See more photos and video of the visit and program
The Global Safari Class of Sunnmøre Folkehøgskule in Norway has visited Palestine from the 2nd of February until the 11th of February 2015. The tour was facilitated by the JAI. 16 young Norwegians between the age of 18 to 20 and their teacher came to Palestine with the objective to meet Palestinians, see the country and thus learn more about the Palestinian situation.
On their first day the group got a tour of Bethlehem and also learned about the situation of refugees in the Bethlehem area through a briefing at the Badil Center for the right of refugees as well as a visit of the Aida refugee camp. Maren reflected on this day: "I have experienced things that are hard for me to understand because we live in a place that is very different from this. I like to see the cultural differences. I thought that the presentation with Badil was very interesting, learning about the refugees. And also we went to the refugee camp afterwards, where we could see in real life what was explained in the presentation, especially about the water."
On the second day the group went to Jericho and visited the old city, walked up and visited the monastery on the Mount of Temptation as well as the YWCA, where they got lunch that was prepared for them by the women of the food production centre at the YWCA. After that the students went on to see the archaeological site of Masada.
The third day was spent in Hebron. The day included a visit to a pottery factory, a guided tour through the old city with a visit of the Ibrahimi mosque as the highlight of this tour as well as a visit to the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee where the students were briefed about the situation in the old city as well as the measures that the Rehabilitation Committee undertakes to resist the occupation with peaceful and creative means. The students were very impressed by the work that the Rehabilitation Committee has done to restore places and houses in the old city. Everyone was also shocked by the settlements in the old city of Hebron and the high Israeli military presence. Especially memorable for the students was seeing the market street where the Palestinians of Hebron had to put up a net because of the settlers throwing all their garbage down on them. The students also experienced the various checkpoints in the city. Martina and Marie said the following about the day in Hebron: "Yesterday we went to Hebron. We first visited the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee and we learned about the situation in Hebron and the H1 and H2 area. It was shocking to see how people live there. We had no idea the situation was so bad. So we were really shocked."
The next two days were filled with two memorable hiking trips. On day one the students hiked from Beit Jala to the village of Battir that has been declared a world heritage site by the UNESCO. They helped cleaning a historic pool from stones and garbage. The local community was very thankful for the helping hand and the student themselves had a great time. The teacher of the group, Oyvin, reflected upon this day: "It is important to see a different Palestine. Because to speak about the occupation and life under occupation touches every part of your life. At the same time doing something like this shows us as foreigners that you really care. It is not just that you want the land but you want to keep the land, to renew it, cultivate it and to make it as beautiful as it can be. It is the nature that is the most sacred place to me in this country. I go to church but to be in nature, to see the red flowers and the olive trees and the stone walls and everything is such a beauty."
On day two the group hiked in the desert from south of Bethlehem towards Jericho and the Dead Sea. The group also met with Bedouins in their tents and shared a cup of tea. The hike was tough, for six hours up and down the mountains. But everyone agreed that the tour was absolutely worth it and the views were breath-taking.
That evening the young people went to stay with Palestinian youth and their families, to experience their everyday life. The experience that the students made were very positive and many want to keep the contact with their young hosts.
A little tired but great in spirits the group of Norwegians students went to Jerusalem the next day. Passing through the checkpoint 300 to Jerusalem on foot was an intense experience for everyone. In Jerusalem the group was guided through the old city of Jerusalem by an Afro-Palestinian guide named Ali who impressed everyone with his personal stories and his fight against the occupation through alternative tourism. The group saw the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and visited the Church of the Sepulchre. They also learned about the discrimination of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. Later the students had some free time which was used to stroll along the spacious market in the old city and to buy souvenirs.
On the seventh day of the trip the group joined the JAI Olive Planting Program in the village of Teqou', east of Bethlehem area. The field that the trees were planted on was surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements and the field is under ongoing threat of confiscation. 600 olive trees were planted in about three hours. Everybody had a great time and enjoyed the physical activity outside in the good weather. After the planting program the group went on a tour of the Bethlehem area especially focusing on the wall, settlements and bypass roads. Seeing the massive wall as well as the settlements and roads was a very memorable experience. One of the voices about the tour was: "It makes you angry and helpless that this can still happen today in 2015. I really do not understand why there is not more international pressure on Israel when clearly the wall and settlements make life so hard for the Palestinians."
The last day of the Global Safari Class' visit to Palestine started early in the morning when the whole group moved to the checkpoint 300 at five in the morning to see the many Palestinians passing through to get to their work. A member of the EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel) – Bethlehem team -gave the students a briefing about the discriminatory checkpoint and permit policy. Later the whole group passed the checkpoint and could experience the discrimination first hand. While they were allowed to pass without even having their passport checked Palestinians had to give their finger prints and were sometimes subject to thorough questioning. The day continued in Jerusalem, where the group got a tour with a guide from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). It was interesting for the group to meet with an Israeli who was also supporting the Palestinian cause and who told them about the Israeli injustices and apartheid policies applied in Jerusalem, such as different systems of garbage collection, illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and administrative house demolitions. Later in the day the group met with another Israeli activist from the Alternative Information Centre (AIC) who told the group about his work. Another important aspect of his talk was his stressing that being pro-Israel and critical of it at the same moment is not a contradiction. The day ended with a traditional Folklore Dabka show and a dinner at a restaurant in Beit Sahour. The young hosts that the students stayed with also came to the dinner and farewells were said. One participant in the program, Jørgen, summed his experience up: "I liked our trip to Palestine very much. It was a very good mixture of listening to lectures and being active ourselves, as with the hiking for example. I am sure that I will come back to Palestine one day."