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Summer Camp for Hebron district children

Tuesday 31 July 2012, by Reem Nashef

This year’s summer camp for Palestinian children took place under the management of the Primary School, between July 8 – 12. Some 45 children between the age of 9 and 13 took part. All the children came from the area of Hebron. To organize the Camp, Primary School Principal Anwar Dawood made contact with the Hebron Defense Committee (HDC), which handled the recruitment of 45 children between age 9 and 13. The children came from neighborhoods of the city as well as towns and villages in the vicinity (Beit Kahel, Saeer, Doura, Halhoul, Beit Awa, el Thahirieh, el Aroub). The children were accompanied by four Palestinian guides. From WAS-NS, the Camp was coordinated by WAS-NS member and school teacher Ms. Reem Nashef. She worked with three Arab youth leaders from WAS-NS, four other young helpers, and a number of volunteers.*

We thank the Bruno Hussar Foundation and German supporters for making the summer camp happen.

As usual, the summer camp was based in WAS-NS, with excursions to Jaffa – Tel Aviv: for a dip in the sea, and a boat ride; Jerusalem (Al Quds), for the holy sites and playground; a stalactite cave; and the town of Modiin (for bowling). In the village, activities included swimming, sports, art work, special projects, social games, inflatables, a treasure hunt, a dance party with DJ, a clown, and special meals.
The following report is by the Camp Coordinator, WAS-NS member Ms. Reem Nashef.

Once again, the Palestinian camp was a great success. In the beginning I was worried and even hesitant when asked to lead the Camp: Anwar had made arrangements with a group from Hebron. The political situation there is tense, due to persistent clashes between Jews and Arabs in the old city. The children have terrible experiences due to bad relations with (often violent) Jewish settlers. I thought that the children would be unwilling to accept the idea of Neve Shalom - Wahat al Salam, would be unwilling to meet Jewish people here, and that it would be difficult to deal with these children.

Despite these early misgivings, I found that this group of children were really eager to learn and accept. I felt that they were thirsty for every bit of fun that we had prepared for them. The children were well behaved, well educated, very well organized and tidy. They were very humble and sensitive children who showed great respect and care with regard to everything we talked about or taught them.

We patiently and respectfully listened to the children whenever they wanted to tell us about their own experience, beginning from the “ice-breaking” session held the first day. In talking about their hopes and expectations, many of the children expressed their wish to see different cities and villages in Israel, and they mentioned the names of places that they had heard or read about. They said that this is the first time they have been outside the Hebron area.

They asked if we could take them to see a train station and the airport - they wanted to see how big a plane is! They asked questions such as how fast a train can travel?
It was a joy to follow their reactions to all their new encounters and experiences. One boy, on visiting the swimming pool, said how lucky we are to have so much water to play with! Others said they were so happy about the wonderful activities we had arranged, such as the model balloon cars they made. They enjoyed the explanation about their propulsion. One child said how much he enjoyed preparing a decorated box as a present for his mother or sister. Another mentioned the Newton color disk game he had made for his brother! They were also so excited to see the sea, once again the leaders and even the bus driver were astonished to find children so excited to see the tall buildings of Tel-Aviv (even trying to count how many storeys the buildings had!!) and were eager to feel the water in the sea and feel the waves on them. (On the journey there, they constantly asked when will we reach the sea shore) and asked all sorts of questions about the waves.

In the evening they would speak more of their experience in Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom, asking questions about how we live and how life is in the village. One said that he was meeting a different kind of Jews - “good ones” - not like the ones that they meet in their area. One boy said that on top of his house there is a Jewish observation post. He and his family are not allowed to go up to the roof of their own house, or even to look up. Their only contact with the soldiers is from the sunflower seeds when they throw down on them after eating.

Another boy said that the settlers burned his sister’s hair because they fought for their land! He said, “Here you have good Jews, not like the ones that want to kill us or take our land”.
They enjoyed working with Michal (a Jewish teacher who volunteered her time). She gave them a bubbles workshop outside. They were able to talk to her in English, and asked many questions about her and about her children.

They also enjoyed working with Diana Shaloufi Rizik (A Christian Arab member of the village), who had volunteered to work with them on their drawings.

They were happy to have this opportunity to see and experience WAS-NS. But it was a greater fulfilment of a wish for them to see Jerusalem and holy sites. We were not able to take them into the Haram as-Sharif (Temple Mount area) or into the Dome of the Rock, since we did not receive police permission, but they were even happy to see it from afar!

They also enjoyed working with the young group leaders from WAS-NS. They appreciated their patience and they played with them, made up lots of nice activities, and taught them new social games.

They said that they had so much fun playing in the bowling center, but asked if we could take them to Superland (a children’s activity park about which they had heard) next time !

As for the young group leaders from the village, my opinion (after organizing the Camp for the fifth year) is that though this was their first experience, they took full responsibility in their work. This proves how much our children in WAS-NS take responsibility for the task they are given and their tolerance and understanding to accept what is different. I am proud of the children who worked with me in the past years and continue to be proud of those who did so this year too. I think WAS-NS children need this kind of activity: it helps them to grow close to one another as well as to feel responsible and needed. They also become more aware of the situation on both sides of the Green Line. Even the youths who came during the night to help and volunteer showed maturity and a lot of acceptance and willingness to help and share.

Hisham’s summary with the children and their parents (translated from Arabic)
Hisham (the leader on the Palestinian side) wrote in in Arabic, a week after the group’s departure, and gave us his feedback, as well as feedback from parents, siblings or the participants themselves:

Most of the children were happy to see the sea and play at the sea shore for the first time, as well as to play in the pool and go bowling.

The worst experience for the children was the passage through the checkpoint (which took two and a half hours). This was true especially of the girls, who asked whether they would be checked in the same way on their way back home.

The boys said it was hard and even scary having to go to the bathrooms at night (these were far away from the sleeping quarters). This is because most of the children come from areas that are exposed to raids and inspections by soldiers in the night. This makes darkness itself a source of worry for them.

Leila Shweiki from the city of Hebron (mother of the two participants Maher and Lina) said: “God bless the efforts of the Camp organizers and those responsible for it at the School and the activists in Hebron. Our children were very happy! “ She went on to say she has great appreciation and respect for the good treatment they received and for the opportunity given them to visit areas normally off-limits to the children. The camp gave the children the opportunity to meet and they enjoyed traveling together to the various sites. Most beautiful of all was the visit to Jerusalem.

Sa’ed Es-Suwati, the brother of Majdi, who participated, from the town of Beit Awa, southwest of Hebron, said that his brother always talks about the camp and the fun time he spent there, and wishes to participate in the camp again.

Ms. Manal Al-Jabari the mother of Yahia and Mou’yad, from the Old City of Hebron, said that her two sons expressed their great joy in participating in the camp. She said when there is any misunderstanding with her two sons they answer that it’s too bad they came back home – they should have remained in the Camp!

Abdel Hafez and Tamer Sharabati, two brothers who participated, said that the Camp gave them the opportunity to see the sea and play on the beach for the first time. Abdel-Hafiz said he became attached to the leaders and volunteers of the camp and hopes they will visit him in the city of Hebron as soon as possible.

The mother of Jihad Muhammad wrote: “He came back home so happy from the summer camp because he visited Jaffa. Yet he whispered in my ear that he would not repeat it because of the two and a half hours of standing and being humiliated at the Israeli border.

The Leaders from the Palestinian side expressed their deep gratitude for this opportunity and wished that they could do more site-seeing in Israel and other countries.

The young leaders from WAS-NS gave us the following feedback: Although it was our first time to work with children, we were happy to have the opportunity to work in the Camp. It was fun to learn and the experience was challenging. Yes it was hard work on the first day, but you become attached to the children as the days go by. We think we learned more about responsibility and tolerance and giving from oneself. We know now how hard is the work of the teachers to get all the children to pay attention and work with them. We are happy that we succeeded in our work.

* Acknowledgments

Finally, we would like to thank once again the Bruno Hussar Foundation in Germany for making the Camp possible. We thank Anwar Dawood (School Principal) for making contact with the Hebron Defense Committee (HDS) which recruited the participants, and also thank Anwar for providing support throughout the Camp. We thank our young WAS-NS youth leaders, Nour Nassar, Zohair Shamshoun, Jana Michael Kariyani and their helpers Diyar Daoud, Ramez Mana’a, Mahmud Abu Hamad, Nadine Nashef. We thank Dyana Shaloufi Rizek, Michal Moses for volunteering for a day to work with the children. We thank our cook and caterer Salam Abu Hamed, and for Primary School staff Leah Klein, Voltaire Shamshoum, Abu Attalah for helping with many things. We thank the the Guest House and swimming pool manage Ibrahim Khatib for making the pool available and organizing the evening pool party. We thank School for Peace staff (Ahmad Hijazi and Fatin Abu Ghosh) for use of equipment and for offering their help to us. We thank our DJ Omer Shuster. We thank Huda and her family from the Nursury for donating the lunch for one day and dinner for one evening. We thank all those who came to volunteer in the evening or during the day (Suhair, Yasmin, Sivan, Ofek, Gal, Inbar, Miron). We thank all the mothers that helped to wash the sleeping bags for the children (Majida, Caroline, Yasmin, Samah, Suhair and Raida). We thank Mr Elyas Abo Maneh and the Afluka Restaurant and the Christian Eastern Orthodox community In Jaffa for their donation of the lunch and drinks. which was made possible through Peter El Kalak (and of course we thank him for his suggestions and cooperation).

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