Stop occupying Christmas Project in Bethlehem

International solidarity, Community life, - Middle East

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

Next week I travel to one of the Palestinian territories: The West Bank. I will be spending a couple of weeks in this intriguing place with a final week to travel about Israel and Jordan, hopefully. Why have I chosen to spend Christmas and New years in the Middle East? I'm not sure really! A first-hand chance to see and learn about the complex political systems, history, and diversity of the Palestine territories and Israel I guess. The first two weeks of my trip will involve...wait for it...volunteering! I will be partaking in an International volunteer project through Voluntary Service International (VSI) and Service Civil International (SCI). What will my project involve?

Michael Cresham in Palestine

My host organization in the West Bank is the International Palestinian Youth League (IPYL). IPYL is an independent, non partisan youth organization that aims to empower and develop the youth sector in Palestine through training, raising awareness and international relations. IPYL's mission is to empower youth aged 15-35 against social, economical, and political challenges in Palestinian society, which the Israeli occupation has aggravated. As a result of Israel's occupation in Palestine the Palestinian youth have been denied educational opportunities, sites for cultural activities, and community development resources.

The project will bring together 30+ volunteers of different cultures from across the globe. The long-term goal of the project is to prepare the Palestinian youth to make positive contributions to their future and society through the values of understanding, helping, contributing tolerance, and respectful coexistence. The work camp will take place in Bethlehem during the Christmas. I will be staying will be in the Azzeh Refugee camp inside Bethlehem City. Bethlehem lies about 10 km (6 miles) south of Israeli occupied Jerusalem in an area of land that is continually under threat of confiscation by the Israeli military and mostly surrounded by the Israeli apartheid wall and illegal Israeli settlements. As a result, projects in this location aim to demonstrate solidarity with the local people and Local Community. The city also has significant value for Christians as it is considered the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth according to the Gospels.

During my stay I will be

  • Working in the different villages in Bethlehem for the duration of the project. The mornings will consist of voluntary work that fit with the needs of the local community and the afternoons and evening are dedicated to cultural elements as I outline further on.
  • Involved in different types of voluntary works such as agriculture and rehabilitation. During the work I will meet with the local Palestinians and farmers to get an idea about the difficulties they face in planting and marketing their products, resulting from the Israeli occupation forces and listen to the impact of the illegal apartheid wall on their daily lives.
  • Assisting in the rehabilitation process of some Palestinian schools and community based organisations in different locations inside the Bethlehem district.

The beauty of volunteering with SCI and the IPYL is that the project is not all work work work! The project is also seen as a tool for creating intercultural understanding and solidarity between people.

As a result, the afternoons and evenings will be used to give volunteers an inter-cultural learning experience, with a focus on showing the international volunteers the Palestinian culture within the context of the occupation by Israel and hopes for the future. This will involve visits to refugee camps, tours of places of interest, visits to other cities in the West Bank like Ram Allah and Hebron, lectures, film showing, music, and most importantly interaction with the local people.

Michael Cresham, 2009

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