Monday July 10th
Today was the first day of Go Palestine 2017! Campers were welcomed early in the day at the Ramallah Friends School and introductions soon began. This year, there are 48 campers from all over the world - Ramallah, the UK, US, Denmark, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Australia, and Bahrain. Together we went over the rules and regulations of camp and split up into five different groups, each led by one of our counselors. The campers worked together to name themselves - some chose some Palestinian favorites, such as Shishbarak and Zeit w-Zaatar, while others decided to be *a little* out there going with The Black Sheep, Triangle, and The Panda’s Wife.
After hanging out at the school for the morning, we took a walk through Ramallah, ultimately ending up at Jasmine Cafe where we had a lively pizza lunch. We walked back, passing by the Girl’s School and seeing some of the sites in downtown Ramallah. The day ended with a lecture by psychologist Dr. Leila Atshan, who taught the campers about tolerance and acceptance in the face of diversity and difference. Dr. Atshan talked about her experiences navigating the world as a person who is blind and the ways in which acceptance of diversity can only ever be a positive thing. The campers were inspired and asked her a vast array of thought-provoking and insightful .
The camp is definitely off to a great start!
Tuesday July 11th
Today the campers had an educational tour of the area. We kicked off the day with a visit to the Mahmoud Darwish Museum. Our very own counselor, Balquis, gave an informative introduction to who Mahmoud Darwish was and why he holds such a place of importance in the Palestinian narrative. The museum showed many of the original documents of his most famous poems, including The State of Siege and Identity Card. We also saw his desk, identity papers, and other personal items. Once we finished we got back on the bus and made our way to Birzeit University, the largest and most renowned university in Palestine only a few miles from Ramallah.
We learned about the history of Birzeit and the political atmosphere on campus. Student speakers gave informative speeches about the Right to Education and the importance of the university in Palestinian society. The campers then chowed down on sandwiches in the main cafeteria, much as regular university students do every day. After lunch we made our way into the old town of Birzeit, where we walked through the cobblestone streets. We stopped by the non-profit organization al-Nayzak, which helps students from all over the region get interested in science and technology. The campers were able to try out some of their programming - learning about gravity, telecommunications, computer programming, and chemistry. After a lively and informative day, we made our way back to campus.
Wednesday July 12th
Today the campers learned about some of the harder aspects of living in Palestine. We began our visit to Jabal al-Baba - a mountain with an interesting past. Near Jerusalem and under the jurisdiction of the Vatican, Jabal al-Baba is currently home to a small Bedouin population. Atallah, our guide, is not only a leader amongst the residents of the mountain but is an activist in his own right. Though life for the Bedouin community on the mountain has been made very hard by the Occupation, the community has amazingly remained in the land. We hiked all over the mountain with Atallah, seeing views of Jerusalem, the settlements, and of the village itself. Once our hike was done, we enjoyed a traditional Bedouin meal called Zarb, a mixture of carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and chicken cooked for hours on top of hot coals underneath the ground.
After our time at Jabal al-Baba, we made our way to the small village of Nabi Saleh where we were graciously hosted by Manal Tamimi in her family home. Manal and her family have been greatly affected by a nearby settlement. She and her husband have amazingly worked to document their lives as well as educate others of the hardships in Palestine. Her husband, Bilal, is a cameraman, and has been filming for years. Through the emotional conversation, campers were able to get a very real sense of the ways in which villages have been differently affected by the Occupation. We walked with Manal to a hilltop where we had a view of both the town and the encroaching settlement - less than half a mile away.
The day allowed campers to ground their newfound knowledge of some of the hardships of the area in both personal narratives and physical representations. We all were deeply inspired by the speakers and the resilience that they showed in the face of hardship.
Thursday July 13th
The campers made the trek south to Hebron today for an interesting perspective on the disruption caused by facets of the Occupation and how life continues on. Hebron is notorious for the enterprising economy and the ways in which economic growth has been able to sustain itself. Our first stop was a traditional glass blowing factory, where the campers were able to watch the artisans at work, masterfully creating bells, cups, jars, and figurines. Many of the campers were able to test their own breath and blew the glass themselves. We then continued on to the last remaining kuffiyeh factory in all of Palestine and watched the machines at work, interlacing the warp and weft of the fabric into long sheets of the traditionally patterned scarves. Next, we made our way into the old city of Hebron.
Walking through the streets of the old city was both lively and interesting. Many of the walls were covered in the words “Fight Ghost Town” - a reference to the closing of Shuhada Street, the epicenter of economic activity in Hebron prior to its recent forced closure. We made our way through the streets until we reached an old home where lunch awaited us. We were hosted by the family for a traditional meal of Makloubeh in their intimate multi-story home. Once we all consumed our fill, we exited back into the street and walked towards the checkpoint to enter the Ibrahimi Mosque - the burial place for Abraham, Isaac, Sara, and others of the original Prophets and their wives. Inside the mosque, we paid our respects, prayed, and also witnessed the way in which the mosque has been divided internally. The section we were able to see was specifically for Muslims, Christians, and tourists. After taking some pictures and absorbing the history, we made our way out of the complex and back towards the bus.
Saturday July 15th
Our first community service project commenced today at Mazare’ al-Nubani - a small, organic farm not far from Ramallah. We were introduced to Sa’ed, the owner of the farm, and informed about the new practices being utilized. Not only did Sa’ed practice an organic method of farming, but he has created his own approach to the agricultural field: humanistic agroecology. He believes that centering the community in the development of agriculture is vital in sustainability and mutual empowerment. Sa’ed’s farm is 3 dunums overall and encompasses a natural spring, as well as many different trees and crops. The campers helped the workers to level areas for farming, clearing paths for donkeys, and weeding - as well as taking much needed breaks from the heat in the shade with tea made over an open flame by the farmers.
Once our time at the farm had come to an end, we moved on to the small town of Deir Ghassaneh for a filling lunch of Warak Diwali (stuffed grape leaves) and roast chicken. The campers got some down time in Deir Ghassaneh and were able to enjoy the spectacular views from our dining area.
In the evening the campers were able to enjoy traditional Palestinian music and dance at the Palestine International Festival - al-Fanun. The show was alive with sound and life as dabke groups from all over Palestine and neighboring countries came to perform. Some of the members of the camp had never seen a dabke performance before, while others are part of their own troupes. No matter the level of knowledge, everyone was able to connect to their heritage and enjoy the Palestinian tradition. We all left the event energized and connected.
Sunday July 16th
We kicked off this morning with an empowering reflection session. Campers shared their thoughts on what Palestinian identity means to them and why it is important to connect and reconnect with their cultural roots. After our productive discussion at the school, we loaded onto the bus and made our way north to Ballata refugee camp. Once at the camp, we gathered in the Jaffa Cultural Center and met with our guide. She explained to us the issues facing the camp’s residents, and the hardships that have remained since its inception. After a short documentary and many questions from the campers, we took a walk through the neighborhood. The campers were surprised and alarmed by the state of life in the camp - the narrow passageways, the overcrowdedness, and the need for repairs. We all came out of this with a newfound understanding of privilege and power even within Palestine.
From here, we drove to Sebastia - an ancient roman city, which is now in ruin. We ate lunch here - barbecued chicken, soup with freekeh, mezze, and French fries. Once all of us had had our fill of the delicious food, we moved on to Nablus. In Nablus, we were guided through the old city - making our way along cobblestone streets, we stopped into an old spice and soap store, and an old Turkish bath. We learned about the ancient history of the city as well as the more recent realities. From here, we walked to the market and had a plateful of Nablus’ famous kunafeh. After this delectable experience, we made our way back home.
Monday July 17th
Today, the campers went to the historic city of Bethlehem. We began the tour at the Church of the Nativity, which was built around the site of Jesus’ birth. We walked through the beautifully decorated church, and down into the chamber where he was born and where his manger lay. We then found ourselves analyzing the juxtapositions that lie within this ancient city. Near the separation barrier is the recently created “Walled Off Hotel” - a museum and gallery curated and produced by the infamous artist Banksy, who is known for his political graffiti around the world. The campers learned about contemporary art in Palestine as well as engaged with the interactive and informative museum installments.
We left the hotel and walked along the separation barrier with spray paint in hand. The campers were allowed to express messages of hope, love, and solidarity along the wall - adding to the layers and layers of graffiti already represented. Once we all had taken turns writing our messages and drawing our pictures, we got back onto the bus and moved on to the historic King Solomon’s Pools on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Here, we ate shawarma sandwiches and gazed out over the historic pools built to reserve water in the year 100 BCE.
Finally, we walked from the Pools to the Murad Castle in which we learned about the rural history of Palestine. The museum houses one of the largest ethnographic collections of Palestinian history and culture. Over 1000 years of cultural heritage is on display and researched in this museum - we learned about Bedouin tradition, merchant practices, and the daily lives of those who came before us. Afterward, we got onto the bus and headed back to Ramallah.
Tuesday July 18th
The campers had a very relaxing today in Ramallah lounging by the pool at the restaurant and hangout Snowbar. We hung out, played cards, and swam, soaking in the sun. Overall, a much needed respite from the bustle of usual camp.
Later that evening, back at the school, we watched the critically acclaimed documentary The Wanted 18 about the persistence of the Beit Sahour community during the first Intifada. With 18 cows, the townspeople were able to effectively boycott buying dairy products from Israel - even when the cows were ordered to be killed. We were lucky enough to bring the director of the film in for a talkback after the screening. The campers asked thoughtful questions and engaged critically with the movie and the way in which it told the story of resistance and commitment.
Wednesday July 19th
Today we made our way up to the north of Palestine towards Jenin. In the region best known for its agricultural practices, we commenced with our second day of community service work. We are currently in the middle of almond harvesting season, when the fruits containing the seeds dry out and begin to crack. The campers spent a few hours in the almond orchard picking the dried almond fruit off the trees. The farm is connected to the Canaan Corporation, an organic, fair trade company attempting to revitalize Palestinian communities through agriculture. The almonds grown are native to the region, unique in that the shell covering the nut itself is soft enough to remove with only your hands - needless to say, many of the campers snacked on almonds straight off the tree, cracking the dried green husk and fibrous shell in order to feast on the almond within.
After the community service, we found ourselves in the midst of the ancient Burqeen village. We stopped at the historic Burqeen Church or The Church of the Ten Lepers - the fourth oldest church in the world. The church is where, according to the Bible, Jesus healed ten individuals from leprosy. The ancient church was built on top of the well where this miracle occurred. After learning about the history of the church, we moved on to the Jarrar Palace community center where we served a traditional meal of maftoul and grilled chicken.
Finally, the campers were given a tour of the Canaan factory. The corporation specializes in Palestinian traditional ingredients, exporting freekeh, maftoul, almonds, and olive oil all around the world. We were able to see the cold press where olives are crushed and their oil is extracted as well as the specialized machinery used to husk and peel the native almonds. Their storage facility houses over 1000 tons of olive oil. We also were able to sample their ingredients, and buy some of the best products in all of the region. After a long day, we made our way home.
Thursday July 20th
The campers kicked off their day with a meaning reflection session. In small groups, we discussed the importance of understanding privilege in the context of Palestine. We reflected all we had seen and why it is important for all of us to care about our homeland - even in small ways, such as community service and orderliness. We then went on to discuss our plan for the day and the history of Battir Village - a UNESCO world heritage site.
We left the school and were dropped off a few kilometers from the village. We began on a trail through the natural world - up hills and along dirt paths. We ended up at the top of the hill facing the village, witnessing the beauty of the place from afar. We then hiked down, crossed train tracks, weaved between community farms, and finally made our way into the city. Battir is known for its natural spring water, and many of the campers were able to cool off and rehydrate with the clean, cool water from the spring that provides water for the whole town. From here we walked towards a restaurant overlooking the village and ate kofta while watching the sun set behind the mountains.
Saturday July 22nd
Today was a fun-filled day spent at the school. The campers played community-building games, splitting up into their groups and competing. They also spent time brainstorming the ways in which they could creatively represent their experience in the camp. Art is an important medium in which to express and reflect and the campers took time to think about the ways in which they could collectively utilize this medium. After chowing down on falafel sandwiches, the campers were given a lesson in traditional Palestinian dance - dabke. Over the course of an hour and a half, they were able to master the steps to a dance, splitting into groups and performing for the others. Some of our resident students are dabke dancers themselves and were able to show off their moves to the whole group.
Sunday July 21st
We had our final round of community service today right here in al-Bireh. Coming off of the previous reflections on soft ways to persist in Palestine, we as a camp understood the importance of keeping our spaces clean and organized. We walked towards an area of al-Bireh where the curbs have been faded and need a new coat of paint. Our campers got right to work, sweeping and painting the sidewalks. After a few hours of hard work, we made our way back to the school.
After lunch, the campers engaged critically with the well-known film, Paradise Now. The movie is an important story, emphasizing the different ways in which Palestinians lose hope and are forced into often violent situations. We took time after the movie to reflect on what the movie was saying and the important takeaways for ourselves.
Later, we had a lively evening at the Aquazan pool. Campers swam, danced, and ate their fill of pizza and chicken tenders. Once we all danced and swam to our hearts content, we called it a night.
Monday July 24th
We kicked off our day with an inspiring lecture from Nasser Ibrahim, a renowned journalist, author, and teacher in the historic town of Beit Sahour. His lecture shed light on misconceptions in Palestine, and provided a thought-provoking perspective on what we all as both residents and internationals could do. After asking important questions and engaging with his words, the campers loaded back on the bus and we made our way to the camping site.
Near the border with Jordan, we arrived at the camping site in the mountains. Once here, we spent time playing cards, hanging out, and exploring the area. After a few hours, as night fell, we went on a hike to the nearby mountains. With flashlights, we trekked up and up until we had views of the lights of Jordan to the East and Palestinian cities to the West. Next, we returned to the camp site where a traditional meal of zarb had been prepared for us. After eating up, we lit a bonfire and listened to a local musician play traditional music on a wooden flute. Once he had played his set, the mood shifted and the our speaker set was brought out to play some of the more current hits. The campers danced around the campfire, clapping and singing along. Later, we roasted marshmallows and hung out before making our way to the tents for bed.
Tuesday July 25th
We woke up this morning for an early breakfast at the campsite. We packed up our belongings and loaded on to buses towards the Mar Saba Monastery - a church complex more than 1600 years old settled on a ridge overlooking the Kidron Valley. Led by our fearless leader, Wa’el from PalTerhal, we walked along a nearby ridge to a spot where we were able to rappel down the cliff wall. Wa’el attached a rope to the top of the cliff and showed us how to successfully make our way down the wall. Those among us who were not scared took turns scaling down the rock face, carefully harnessed and protected. Once everyone who wanted to attempt this feat had successfully made their way down, we made our way back to the buses and back to the school, ending the day early.
Wednesday July 26th
We had a relaxing day today by the pool in the nearby town of Jifna. Campers played cards, swam, ate plenty of food, and hung out. All were able to catch up on some rest and relaxation after a jam packed few days. That evening, by popular demand, we made our way to a nearby bowling alley, where campers were able to prove their skills and compete against each other. Overall the day was fun, relaxing, and all were able to unwind in preparation for an early morning the next day.
Thursday July 27th
Today was a day of flexibility and resilience. With our trip to Jerusalem, Haifa, and Akka planned and ready to go, the campers arrived at 6:30 am to the school. Unfortunately, the permits for our campers were unable to be procured and plans had to drastically change. With some last minute phone calls we made our way instead to the Dead Sea for a day at the beach. Campers tested their weight as the floated in the salty water, and covered each other in the famous mud. We then went to a nearby restaurant in Jericho for a filling traditional barbecue meal. After a long day of soaking in the sun and hanging out, we made our way back to school. Sometimes in Palestine, things do not go as planned - but the campers were nothing but supportive and easygoing. The day became one of the best of the camp.
From the counselors: thank you all for making this summer the best one yet!