Salam and Marwa, Aida Camp, Bethlehem - 08/04/2009

Monday 28 December 2009
popularity : 18%

Read the whole report on our meeting with Salam and Marwa, on Wednesday April 8

Interview of Salam, 18, and Marwa, 23 . At the Al-Rowwad Center, in Oussama’s office. Translation into English by Marwa.

Salam & Marwa 1
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Hello, my name is Marwa. I work as the executive director in the Al-Rowwad centre and this is Salam, who is going to introduce herself.

Hello, my name is Salam. I live in Aida Camp, I’ve taken part in the activities organised by the Al-Rowwad Centre since I was 8. I have done different things here but now I work as a fitness trainer and sometimes, I help Marwa with the administration. I’m studying business administration at the Jerusalem Open University.

Salam, could you tell us what happened to the people who are now living in Aida Camp ?

It all started in 1948 when the Israelis arrived in the Palestinian villages and threw their inhabitants out, forcing them to leave their houses. These people are now living in areas that are the closest to their original village : for example, the people now living in Aida-Bethlehem all originate from the villages surrounding Hebron… At first there was nothing to accommodate these people but then, the UN brought in tents and that’s how the camps started.

When and why was Al-Rowwad Centre created ?

Al-Rowwad cultural and theatre training Centre was born in 1989 as a small two-room place where drama activities were organised. At first, it worked together with Aida Youth Centre but soon started to have its own program focusing on theatre, dabka (the traditional Palestinian dance) and other activities especially aimed at kids. The Centre developed, offering more and more professional training and bit by bit, it increased in size so as to be able to accommodate bigger groups.

Today, you organize shows, and your theatre group is allowed to perform abroad : how do you feel about that ?

It’s a big responsibility to introduce your own country to other people… And it’s really hard work for us : we don’t always manage to express ourselves as well as we would like to… We want the other people to see the good side of us, we want them to see who we are, who the Palestinians really are. It’s not obvious since most of the people abroad know but little (or nothing) about Palestine and the Palestinians… At the same time, we are really lucky to be able to travel abroad. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to tell different people about my country and to have some cultural exchanges with them.

Now, we’d like you to tell us a bit more about yourselves, you Salaam, and you Marwa : why, for ex, don’t you, Salam, wear the scarf while Marwa does ? just tell us about yourself.

Salam : The Hijab is related to Islam and most of us think that, out of respect for the religion, we should wear it. But it all depends on your environment, the place you live in, your family, your parents, what you believe in and also what you think is best for you. That’s why I don’t wear it... But I may decide to one day. Yes one day, I will... (laughs)

Marwa : I have been wearing it for 6 years. I didn’t use to but then I felt it was the right time to. I feel comfortable with it. Well, sometimes I feel like taking it off, but most of the time I’m happy to wear it because I feel it agrees with me.

Yesterday, we went for a walk round the camp and we felt there was much violence between the kids playing together, as well as towards us. Is it difficult to teach them to behave in another way seeing the violent environment they live in : the wall all around the camps, the miradors, the armed soldiers?

Marwa : It’s what all the activities at Al-Rowwad aim at : teaching them what we call « our beautiful resistance ». Most of the children of Aïda have no place to go and play or to express their feeling. As you mentioned, they are living in a violent environment. Most of them have seen or suffered from violent acts by Israeli soldiers but also by members of our community… It’s a hard job to teach them non-violence but I think that one day, they will live in a non-violent environment because as they take part in the activities offered at Al-Rowwad, they learn other ways to express their feelings.

Again, tell us more about yourselves now : tell us about your studies, your projects for the future. Do you want to have kids, do you have a boyfriend?

Salam & Marwa 2
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Salam : At first, I didn’t think of studying business but, finally, I thought it was a good choice in case I could go outside Palestine one day, or travel to other cities, (which at the time being is really difficult because of all the checkpoints the Israeli put up to stop the Palestinians from moving around freely). I have chosen to go to the open University (which means I study on my own at home, without having a schedule of courses to follow) because I don’t want to be just nothing else than studying : I want to go on with the activities at the Centre. In fact, I only go for my exams or to attend some lectures, but most of the time you will find me here, at the Centre.

Marwa : As for me, I finished studying business administration at Bethlehem university in 2006. I was married then and my little daughter was only two-week old, so it was a real challenge for me to go and attend the classes, do the exams, take part in the seminars... But I made it ! Then, I stayed at home for one year to take care of my little daughter, then I went back to work. I worked here in Al-Rowwad for 3 months as part of an UNRWA project. Then I got another job as executive secretary at the Women Development Centre, and then I came back here and have worked here for one year, first as a Women Coordinator of different projects : for ex. Fitness for a Beautiful Change, where we try to have some of the women here take part in the Fitness project and train. So they feel they need to take time for thelmselves so as to feel better with their family and the environment they are iving with. We also organise volley-ball and ping-pong training. Dabka training too,especially for girls, because sometimes, in our community, it is difficult to have mixed group as most parents don’t like it. So, in fact, we try to offer a safe environment for girls and women only. We also have an embroidery project. We suggest new ways next to the traditional ones to embroider on tuniques, trousers... Now, I also have a baby-boy, he is 6-month old. He was born in July…

Mabrouk ! Congratulation !... A very private question now : what is your dream ?

Marwa : My dream is to have a better environment for all our children, for ourselves… To have, you know… Well, to dream, you need to believe that there are no borders to stop you, but for us, even when we try to dream, we know there are many borders that prevent us from dreaming. As far as I’m concerned, for ex., I really would like to get a Master at university but I simply can’t because there are no universities here in Bethlehem where I could do so…

Salam : My dream is to leave Aida Camp… Here, there are all these boxes built so close together : we have no room, no privacy. I would like to leave, not to travel abroad but to go back to my village…Sometimes, you know, it’s difficult to answer people who ask you where you are from. You answer, “I live in Aida but in fact I’m from this or that village”… It’s difficult to make them understand that we were transferred from our country into our country, that we are refugees within our own country… I would like to succeed in my studies... I would like to go on acting here, improve myself as an actress, go on being part of Al-Rowwad.... Of course, I’d like to have some children one day, but not now : I’m only 18, I’m too young for that…

As a kind of conclusion, could you tell us about what we can see on the wall of this room : about this key, that little boy for example…

Salam & Marwa 3
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Handala is a character drawn by Naji al-Ali, a Palestinian refugee born in the village of Shajarah (= tree) who had settled in Lebanon.

As you can see, Handala has only 10 hairs on his head, which shows he is only 10 : he isn’t going to grow up until he is allowed back to his country. He’s barefoot and all ragged, poor and helpless like all the refugees who have got nothing left but what they had on when the Israeli army threw them out of their village. Handala holds his hands behind his back, that way showing he refuses to take part in what is going on and make peace until he can go back home. He refuses to have to give anything in exchange for getting his own country back. He thinks it is his right to be back. His country belongs to him. It was stolen from him and must be handed back without his having to pay for it. We can only see Handala’s back because his eyes are riveted to his village, where he is dreaming of going back to one day. This little character is in fact the Arab consciousness. He doesn’t only stand for the Palestinian children but for the children of the whole world.

This wooden key is the symbol of the key that every Palestinian refugee has got today in his home for the house they were forced to leave by the Israeli soldiers in 1948 and 1967.

Mahmoud Darwich is the Palestinian poet who best expresses the feelings of the Palestinian people about the situation. We always say or sing his poems at birthday or wedding parties. It is always both sad and beautiful because he really expresses the Palestinians’ feelings and soul…

And what about these drawings on the walls ?

This one was done by Tamkeen : we had a project with the kids about how to keep our environment good and clean. So we teach them that they should wash themselves every day, wash their hands when they have been to the bathroom... Also they should throw their garbage and waste in the bins...

This poster is also about having a good environment... It is about having green around you... As you have noticed, inside Aida camp, there are no gardens nor grass... So we are trying to have a green place for the kids to play, because it is good for their health, as well as for the families.

What would you like to tell the people who will never come here ? Is there a message, a wish you would like to share?

Salam : I would like to tell them that we are not what the media say we are. We are not terrorists. We don’t like killing people. We live in our country, Palestine, and we want to have it back. We are not terrorists, we are just human beings. We have no problems with the Jews, they have their religion, theirs beliefs, we have ours and we live differently, that’s all. But we have problems with the Israeli Zionists… They want to pretend we don’t exist...

When we have a look at History, we see that many countries were occupied. But then, after a while, the occupiers left. Here, in Palestine, the occupiers are still there and we need to resist them. There are different ways to do so and it belongs to everyone to choose the way that’s best for them.

The project of Al-Rowwad is to build a “beautiful resistance” : through the activities we organise (theatre, photography), we try to help people to become better persons. We think that becoming a better man or a better woman is a way to fight the occupation. We may not be as well educated as other people but, at least, we can now express ourselves and try to be better people.

But of course, we respect any other kind of resistance, because it depends on the sort of person you are, and anyone fighting to get their country back and for more justice

And you Marwa? What do you want to say?

Marwa : First I’d like to say that... As you in your own country, you just can’t imagine what it feels like to be at home without being at home. Just imagine you want to go to Jerusalem : it is only 10 km away from Aïda, but you first need the authorization of the Israeli authorities. Then you will have to travel maybe a 50 km detour to get there... Be it to pray, or simply to visit the town. But the main thing is, there is no future here for our kids : and there is no place for them to go. And if they want to go abroad, they first have to go to Jordan to be allowed to travel to other countries... So... It makes me happy to see that people from "outside" travel all the way here. It helps us believe they know we exist. We don’t need more. And I thank them for that.