Friday April, 10 - Aida Camp - Al-Rowwad Center

Tuesday 5 January 2010
popularity : 91%

On the menu today the interviews of Jamal and Mustapha (16) who is back after a 3-day absence (we missed him !) : he was studying (all night long) and sitting for exams…

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We use the opportunity to ask him about what school and education is like in Palestine : “In Palestine there is a real problem with the schools : they are all overcrowded. There are between 30 and 40 pupils, generally up to 40, in each classroom which makes it really difficult to work and to learn… But most of the students here in Palestine like learning, want to learn because they know it’s the only way to a better future. They all live in a bad situation, they see the economic situation is bad, but in spite of all that, they all hope, or better, they all believe they can make things better, build a better future.”

Mustapha, Mazen and Jamal (whom we also interview) honour us with another little improvised rap performance : we are getting more and more fan of their group !

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Mazen - Jamal - Moustapha 1
Mazen - Jamal - Moustapha 2

Samira (30, one of the young adults in charge of the administration in Al-Rowwad with Oussama, Marwa and Salam) has kindly accepted to do the translation in spite of all the work she has got and the surrounding excitement : today is the inauguration-day of the photo exhibition, an important moment for all the members of the "Images for Life" workshop and there is indeed much stress in the air !

This opening ceremony is part of a complete programme of festivities organised in the context of "Jerusalem, 2009 cultural city". Important people are coming (including from France :see "les amis d’al-Rowwad" website) and everything must be ready in time.

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We thank Samira and go down to help the “Images for Life"-team, to which our 4 rappers belong : they are definitely involved in Al-Rowwad activities !...

They show us the pictures they have taken, all of them allowing us a glimpse into the Palestinians’ everyday life as they, with their young eyes, see it. : for each of the photos they have found a commentary, which is often poetical yet always a punch into the stomach. Next to the masterpieces, the portraits of the young artists smile at us. Looking at it all, they feel both proud and shy... Emotion, emotion...

Despite all there is still to do, Mourad finds some time to explain to us the philosophy of this workshop which started in April 2006 and trains young (and less young) people to photography and video and film production. "All the activities organised in Al-Rowwad aim at one thing : to encourage and to give the people of the camp the means to set up a "Beautiful Resistance" as a response to the Israeli occupation. "Images for Life" enables and allows all the people who are interested in photography to highlight the characteristics of our struggle for justice and freedom as well as to show the different aspects of the everyday life of the Palestinians in the camps". Again, we realize how everything here has been carefully thought of and built. The people here never leave anything to chance. It does impress us and makes us wonder : what about the quality of things in our little country at peace ?...

A few hours later and it’s inauguration time, as much looked forward to as feared : all the young artists are now facing their public... It is not that easy !... The guests (people from France, next to the young artists’parents, friends and neighbours) go around the exhibition slowly, stop in front of the pictures alone or in pair. Most of them keep silent, others are just a bit too talkative, but all share their pride and pain, and their love for their country, their culture… Each picture, each colour, each look moves them to the deepest of their heart

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A few official speeches, a presentation of the history of the projects and an expression of thanks to all those who, in Palestine and in France believed in it and supported it.

Then, it’s time to give their certificates to all those whose training in photography is finished : emotions, congratulations, emotions again...


Listen to extracts from the speeches

In the evening, we all meet at the Guest House as usual and savour our friends’ success and pleasure while cooking together, playing cards or chess or a bit of guitar, and Ribal (19), relieved and so happy the exhibition is a real success, lets go at last, smiles a bit then laughs with all his heart and says he feels ready now for the interview... We of course jump on the opportunity : camera and Mp3 are switched on in a second and we all listen to him speaking too quickly and between his teeth, but we don’t miss a word of it!

Ribal is only 19, but he is such a serious and responsible young man. Too serious and responsible, like all those who weren’t allowed any childhood... He starts by telling us about how the Al-Rowwad Centre was born, how the idea of a “Beautiful Resistance” came to life as well as about his personal involvement in the different activities of the centre, more especially in the theatre workshop and company : "The primary idea of Al-Rowwad was to have people know about the situation in Palestine via theatre plays… If I go to Austria, France or other countries and tell people about Palestine, they may say they believe me and agree with me, or maybe not, they can still be on Israel’s side. But if we make them feel what the situation is like here acting, singing and dancing for them, maybe they will all manage to understand what is going on in Palestine… "

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Choose culture because armed struggle has brought them to nothing and will bring them nothing good : "Just think of this : who gives Palestine any military support ? Iran ? The Arab countries ?… Nobody anymore. Everybody has gone, while the whole world, Europe, the USA support Israel... You can see it on television everyday : Israeli people have got the tanks, the helicopters, the new guns, the new technology and the laws for them… The only thing we have left is to tell everybody about Palestine, and to carry on our « Beautiful Resistance »… Because if I throw stones, nobody will listen to me. If I have a gun, everybody will call me a terrorist, which would be true, and I’ll be killed or put in jail… Whereas if I do some culture, I have no problem with Israel. Well, for the time being... No doubt there will come a time when they will have seen enough of it. Maybe then they will arrest us and throw us in prison… The last time I talked to an Israeli soldier at Jericho checkpoint, he said to me : « You won’t be able to go on talking about the situation, acting and dancing for 100 more years. We won’t let you»… One day we may be under such pressure from Israel that we may have to stop it all…"

His relationship to the Jews ? : "Some politicians and leaders are working at trying to create two states, one for the Palestinians, the other one for the Israeli. But why 2 countries ?… This is Palestine !… Invaders have come and you would like them to tell the Palestinians : “keep a small bit of your country, we are taking over the rest " ?… It’s not a problem for me if the Jews want to stay in this small country, Palestine … One thing you must know and remember is that we, Muslim Palestinians have no problems with the Jews, in opposition to what people generally think. When I was in France, a Jewish family put me up and we talked about the situation. The same thing happened when I was in the USA, and these Jews were really adorable… But we have a problem with the Israeli who have settled here". And he tells about the trouble, vexations, half-veiled threats the Palestinians endure from the Israeli soldiers and administration, the constant surveillance they are subjected to : "They know everything about me , what I did yesterday, what I’m going to do tomorrow", and the impossibility to move around freely, this separating wall, all the checkpoints and controls that poison life : "For example, I continuously have troubles at the checkpoints : sometimes I can’t sit for my exams, or attend a lecture, just because the Israeli soldiers have confiscated my ID and gone away with it. And I have to stay there and wait for 3 or 4 hours until they decide to give it back to me…. At other times, the checkpoint is simply closed, which means nobody can go to university or any other places."

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Ribal heaves a sigh : "One day, I was asked to play theatre in front of children in Israel but I refused to. people asked me : why do you refuse? They are only children, they are only nine…. But I answered that when they are 15 or 17, they will join the army to do their compulsory military service and they will have guns and may kill someone, maybe one of my friends… I’m sure these Israeli children will invite children from Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and speak about peace with them but who knows if later they won’t wage war at them ?… That’s the problem… And that’s why we believe in the « Beautiful Resistance », make our culture live rather than throw stones or use guns…"

He tells us now about his law studies, which he chose in order to be as well informed and tooled as possible to be able to defend the rights of his people : "I decided to study law for several reasons, the main one being to work on the situation of Palestine and the Palestinians from a legal point of view, that of the international laws. We need them in Palestine : there are indeed no laws here to support or defend the Palestinians, to say the Israeli are wrong and that this country belongs to the Palestinians, not to the Israeli…

Believe me, the Palestinians are not terrorists. They have such a normal life, in which nothing special happens : they wake up, go to the centre, or to the wall, or to school, that(‘s all they have. They don’t build new tanks, new helicopters… That’s the difference !…"

Ribal tells us clearly what he would like us to do when we are back in Belgium : "Here, in Palestine, it’s very difficult for us to change the situation… But you who have come to Palestine, when you are back home, tell about what is really going on here, tell about the situation as it is… Our problem is that the journalists, the media, the whole world is on the side of the Israeli, and that we can do nothing about it because the Israeli control everything; We don’t need money, we have got everything we need here, we live alright... But we need freedom and justice… Tomorrow, I would like to be able to go to university without being arrested at the checkpoint I would like to be able to get out of Palestine without having to go through all these checkpoints. I would like to do things without having to constantly ask for Israel’s permission..."

And then, addressing Théodore, the youngest in the group who is only 15 and is both furious and awfully sorry to feel so powerless, helpless in front of everything that should be done : "Of course, as you said yesterday, you can do nothing to change the way things are at the moment, but, later, thanks to your studies, you will be able to. I’m convinced that studying, be it theatre or politics or other subjects will give you tools to speak about the situation in Palestine, speak of justice. Not only in Palestine. You will be able to act so there is more justice and freedom for all the people who, here in Palestine or in other countries, live under occupation… "

Ribal is only 19 but he radiates with energy and an incredible rage to act. With sadness too, even if he doesn’t know it and would probably never admit. It is impressive to see what life has made of him. It makes us both terribly sorry for him and full of admiration.

Listen to the whole interview of Ribal

A string is plucked on the guitar, a rhythm thumped out on the table (any object will do as an instrument !). Smoothly and nicely the after-shock silence fills with music and songs first hummed then sung together. They seal another great day with the young Palestinians of Aida.

Ummi adapted

Read the continuation of the trip