Tag Archives: Bethlehem

WI’AM Centre for Conflict Resolution, Bethlehem

“We have found that conflict resolution is the art

Of working and sharing ourselves,

Our resources, our minds and hearts with others”.

Zoughbi Zoughbi

Conflict resolution as an art

I am constantly amazed at the creativity and inventiveness of Palestinians. In Palestine I learn about being human in the face of oppression and find inspiring ideas that we could adopt and adapt to our own society.

An example of this is the Wi’am Conflict Resolution Centre in Bethlehem. The entrance to the Centre, which is quite amazing in itself, is housed in a 19th century Ottoman-era building. But the piece-de-resistance is the gardens. Down stone steps I was immediately engulfed in peace and tranquility brought about by carefully planned sitting areas amid trees, flowers, herbs, and stone walls. The site is multi-purpose and has a children’s playground. Amazing, because in brutal contrast, it is immediately next to the Separation Barrier, built 25′ high in dark grey concrete, with the trade mark watch tower.

Gill's blog 6 June 2013 Playground next to apartheid wall

My hosts were the Centre’s founder Zoughbi, and Usuma, who together explained that the idea for the centre came in the first and second intifadas which had caused a breakdown in civil society and disrupted the traditional ways of resolving conflict between neighbours. The Centre was founded in 1994 and aims to be a ‘centre of hope to a people living under occupation’. It uses techniques based on the Sulha Arab tradition of mediation as well as other schools of thought from around the world, a world that “is brimming with the cries of injustice and oppression”. It aims to celebrate a mosaic of differences with a message of hope in a time of hopelessness.

. Gill's blog 6 June 2013 Zoughbi and UsamA

Wi’am is the Arabic word for unconditional love and harmony. I mentioned to Zoughi that I follow a Buddhist path, something that I don’t often do in Palestine as most people do not understand a spiritual path that does not have a deity. I find that you often get involved religious debates with no positive outcome. But Zoughbi, a Palestinian Christian, understood immediately as he had been to India and Japan and met Zen masters, among other spiritual leaders.

The Centre’s Activities

Here is a sample of what they do:

For Children

Recreational and educational activities trauma coping skills. 80% of the children show signs of trauma, anxiety and fear

For Youth

Cultural exchange, and creating competencies for social transformation and to work for non-violence. While I was there Nasser, one of the volunteers who had himself been in prison six years, held a workshop with some young men from the Aida Refugee Camp. The subject was proper use of the Internet. The camp is living under constant uncertainty and becomes virtual pressure cooker where the youth, mostly unemployed, can easily fuel their frustrations into non-productive aggression.

Gill's blog 6 June 2013 Nasser leading a workshop

For Women

Recognising that Palestine is a patriarchal society and that women suffer from the impact of the occupation the Centre aims to empower women to take part in decision making.

Free Advocacy, Job Opportunities and Outreach

These are available to all in the community.

As Palestinians attempt to heal their society at the grassroots level, there are lessons here that can be learned by everyone, (even the ‘big guns’ like John Kerry who have so far failed even to sit down at the negotiating table).

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Out of the mouths of taxi drivers

 “What do you think, are we sleeping?”, he asked. I replied, obliquely, that there were some pockets of resistance but nothing is unified over the West Bank. It was a short ride so I didn’t find out his opinion.

TheRamallah Bubble

I am sure if you do not step outside the Ramallah city boundaries, it is easy to think that the West Bank is calm and peaceful. No army incursions, no violent clashes between teenage boys and soldiers, no resistance to the occupation apart from smallish demonstrations like the one marking Obama’s visit .

 In Hastingsas a small bunch of activists we are used to the majority of people not engaging in our peace issues. Are the inhabitants in the Ramallah suburb where I am staying of a similar mindset tin spite of everything that has happened from the Nakba onwards? The people people around seem to have good jobs – most of the cars are smarter than mine (not too difficult I hear some of you say). Trees line the pavements, flowers are carefully tended, 10 minutes away there are bars which could be in London or Paris. So in Ramallah it is easy to think you are in a pop-up European city that has sprung up from nowhere. Is this the face of ‘normalisation’ ? Well, Ramallah is only 22 kilometres away from Bethlehem, where in Aida Camp there is a different story to be told.

 Last year I was inspired by the cultural resistance in the Aida Refugee Camp, found in the Al Arowwad and Lajee youth centres. But for some of of the young people this is not enough. They vent their frustrations by focusing on the watch tower and the Wall that invades their space.Gill 2013 A the guardpost

The day of my visit the camp was calm, but this is not always so as the following events show.

 Last Monday, April 8, Mohammed Al-Azza, a Palestinian cameraman was shot in the face. Monday, Israeli soldiers entered Aida Refugee Camp through a gate in the separation wall dividing Rachel’s Tomb from Bethlehem. There were no clashes at the time, and their presence in the camp was not provoked. He was merely photographing the soldiers from the second-floor balcony of the Lajee Center, where he has long volunteered in the media unit. He was eager to use the centre’s new camera, a Canon 600D with a 50-250mm zoom lens.*Palestinian photographer shot by Israeli forces, Beit Jala, West

 The back story – making a hole in the wall

This January, several youths decided to take action against the Wall. They chose a spot near the guard tower from which the army frequently fire and which was already weakened by the continuous burning of tyres. They drilled a hole using a electric hand drill, and after two nights the hole was large enough for them to pass through. On January 15 two did.

Salah Ajarma, the director of the Lajee Centre said the idea to make a hole in the wall came from an activist identified only as “Ali Wall,” who began a campaign against the barrier in Aida camp shortly after its completion in 2006. His dream was to make a hole and go to the other side to play in the field.

 (The Palestine Monitor spoke with several witnesses to the drilling and saw a video of the youths drilling the hole. Photos taken after the drilling was done show a hole several feet high and perhaps a foot wide, large enough for children to pass through.)

 “The purpose of the hole was not to launch attacks on Israel or otherwise endanger the Zionist state’s security”, Ajarma said. “The hole was drilled by the camp’s residents out of a simple and universal desire for freedom”.

 “They don’t want the wall close to them, they don’t want the towers, they don’t want to see the Israeli army in the camp… That’s how they feel. Like if we open a hole, [there’s the belief that] we can reach every space, we can reach Jerusalem, or we can go to have a picnic or to have barbecue on the other side of the Wall. Because that’s what children want. They don’t want walls, they don’t want towers, they don’t want bullets. They want a free area and free space for them”.

The killing of Saleh

Frequent army incursions occurred after the drilling of the hole and, on January 18, 16 year old Saleh Elamareen, who eyewitnesses say was merely standing near the Lajee Centre, was shot in the head. He subsequently died in hospital.

 Aida camp is witnessing a brutal crackdown on its young residents. The youth are the beacons of change in every society as they represent the future. When Israel arrests youth on unknown charges they are robbing them them of education, the right to a family life and of Palestine’s right to their future.”

 So Palestine continues to be perplexing and tragic, hopeful and doomed and denied any political solution for the freedom and justice it deserves.

 * I was not there to witness what happened last week the italicised extracts come from the Palestine Chronicle.


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