum plays. A Palestinian curriculum didn’t use to exist before, the alternatives being the Jordanian or Israeli one. Then, aid was given to Palestinians so they could create their own one, but conditions were applied: they weren’t allowed to mention “anti-Israeli bias”, such as the Nakba (the 1948 Palestinian exodus after Israel was created), they had to study it as a war, not a catastrophe in which thousands of Palestinians had to leave their homes and became refugees. Another example is that instead of teaching about “resistance”, they had to learn about negotiations and deals.
This is an issue because in Palestine, there are two main types of violations: the visible ones and the invisible ones. The visible ones are for example the checkpoints, the settlements, the soldiers, and the Wall. The invisible ones apply to things like the curriculum: not being allowed to learn about their history and heritage correctly. This is a problem because Palestinians feel like if it makes them normalise their situation and it reduces chances for real resistance against the occupation. It can also make some feel a desire of leaving their country, linked also to a lack of opportunities in the region because of the occupation.
Although education is no longer banned in Palestine, quality and access are still an issue as well. Certain materials are not allowed to enter the region, such as some chemicals (under the excuse that they might be used inappropriately) and books, especially philosophical books and books about revolution. In addition, in some primary schools, Palestinian children are taught with books that show Israelis as progressive saviours who brought things like light to their country, while Arab-Palestinians are depicted as backward societies incapable of such. When comes to access, there are various restrictions that don’t allow Palestinians to build schools easily and location can become a big problem for children to attend school (the issue of construction in the West Bank is explained better below).
To learn more about the Right 2 Edu campaign, visit this webpage: right2edu.birzeit.edu
Lecture on Jerusalem: Planning, Siege, Segregation, Colonisation &Apartheid
A professor of Urban Planning in BZU gave us a lecture about the geographical issues surrounding the Israeli occupation in Palestine.
Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire till 1917. Then, the British Mandate took over. Afterwards, the Balfour declaration was passed by Britain, in which it was articulated how a Jewish homeland would be established in Palestine (important to point out that a minority of Jews already lived in Palestine, alongside a minority of Christians and a majority of Muslims). This lead to an increase in Jewish migration to Palestine and to growing tensions between the populations in the region. In 1947, the UN created a partition plan, leading to the end of the Palestine mandate, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
At present, Palestine is often described as being comprised by Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem as capital (this view is disputed for a variety for reasons, some will be explained in the next blog post). The West Bank is geopolitically divided in three areas: A, B & C. This was as part of a temporary agreement that came after the 1st Intifada, which was extended after the 2nd Intifada. Area A is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority, most urban communities are located there. Area B has shared control between Israel and Palestine. And Area C, which comprises 60% of the West Bank, is controlled by Israel, and Palestinians have a very restricted allowance for construction (from schools to agricultural infrastructure). This pushes many of them to construct illegally and risk demolition. Overall, not being allowed to manage 60% of their land has a negative impact for Palestinians, due to limitations to enhance their economy and promote the development of their region.
When comes to Jerusalem, the creation of the Wall on the Palestinian side led to a decrease in Palestinian land. Palestinian villages and refugee camps were demolished and partitioned. It is important to note that East Jerusalem is an economic, social & cultural heart for Palestinian communities. It was separated from West Bank cities like Bethlehem by Israeli settlements, a division more empathised by the Wall. The expanding settlements are negatively affecting the lives of the Bedouin, an Arab semi-nomadic ethnic group who live there: they have severe restrictions to construct and rebuild, which is considered a strategy by Israel to kick them out. Another believed purpose of these settlements is connecting East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem. Their existence also makes it harder to cross from the North of the West Bank to the South of the West Bank.
Many Israeli settlements in the West Bank were constructed on bought state land (e.g. natural reserve), even though the Geneva Conventions say that state land is for indigenous communities. Several of these settlements are illegal, but no solutions have been found in the International Court of Justice. They contribute to the fracturing of the West Bank, not only because of their existence, but because of the creation of highways by the Israeli government to connect them with Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem.
Meeting with Minister of Culture
On the 4th of August we had a meeting with Dr. Ehab Bseiso, the Minister of Culture of the Palestinian National Authority, who received us on behalf of the president, Mahmoud Abbas. He spoke to us about a variety of things and answered some of your questions. I took some notes, below are some highlights.
The Israeli occupation in Palestine makes it challenging to run a system and administrate it, especially the settlements, which are illegal according to international law. When a country occupies another, it is a war crime, according also to international law. The settlements are expanding and not randomly: it is systematic policy to diffuse the chance for Palestinians to have an independent state. Currently, it is illegal for Palestinians to buy products made in Israeli settlements. Not long ago, the EU decided to label settlement products, which is a step forward for Palestine. The settlements don’t only create economic issues, but also threat the political stability and security of the region. Settlers attack Palestinian families, like when the house of a family in Nablus was burned down and only a 5-years-old survived.
The Wall and the checkpoints are another significant part of the occupation. The Wall is 8 metres high, and it imprisoned Palestinians in their own land, apart from taking land from them. Not just empty land was separated, but also schools, farms, houses, etc. The Wall is controlled by electric gates that open three times a day. This is a problem for the daily life of Palestinians, to go to school, to see their family… In addition, confrontations happen, and there are attacks, arrests and deaths. When comes to the checkpoints, there are 550 in the West Bank. Some are fixed (always there) while others are mobile (appear and disappear). In some way, it could be said that time in Palestine is measured by checkpoints and not minutes! These are not only time-consuming, but also humiliating.
Israelis complain about Palestinian violence, which is taken out of context and ignores the Palestinian suffering. The occupation is violence and to the end cycle of violence you need to end the occupation. In addition, a good question is: can victims of colonisation be a real threat to colonisers? Waiting in checkpoints for hours, the need for permits, house raids, house demolitions, street raids, and arrests without reasons: that’s the occupation. It is violence, thousands of daily crimes. However, it is not true that there is no hope for a Palestinian state: international solidarity and community support are important for the political struggle. Some examples are boycotting settlement products and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). There is also the academic and cultural boycott, through which academics and intellectuals in Israel and abroad are encouraged to support Palestinian human rights. Boycotting is a form of resistance and it is not about individuals: it is about policies and systems.
When comes to Hamas, the international community needs to respect political leaders and the choice of Palestinians. The elections were democratic and transparent, Israel didn’t accept them and there was a siege. There are radical parties in Israel, some Israeli ministers come from them. Hamas is part of the political system, democracy and elections. Diplomacy wise, it is not easy. Some Israeli ministers live in settlements. The Palestinian president created a committee to engage in conversations with Israeli civil societies. But the president of the committee got his permit removed as a punishment and the committee was accused of “diplomatic terrorism”. Negotiations can be a waste of time and there is a need of international involvement since it is not sure if the Israeli offer for peace is genuine.
This is a Palestinian educational and cultural NGO based in Jerusalem. They specialise in Palestinian kids between 6 and 18 years old. They run different activities and workshops, from learning to write & read to leadership training. They have a partnership with the British Council to be sent an English teacher. They also do after-school activities, Ramadan celebrations like iftar and summer camps! We visited them during our trip to Jerusalem and volunteered with them on the morning. I did some play work with toddlers around 3-5 years old. My Arabic is very broken so communicating with them was hard at times, but it was a nice experience. Afterwards, we were invited to have breakfast with them. The organisation was very welcoming.
Palestinian Circus School
The institution started in 2013 and it has hundreds of students. Its aim is to create behavioural and social change among Palestinians by trying to build trust, respect, cooperation, self-esteem and confidence. Their circus shows have a variety of messages: fight for power, refugees, water, recycling…
This is a project run by the Sharek Forum, a youth organisation that runs a variety of activities for young people. They decided to create a village for outdoor meetings and activities because young people got bored with only being indoors. The Youth Village is located in Area C, where it is not allowed to build full buildings or buildings with constant ceiling. There is a small area of the Youth Village in Area B as well. Weekly groups of young people participate and volunteer to build in the area. They also organise camping activities while being there for 2-3 days. After learning about the project, we divided ourselves in groups and helped to move around construction materials, work on a ceiling and pick up rubbish in the surroundings.
NGO based in the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. Their main focus is advocating for refugee rights. Shoruq means “sunrise”, symbolising a new beginning. The organisation was established in 2012 by residents. Their aim is to empower children and youth, so they aware of their rights. They run activities for girls, summer camps, dance activities, music activities… It works a safe space where children and young people are given opportunities, such as media programming and professional training, to express themselves. They also offer psychosocial support. And they advocate for their “right to return” and their right to life and human dignity. “Right to return” refers to the right of Palestinians evicted from villages, which are at present in the state of Israel, to return to them. Israel expected younger generations to not remember their villages of origin, but children and young people are taught about their heritage and ancestors. Following a presentation about the NGO, we did some voluntary work painting around the refugee camp.
Naim Khader Community Training & Development Centre in Cooperation with Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung / Centre of Education for Renewable Energy
One of the biggest NGOs in Palestine. We did some gardening voluntary work with them and then we had a presentation about the institution. It is funded by the EU and aiming to have local support. The idea for the organisation came from volunteering and camps. It started as a small tiny idea, then became very large. The NGO works in many fields: youth, women, engineering, development… It is the 1st organisation that worked in lands threatened by Israel control, trying to develop agriculture and water sources. New technologies for agriculture were introduced. They also established the Palestinian Women Association, one of the biggest in Palestine. They help farmers to harvest olives and others products around Israeli settlements, which is not an easy task.
It is first organisation that works training agricultural engineers since 1992. 20 engineers from Gaza and 20 engineers from the West Bank stay in a centre to train for nine months. There are three centres: one in Jenin, another one in Gaza and another one in Jericho. During the training programme, engineers are taught computer skills, language skills, managerial skills, marketing… They focus on practical skills to enrich theoretical learning. At the end of program, the engineers are given lands and supervised practical work to see how the training went. In addition, they offer scholarships for creative engineers, so they can fund their own projects
The NGO has divisions for voluntary, social, water and organic agricultural work. They also try to use solar cells as electricity source since the Israeli occupation doesn’t give electricity sometimes. In Jenin, there can be 2-4 hours of no electricity a day. Another problem is the use of water. Waterlines were opened and people awaited till the water reached them, yet the IDF destroyed them. There are also issues with farming. Sometimes Palestinians aren’t allowed to farm, others time they are. Israeli planes survey the area for buildings and give warnings if they see something they don’t like.
(P.S: Sorry if the writing in this post seems poor. I’m currently not feeling physically well and I’m trying my best to end the blog series while being as informative as possible.)