Volunteer articles

Laila joining Karama

Lisa from France

Tina's arrival

Reetta's first experiences

Floor's story

Aida Camp

I Saw Ramallah

Geneva Conventions

Coming Back from Jordan

Laila joining Karama

Working in a refugee camp is demanding and challenging, the success of your stay will depend on your amount of love, patience and your willingness to understand the culture and the political situation. Here, the people face restricted access and limited privileges to health care, they live in a tough environment and are not recognized as a citizen with full rights.

I will forever be grateful for this journey, for all of the lessons I learned from the wonderful kids in Karama, from the elder who explained to me how the conflict has had an universal impact for the past 65 years. I want to express my deep respect for the kids of Deheishe, never complaining and living as any other child. Karama is a great place to growth.

laila teaching french in karama I am leaving Deheishe Refugee Camp with a heart full of gratitude for all I have , I came with an open heart and contributed at a modest level, I am blessed for not struggling to  preserve my dignity and my freedom. 

I also want to express my admiration for Antoinette, for her dedication and her hard work to make Karama a place where kids can express themselves.  

I will definitely come back for a new journey, InshAllah!

Thank you to all.

 

lisa in karama

Lisa from France!

I am Lisa, a 22 years old girl from France. I am currently studying Politics and International Relations in France. I arrived in Palestine two weeks ago, in order to work in Karama organization. I was really interested in participating to an interesting and constructive project during my free time, as well as to learn more about Palestine  culture and issues. That's how I started to look for a volunteering in Cisjordanie, and found Karama website. I have been immediately convinced by the projects of the organization. Volunteering in this organization is a perfect mixture between working in a constructive project and having the opportunity to discover by myself what could be a daily life under occupation.

I arrived in Karama two weeks ago. After having spent few days in my host family, I finally met the Karama team and the children of the center. I have to admit that first days were quite confusing, especially because you can sometimes feel little lost if you don't speak Arabic. But after one week, you find a way to interact and exchange with them, and each day it is getting better.

Concerning my work in Karama, my time is divided between French translation of Karama website and French classes with different children groups. So far my volunteering here is a great experience. I met people so warm and kindly, always happy to makes you discover their culture. Being in a host family is also a very good way to learn more about Palestinian culture. They really share with you so much, while the situation here still really complicated!

Finally, I just can say that being in Deheishe camp is really rewarding, even much more than I expected. You have to be open-minded and flexible, but once you get that, your experience in Palestine can be wonderful.

Best, Lisa

 

 

Tina's arrival in Karama Organization

My name is Tina and I come from Sweden . I have been in Karama now for almost one month and I would like to share my experience so far. When I first arrived I did not really know what to expect. I do not think that it is possible to fully prepare for an experience like this. I have to admit that the beginning was not always easy. Being in a new place and not understanding the language is hard. It also takes some time to feel comfortable and at home in the host family. What I have noticed is that each day it becomes a little bit easier. You get to know people and start to make bonds, and some people here are truly wonderful and caring. For me I realized that if I want to be like one in the family I have to make an effort. This is really important. If you have an open mind and truly are interested in the community and the people here the experience will be better, this I believe. The short time I have been here I feel that I have learnt so much. I admit that at times it is still not really easy, I'm far from home and way out of my comfort zone. But I do not regret coming here.

 

The first week at Karama was quite overwhelming. The children are very curios and sometimes they can be a bit rough. But I feel joy in playing with them and getting to know them better. The first week I mostly observed and it took me some time to start my own activities. When I have an activity for the children, inside or outside, I try to actively participate myself and not just supervise the children. I think they enjoy it more when I play with them instead of just watching. In three weeks I have learned some words in Arabic and the communication with the children works well. You will learn what is necessary to know when you are here every day.

 

I have also done a trip organized by Karama to Nablus which was really great. Then I joined my host family on a daytrip and I was so happy that they asked me to join them. There are more trips to be made but because I'm here for a while there is no rush. I have also been in Bethlehem for a day, enjoying the city and walking around.

 

Finally, my experience so far is mostly positive. There is always room for improvement and sometimes it can be difficult to understand why things are going in a certain way. It can be a challenge and having this in mind when arriving is not wrong. But most important is to have an open mind and a willingness to learn and share experiences!

 

 

Reetta's first experiences

Can I introduce myself? My name is Reetta and until June I will be 25 years old. I am working at Karama for almost three weeks now. I flew all the way from Finland, after I had decided to take a break from my history teacher studies and see the world from another point of view. I had a couple friends who have worked in Palestine before and they suggested me to go and experience the Palestinian life. I started to look for different volunteer options via internet and found Karama, which sounded as “my thing” right from the beginning. And it hasn't changed since: the good impression I got when I arrived is still there and I've had an excellent start in the work and social life here.

In three weeks I have learned so much and many prejudices and wrong expectations have already been crushed. Despite the good start, I feel that I am still learning how things are working here at Karama and that I haven't been able to give myself 100% to the program yet. Until now, we have been quite busy with two volunteers in the centre and there hasn't been much time to plan anything specific. I wish that after a couple of weeks, I will have even more special and scheduled activities planned for the kids. I already have a few ideas running in my mind...

 

Floor's story

I am Floor, a 23 year old girl from Belgium,  and I am currently taking a master’s program in Developmental Studies in Brussels. In April 2011 I came to Palestine for the first time. I had been closely following the Palestinian situation for about 7 years and last year I had enough of only reading about it, I wanted to see and experience Palestine myself.  I don’t remember how I landed on this subject, but once I got involved with Palestine, it didn’t let me go. This summer I wanted to come back, to get to know the people and the culture, to learn more about the situation and to understand what it means to live under occupation. Moreover, I hoped I could do something positive and constructive, in addition to expressing support to the Palestinian cause. My stay at Deheishe and volunteering with Karama outstripped my expectations and got me still more involved with the Palestinian cause. Since I am back in Belgium, I tell the story of Palestine, to those who are eager to hear it and to those that are not so eager at first, because I believe it should be told. I organized a Palestinian evening for friends and family and in the next months I will go to a school, a lawyer’s office, a volunteer organization for refugees and inshallah to more places to talk about Palestine. I tell people about the BDS campaign, because every single person can contribute to the Palestinian cause. Lastly, plans are being made to take a group of friends and family to Palestine, as many of them got interested and concerned.

Living in Deheishe

When trying to describe how I experienced living with a host family in Deheishe, I would say it is indescribable. I have written and rewritten my experiences, because so many things are worth saying. For one thing, the unconditional hospitality and warmth of the people I met. It is something that is rare in the society I grew up in. I only stayed for two months, but I didn’t feel like a guest, I felt at home thanks to my wonderful family. The way my mother took care of me when I was sick, how her brother wanted to make sure I was fine during a power cut at night when I was alone in the house (he immediately came to our house to check on me, fixed me candles and woke up his wife to keep me company), how they all made sure I would never be hungry (and they managed extremely well by the way, I put on several kilos) ... They are one of a kind.

Read Floor's complete story here!

 

Aida Camp Impressions

by Michael

I’ve been to Aida twice now, most recently during the late afternoon last week and originally two weeks before. My first experience in Aida was earlier in the day and much longer in duration, offering me more detailed information about its history and landmarks. We saw the typical camp structures, inexpensive concrete with rough facades frequently pockmarked by bullets. Areas of recent repair or damage were pointed out to us and their stories shared. Israeli policy when entering Aida, and probably modus operandi for all the refugee camps, is to avoid walking down the tiny snaking streets and alleys. Rather, they often tunnel through buildings and homes with explosives charges, creating their own paths through the crowd of structures. It just occurred to me that it isn’t very different than their policy of Israeli-only roads, which are ever expanding through the West Bank.

Our guide told us of his daily dash for home through an area of the camp exposed to Israeli snipers when the camp was under blockade and siege during the Second Intifada and how the rush of fear and adrenaline never lessened during the crisis. The sense of relief he felt walking through unexposed alleys giving way to dread as he approached home was almost palpable as he relived it for us. It made me wonder how he manages to retell it so many times to visitors like us. I wondered if the experience had caused him to consider moving further into the cluttered interior of the camp and of how many groceries he dropped and ruined as he tried zigzagging at breakneck speed across the disjointed pavements.

Life was ruinous and difficult to imagine during the imposed martial law of the Second Intifada, but that was before the Wall. Now the Separation Wall runs along one entire side of the camp, never less than a few dozen meters from outermost line of homes and completely detaching the olive grove that used to serve the camp as one of the rare local sources of income and recreation. Every so many meters there is a guard tower, and in truth there’s only a handful along the stretch of thin, reinforced concrete dissecting Aida, but these towers lose something experienced only through printed words. They look medieval, the kind of image not of storybooks but of gritty, filthy filmed set pieces. In the twenty-first century, I might be forgiven for expecting something sleek, high tech, maybe with a gleaming chrome finish. This is the future I grew up looking forward to with so much hope for so many things that it seems infantile in retrospect. Space exploration, cures of disease, global cultural solidarity where mostly what I expected more of as a kid. I never gave much through to military occupations or security walls, but at least they could look aesthetically pleasing and sterile. In reality, they’re dirty syringes sticking needle up out of the ground, stained and grungy.

Debris, trash and litter, ever a constant in Palestine on the unseen side of walls, line the road between life and the wall. Residents would rather see a wall of trash than the towers or the wall with its depressingly impotent graffiti, but it will take many more years worth of refuse to stack high enough to eclipse 8 meters of what is a vastly shortened horizon.

My second experience in Aida took place just as the sun was setting. The view of the camp’s minaret beside a crescent moon on a cloudless blue and orange sky was simply out of place with its beauty here in this squalid slum. The mosques here are ever the finest structures in either Deheishe or Aida. They’re the antithesis of the security towers. Minarets are archaic, even pre-medieval structures and yet they are clean, geometric, orderly, and in Aida camp the minaret stands opposed to the guard towers outnumbered but refined in the face of rabble. From the roof we stood upon, you could not see them together. From there you would actually find one of the most pleasant views of Bethlehem’s urban sprawl from that rooftop, particular with the tiled minaret in the foreground. To see the tattooed Wall, the lost olive grove and encroaching Israeli settlements, you have to turn your back on both the minaret and Bethlehem. It’s a dark vision during the day, and all that much more so at night.

 

“I saw Ramallah”

Report by our volunteer Esther

It is the first time I’ve left Bethlehem and seen the countryside by daylight. Under a clear sky and a bright sun, I saw stony hills and populations of old, wizened olive trees growing from a light brown soil. I sit with four other Karama volunteers and a guide in a taxi on a road to Ramallah. The Wall seems our constant companion to our left, with checkpoints appearing from time to time as a bothersome acquaintance. Walking through the streets of Ramallah, I begin soaking up the atmosphere. I want to get to know the city, to feel its uniqueness. Although it is Ramadan, the streets are busy and full with busy people and the tempting smell of falafel. The latter is inescapable.

Our trip consists of three destinations. The first is the resting place of Yasser Arafat. It is a plain, square white building in the very center of Ramallah. Surrounding the structure are well groomed lawns and a light blue water basin. The flowing water represents the enduring Palestinian movement and the struggle for independence. Our second stop is for a meeting with the Governor of Ramallah. He explains to us, over the course of half an hour, the central tenets and ideology of the Fatah Party and how it is distinctive from the other Palestinian political parties (Hamas, in particular). Finally, we meet with Ahmad Qatamish, of the PFLP, who shares with us his personal experiences in 17 years of hiding and Israeli imprisonment. He is a vibrant personality with strong beliefs and the knowledge and wisdom that comes from a lifetime of hard experience.

So, what has been the uniqueness of Ramallah? Its secrets, streets, and people are still foreign to me. I simply have to return, maybe many more times, in order to feel I truly understand it.

 

Geneva Conventions

by Michael

The identification of war crimes is a historically new concept, but one that has been the subject of a great deal of international debate for the last two centuries. Accusations of human rights violations in the many ongoing conflict around the world are found commonly in the media, illiciting denial from some and censure from others. Often, the violations are, themselves, justification for armed intervention. The Geneva Conventions are the most quoted authority on the subject, and consist of a series of international agreements culminating in the fourth, and final, convention in 1949. It was this fourth one that, aside from reaffirming the previous three, established the international consensus on the rights of non-combatants during times of war and territorial occupation. It is this most modern convention that governs directly the actions and policies of Israel in its occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

Of the 159 articles, one in particularly specifically addresses the issue of relocating populations during occupations. Its last sentence reads:

The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. - Article 49 Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949

Contrastingly, Israeli national policy of large-scale settlement construction and colonization of the West Bank stands in flagrant defiance. It is officially estimated that, at this moment, 300,000 Israelis live in the West Bank, internationally recognized as Palestinian land. Less surreptitiously than simply moving into Palestinian cities and towns or altering demographics through natural immigration, these Israelis live as settlers in ethnically exclusive enclaves, often just outside of Palestinian towns. They have their own roads, which Palestinians are prohibited from using, and their own economy, again which Palestinians are prohibited from contributing or utilizing. These settlements cover large, ever growing tracts of land throughout occupied Palestine.

The exclusive nature of these developments and transportation networks succeeds in destroying the continuity of Palestinian communities and their cultural and economic development. Traveling from one village to a neighboring one can take hours where in the past it would've taken minutes, and the same often happens in the major isolate or segregated cities like Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah. This affects not just traders, but farmers, families, school children, university students, travelers, worshipers, and every other facet of the society. The settlement located in the middle of Hebron, for example, sits atop several blocks worth of buildings above the old part of the city and has killed the viability of its historic market due to the dangers now facing consumers and proprietors alike in the form of various, diverting checkpoints and raining rocks, trash, and boiling liquids from the settlers above.

It is these realities that highlight the criminal results of the settlements, yet the extremely rapid growth in size and scope of these settlements that exposes the criminal intent behind their long-running policy. From 1993, the year of the Oslo Peace Accords between the nation of Israel and the PLO when peace seemed almost imminent, through the year 2000 the populations of Israelis living in West Bank settlements, not including the enormous settlements in East Jerusalem, grew 72% (111,600 to 192,976 persons). In short, during the years in which peace was overtly the greatest priority in Israel, the population and construction of settlements grew at not just an unusually high rate but at such a rate that it's inconceivable that the government of Israel was not at least as interested in continuing to dissect the Palestinian population in order to further their own expansionist territorial goals.

Since 2000, the population slowed its rate of growth in percentage (down to 48% over 8 years of available census statistics), but still maintained the approximate gross increase from 192,976 – 285,800 persons. Plans are underway to construct the largest new settlement in the outskirts of Bethlehem, as part of the 2020 plan to isolate the Palestinian city from the rest of the West Bank by a network of perimeter settlements and Israeli-only roads. These acts have violated in every way the spirit of the Geneva Conventions; they continue to violate them, and will continue to do so because there is no sufficient interest within the international community to enforce them.

 

Coming back from Jordan…

All had begun well: the road to Amman, the hotel in Amman, and visits in Amman. After 3 nights, neither anxious nor worried, much less stressed, we were returning to Karama!

11 am: Taxi from Amman, until Jordanian border post for non-Arab people, and bus with other tourists to the King Hussein Bridge. It spent like 2 hours for the whole. Then, we pass through the Border by a bridge, setting over a small river, so far, so good.

We give our luggage for checking by X-ray, and you can observe that it’s Arabs who handle the luggage, supervised by young Israelis watching the screens, plus a man who is armed with a strong automatic rifle. After, we go to a counter where we get a piece of paper, and go to another one in order to pass our jacket under an X-ray and ourselves under a metal detector. All is normal, So far so good, again. We can go now to the customs counter. We queue in a VIP counter, for tourists (non-Arabs I mean). But two girls at empty counters near us ask us to come to them. My misadventure begins when I don’t know which counter to choose, and if I have to be at the same counter as my travel mate Michael. Finally, I take a different one, just beside…

The young woman takes my passport, checks it and asks me my name… Quentin Hérout. I hear hardly what she says.

- The reason of your visit? Tourism.

- How much time in Jordan? 4 days.

- How long are you in Israel? Since 13thof September

- Where do you live in Israel? Jerusalem, I live in Faizal Hostel.

- In Faizal hostel, since the beginning of your stay? Yes. Suspicion is rising.

- Where have you been? Just Jerusalem?No, one time in Bethlehem.

- But what do you do in Jerusalem? Tourism, visits. For Michal, all is right, it’s almost done.

- What have you visited? Church, Mosques and all. She asks help to her colleague, for something from the computer (she writes down all that I say). The colleague asks me now:>

- 2 months and half in Jerusalem, every day to visit Church, Mosques? No, we visit, we walk etc… she goes back care of Micheal, whom she asked just some questions without insistence. She gives him a new stamp. For him, it’s done.

During an hour, she will ask me some other questions sometime the same that previously with even more suspicion, but essentially stay focus on her computer screen like in order to do research about what I told. At this time, I knew my story was unbelievable but it was my only way. I said that I took a gape year for holydays, without aim, and insisted stupidly on the fact that I did nothing in Jerusalem, excepted “to walk” (I can’t remember how many times I repeated it during my 4 hours of quizzing). I stay pretty quiet, polite, and stress free.

After this hour with Miss I bug you, I receive a paper where I have to write my contact information, my identity, my aim, where I went etc…

An extremely polite and friendly woman comes to tell me to wait in the waiting room, and comes back after a few minutes to bring me in her office. I have to leave my jacket and what I wear like IPod and wallet. Still extremely friendly, she tells me that she will question me, and I just have to tell the truth. She takes care to get me at ease, to speak slowly and even to repeat if needed. For my part, I’m still smiling, nice, polite, and without stress. Basically, questions are the same, plus:

- What’s the job of your parents?Fisherman and School keeper.

- What do you do in France? I have just finished high-school.

- Who pay for your travel? I have worked last summer to pay a part, the rest is financed by my parents.

- How much money do you have on your Visa-card? Maybe 400€.

- Why have you been in Jordan? It’s near Israel, it’s open for people who come from Israel, and it’s nice to see.

- Who do you know in Israel? Nobody, just an American with who I travel.

- You are in Israel since 2 months and half, and you know nobody!? Yes, I’m not sociable. Surprisingly, she becomes really suspicious and less pleasant.

- And you pass almost 3 months only to walk in streets, and to visit?! No, I drink coffee and smoke shisha.

- So! Who do you know in Israel? And in Bethlehem? ARABS isn’t it?! No, I know nobody.

- Why haven’t you got a phone? Because I lost mine, and I use the phone of the friend with whom I travel. (It’s almost the only truth about my trip in this region)

- You don’t tell me the trust, you are lying, I can’t believe you. We can stay here until midnight, so now tell me the truth! Why would I lie? You just reproach me to be lazy and associable. (Of course I’m lying, I know that my story is totally unbelievable, but it’s my only story! And I have to stay right and coherent, because as incredible as it is, they haven’t proof that it’s false, they wait that I say a contradiction, it’s their lone option).

- Ok, How is your Hostel? …3 floors…

- How many rooms? …maybe 20.

- what is the number of your room? …8.

- Tell me how the building is. …It’s supposed to be white, but it’s an old block, so it’s not really white.

She begin a speech on the fact that she is not a normal police woman, but an agent of security services, and that she can choose to let me go or to forbidden me to enter. She shows me some posters with Hebrew writing, and tells me that she works for the goals they describe, that she has to protect her country and to decide who is good and who is bad. Again, she asks me the same questions, unfriendly, but polite, insisting on my familiarities with Arabs and about my trip in Bethlehem. I feel that racism is not far away…

Finally, she led me to take my luggage that she takes away, and let me wait in a waiting room. I put my headphone, and smile because of funny lyrics of a song. I hear some shots and screams from a door near me, but I stay relax. I’m almost sure that it’s false like if it was a recorder, just to worry me. After 20 minutes, she comes back with 2 men and asks me to open my mail box, accept, I refuse cause of “ethical and moral reasons”.

- Facebook? No, I haven’t account.

- Why not? Because I don’t need it. Here begin a funny part of my interrogation:

- So, if a girl, in club, come and want to connect with you, you haven’t phone, no Facebook, how do you do? I never go in club or bar, and for the moment it didn’t happen.

One of the men led me back to the waiting room, and says me to think about my situation, and recommends relaxing and telling the truth. As if it wasn’t the case! He is nice but not nice like the woman, nice like somebody rather stupid, who doesn’t what he is doing there, who does what he has to do, but without conviction.

After 15 minutes laying on the bench, hearing music, my dear interrogator come with another prey, a young woman who seems lost. I have to go in a counter to take back my passport. And surprise, she explain me that she scribes a new stamp but crosses the “3 months” to write the date of my supposed return in France the 13th December. Better than nothing, than to be deported in Jordan, and to do there I don’t know what.

At 6.30pm, after more than 4hours of quiz, >I take back my luggage, and come out of the warehouse, and wonder how to go in Bethlehem. Jerusalem first, from there I would find a solution to go in Bethlehem, if even tomorrow. A redhead comes to ask me what I am looking for. I tell that I need to go in Jerusalem, but I haven’t got cash. He tells me “there isn’t ATM here," he laughs, "they aren’t developed enough!” An Australian tells me that he can lend me $13 for the cheroot and I can give him back money in Jerusalem. Nice! I buy a ticket, and I ask him what he wants to do in Israel.

- Volunteer (great!)… In a Kibbutz. (Oula!) And you ? Just spend time in Jerusalem. And I explain the same story that for the security agents.

On the road, some congestion.

- Is it usual in Jerusalem? Euh… Rather, yes, it happens after school. It’s so ridiculous what I’ve said! But I don’t really use vehicles, and I stay in the town centre.

We left the bus in Damascus Gate, and I find an ATM to give him back money. And he asks me:

- Where is the Old city? On this way? And do you know a good Hotel?Honestly, I have never been here, I know nothing here; I’m Volunteer in Bethlehem for an organisation in a refugee camp, Bye.

I walk maybe 5 minutes and stop in a minimarket to ask where is Faizal Hostel.

- There. He shows me it with him finger a hostel 20 meters from the shop.

I enter and ask if the manager knows Yasser, he nods and call him. 30 minutes after the taxi takes me, direction Bethlehem. It’s finished at 8.30 pm.