Second Week: Careers, Cob and the Consulate

Marhaba! Our second week here has been pretty educational, and I’ve been able to see more beyond the centre of Ramallah.

The English teaching aspects of our project are unfortunately delayed a little further, as we’ve found that students only actually return to campus en masse from 9 Feb. But our intro lessons are planned, promotion is getting under way, and we’ve been meeting and working on careers-focused work so we don’t waste too much time in these initial weeks. I’m also hoping to put together a small web app suggested by another volunteer, to visually transpose the occupation’s impact onto other places — more on that soon!

On Monday we went to a very well-attended screening of A World Not Ours at Ramallah’s Franco-German Cultural Center. It’s a really well-made and personal look at the lives of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Tuesday had a lecture held in the same building by Prof. Engin Isin, talking about global citizenship. It covered quite a range of ideas, but in the context of Palestine the concepts of citizenship attaching to a person rather than to their original nation, and that national identities can be used to control people rather than benefit them, seemed particularly relevant.

On Wednesday we visited Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, with the volunteers working on Birzeit’s Right to Education campaign. We heard about the work they do and some really shocking details about the judicial system and the systematic human rights abuses ingrained in it — from trying prisoners in a language they don’t know to detaining them for years with no charge. Particularly cynical is the focus on students engaged in protest action, which is designed to have maximal impact on their studies and undermine those who are most likely to speak out against the status quo.

Western Wall in Jerusalem

We visited Jerusalem on Thursday, seeing some of the old town and the Western Wall, as well as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We also met a tiny and very sweet (if somewhat disheveled) cat.

We went to the British Consulate there to hear about the work they do — it was interesting but sounds like a frustrating job! As one of two sites jointly responsible for statements, everything must be discussed at length and agreed with those in Tel Aviv, who of course frequently have a different perspective. And it was clearly difficult to answer some of our questions candidly when the government’s ultimate position can sometimes be more dependent on the whims of individual politicians and UK public opinion than the facts on the ground.

On Sunday some of us visited Bethlehem. It’s quite a quiet day to go as some things are closed, but we saw the Church of the Nativity, which is under construction and felt like rather more of a tourist attraction than I’d expected. The town is lovely to walk around though, and things are all a bit more relaxed than in Jerusalem’s Old City.

We have also learnt this week how to build a cob oven, at a very hands-(and feet!) on workshop at a permaculture farm. Having learned about the thermal properties of different clay combos from a fantastic hippie-come-science-teacher, we proceeded to spend most of the time pitching in to move and mix clay, stones, sand and straw in order to get the thing built. Perhaps not directly related to our own project, but an interesting foray into environmentally sound living — and an example of reducing dependence on centralised energy infrastructure, a benefit that’s particularly valuable in Palestine.

In the next week we’re hoping to finally get access to an office at the Uni to work from, see a play at something calling itself a ‘Cultural Palace’, and go to what sounds like it’ll be a comedian not telling jokes. Will let you know how it goes!


More light reading

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank — “Withholding Palestinian tax transfers, which Israel has done as a punitive measure many times in the past, intensifies the already difficult economic situation for public and civil servants”.

Visualizing Palestine — infographics on the impact of the occupation.

Addameer detention report Oct 2014 — 6,500 political prisoners, 500 administrative detentions, 478 life sentences.

Are All Terrorists Muslims? It’s Not Even Close — “Per the 2013 State Department’s report on terrorism, there were 399 acts of terror committed by Israeli settlers in what are known as “price tag” attacks.”

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