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"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand" – Confucius
This year's Journey for Justice, organised by the YWCA-YMCA Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), took place between 29 July and 6 August 2017 and brought together interested 25 participants from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Argentina, Switzerland and Palestine.
Travelling through Palestine for a week, the participants learnt about the conflict and experienced Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. Many of the participants were shocked by the discrimination and human rights violations Palestinians suffer in their everyday life yet impressed by their resilience and active and creative non-violent resistance against the occupation.
The program of the week was very multifaceted and included both the visit of touristic sights and informative presentations on the work of a variety of NGOs advocating for the Palestinian cause. The week started out with a geopolitical presentation of Palestine at the JAI office, which provided the participants with the background knowledge necessary to appropriately contextualise the information they would get throughout the week. What followed were presentations on the JAI's own Olive Tree Campaign and the Kairos Declaration. While the Olive Tree Campaign aims at protecting agricultural land from confiscation by planting internationally sponsored olive trees, Kairos Palestine advocates for an end of the occupation and a just solution to the conflict. During the week, the participants were moreover introduced to the meaningful work of the YWCAs in Jericho and Ramallah to socially, economically and politically empower women, as well as the YMCA Rehabilitation Program and its Trauma Counselling. They learnt about the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel to comply with international law; visited the Badil Centre, which protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons; took a guided tour of East Jerusalem by ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition; and were briefed by the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee on the situation in the old city of Hebron.
These theoretical briefings were embedded in tours and visits of a great variety of sights throughout the week, helping the participants to get a better and more holistic understanding of the occupation and its adverse repercussions on the daily lives of Palestinians. After a guided tour of the Nativity Church, the group went to see the apartheid wall, settlements and bypass roads around Bethlehem. The participants also visited the Natural History Museum and heard a lecture of its founder, Professor Qumsiyeh, who talked about both political and environmental aspects of the occupation and the conflict. They toured and met students of Bethlehem University, who shared their experiences as students in a conflict zone and emphasised the importance of the university as an "oasis of peace". In Jericho, they hiked up the Mount of Temptation, bathed their feet at the Baptism site in the Jordan river and visited the sycamore tree of Zacchaeus. Particularly impressive was the crossing of the notorious Checkpoint 300 to get from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and the subsequent tour of the "heart of the conflict", the old city of Jerusalem, during which the participants saw the Dome of Rocks, the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Holy Sepulchre Church. In Hebron, the West Bank's trade hub, the group first visited a glass and ceramic factory before touring the remains of what was once a vibrant old city: deserted markets, the Shuhada street, which is closed to Palestinians, checkpoints and the Ibrahimi mosque. Other highlights of the week included helping farmers on their fields to pick peppers and tomatoes and clear the fields from weed and the visit of the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, which was raided by Israeli soldiers just moments before the group arrived. On the last day of the Journey, the participants visited Ramallah and the village Bil'in, which is internationally known for its creative and continuous popular resistance against Israeli occupation.
The Journey for Justice greatly fostered the international participants' understanding of the current situation in Palestine, its occupation and the conflict with Israel. Through thoughtful questions and fruitful conversations with Palestinians they got a better grasp not only of the political and legal aspects but also of what it means on a personal level to live under occupation, to be subjected to constant discrimination and severe human rights violations. The international participants were grateful for the hospitality and warm-heartedness of the Palestinians and amazed by their persistent hope for lasting peace and justice for their people despite the omnipresence of the conflict.
Reflecting on what they have experienced during the week, many participants showed themselves impressed by this resilience and the Palestinians' continuous activism for peace and justice.
Loubna from the Netherlands said: "Even after all the injustice that had been done to this country, Palestine remained a powerful country filled with warm-hearted people. I hope to come back to learn even more and visit the people I have met this summer".
Fulla, a Palestinian participant, for instance noted that "we see settlements all the time, they are a constant reminder that we are still occupied. We have been fighting for so long and have made no step forward. But we still have to do something and cannot simply stay passive. Due to the wall and the checkpoints Palestine is an open-air prison. We try to always be optimistic. However, right now there are unfortunately no positive signs for the future."
Similarly, after having attended the lecture of Professor Qumsiyeh at Bethlehem's Museum of Natural History, Siv from Denmark expressed her admiration for the committed political and environmental activism of the Professor in particular and the Palestinians she met during the Journey for Justice more generally.
Hassan, a Palestinian medical student, is less optimistic. He compares the situation in Palestine to that of a cancer patient and metaphorically observes that "the ever-growing and expanding settlements spread like metastases through the entire body of Palestine. Unfortunately, the patient Palestine seems to be terminally ill."
Agreeing, Esteban, an international participant from Argentina, is shocked at the psychological oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis. He notes that "wherever you look there is injustice. The extent and severity of the measures that Israel adopts to harass and oppress the Palestinians, such as the settlements, separate bypass roads or the regime of permits, are outrageous."
In the same vein, Kaspar, another international participant, contrasts the amenities of life in his native Denmark with the constant struggle of the Palestinians in their everyday life, noting that "in Scandinavia, you can go wherever you want and you are safe. Here in Palestine, you neither have the liberty to go wherever you want nor the luxury of ever really feeling safe."