Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Geelong girl's story of five weeks in Bethlehem

from w
This is no sentimental story of a pilgrimage to Bethlehem but a story of a Geelong young woman who spent five weeks very recently teaching English to young people as part of a Youth program.  The story was in the Geelong Advertiser, but I met her last night at Peceli's Grovedale Rotary Club dinner meeting as she was the guest speaker.  Young people are inspiring at times when they volunteer for dangerous tasks such as this one.
Breaking down the wall of war

Refugee children play in front of the Separation Wall at Aida refugee camp, under the shadow of a sniper watchtower which was set alight by Palestinians. Source: Supplied
GEELONG’S Jordan Brown has completed a five-week stint working in Israeli-occupied region of Palestine. After dealing with fellow interns getting shot and tear gas attacks, Jordan writes of the work to replace violence with creative hope.
Despite my mother’s hopes otherwise, interning in Bethlehem, Palestine, for five weeks hasn’t deterred me from entering a conflict region.  Rather it has inspired me to dare to explore beneath the gunshots and tear gas to where ordinary people vehemently resist oppression.
Although a vast majority of the Palestinian population is young and highly educated, the Separation Wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem has strangled the economy within the West Bank, forcing many youth to perpetually search for jobs.
As a result, the Student Forum Institute, for which I interned for, is dedicated to improving the political, civil and economic participation of young Palestinians. Throughout my time in the region, I worked with students in developing skills to increase their employability.
However my most valuable experience was witnessing first-hand the Israeli occupation and the joint efforts to instil peace.I arrived in Palestine to the news that a fellow intern had been shot in the hand by an Israeli soldier for taking a photo.
While I personally never had a gun pointed in my direction, there were occasions in which I unexpectedly copped a mouthful of tear gas and had a few pebbles lobbed at me. They were not pleasant experiences but incomparable to the clashes, night raids and child arrests that the Palestinians are confronted with on a daily basis.
Aida refugee camp is a particular hotspot, with 45 Palestinian children being shot by the Israeli Defence Force within the last three weeks of my stay. Yet, the Al Rowwad Centre that is situated in the camp is still adamant about a peaceful opposition. The centre encourages children to choose not to reflect the hatred and violence of the occupation. Instead, they believe in creating a “beautiful resistance” by providing opportunities for refugee children to freely express themselves through theatrical performances.
Likewise, other members of the community are also passionate about taking a nonviolent stand.
As a result, photography has become a prominent weapon, with many organisations providing popular courses for children and youth. As such, international photo exhibitions in conjunction with social media have allowed Palestinians the ability to capture their reality to be witnessed by the world.
It has also ignited a new-found passion and audacity. Nancy, a young woman from Aida, is now cheekily taking photos of soldiers when they invade the refugee camp while dreaming of becoming a documentary director.
In an alternative manner, the first intensive yoga instructor course for men in the West Bank has been recently completed with 12 participants, two of which were Israeli. The course, provided by a Canada’s Olive Tree Yoga Foundation, aims to empower the Palestinian community by improving mental wellness, relieving stress disorders and instilling a sense of inner peace.
One of the program’s instructors said the results have been unbelievable and she is excited to see the future outcomes once these men begin facilitating yoga lessons.
On the other side of the Separation Wall, there are many Israeli groups that are also dedicated to preventing the injustices that are occurring throughout the West Bank. In particular, Breaking the Silence offers tours by ex-Israeli soldiers and Rabbis for Human Rights plant olives trees with Palestinian farmers to replace those that were destroyed by Jewish settlers.
While the Palestinian youth continue to retaliate to their conditions by throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, the momentum of an armed struggle has subsided to be replaced with a more creative and positive approach.

Both Israeli and Palestinian humanitarian groups are working to educate the community to come to a common understanding and to empower individuals to live the life they are worthy of.


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