West Bank, Palestine

Community life, International solidarity - Middle East

Through SCI I volunteered with International Palestinian Youth League (IPYL), a two week programme, based in Jenin, West Bank, Palestinian Summer 2008.

The objective of this programme was to bring awareness to a group of European volunteers, about the realities of life in the West Bank under occupation, whilst working with local communities on tasks such as aiding in the maintenance of public gardens or farmers strawberry fields. The programme allowed the volunteers an all too brief but wonderful experience of life in small communities in the West Bank, while the volunteers provided much needed help in local projects, and also provided a voice to the story of the communities realities of existence under the occupation.

Throughout the programme we were introduced to many organisations and offered the opportunity to see their work in action. One such organisation is the Freedom Theatre, located in the refugee camp in Jenin. This organisation has provided much needed facilities for the youth in the refugee camp, such as a safe outlet to express themselves via the medium of drama and theatre! It has opened these young people's awareness to other methods of dealing with the restrictions of their daily life, while encouraging them to push themselves beyond reactionary approach to their situation. Additionally, the Freedom Theatre provides the refugee camp with media and communication connections and education within these areas, to further develop and empower the local community.

During our visit, we also travelled to Nablus, Hebron and Bethlehem, and took part in activities with other volunteer programmes, such as International Youth Day, which was celebrated by many groups of volunteers and youth organisations by planting olive trees as an act of solidarity and hope for the future. These visits, and the breadth of travel from the North of the West Bank to South of the West Bank also gave the group a deeper insight into the realities of the occupation and how it hinders a normal existence for the Palestinian people.

This voluntary programme has proved an invaluable experience for me and for all the volunteers involved. It allowed us an insight into the Palestinian society and the realities of life under the control and occupation by another state, who to a great degree do not see the individual suffering and hardship caused by their harsh military control. On an individual and personal experience, I will never be able to remove the feeling of complete sorrow for grown Palestinian men who trembled with fear of being removed from a bus while travelling through a checkpoint, portraying their immobility in their own land, and active racial discrimination. Without taking part in this voluntary work camp I would never have been able to actively see exactly how the Palestinian people live. I would not have been able to experience the fear, discrimination, isolation and deprivation they experience every day.

I would thoroughly recommend volunteering in the West Bank to any individual who is interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or in the politics of the Middle East, as it will be a true education on the realities of life under occupation and the discriminatory practices employed by an occupying force. Volunteering is also a brilliant social experience both individually and as a group, more in particular in the Middle East, as cultural sensitivity and awareness is a must from both individual and group alike. On a personal level, I feel I have gained great insight to the Israel/Palestinian conflict and furthermore, I have gained great insight into myself.

Ailbhe Dervan, Summer 2008

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