Day 13-15

Post by Layla

6th March
The first day of our exchange without a meeting with the entire YALLAH group began and each project group had its own ways. On that day, the sun was shining and a pleasant breeze was sweeping through the streets of Ramallah. Enjoying the weather, our project group made its way to the administrator (He’s volunteering) of the youth centre in the refugee camp al-Amari to discuss our plans and project ideas. He became really enthusiastic due to the thoughts of integrating art to a computer club workshop. Considering this, he even offered to write and spread an announcement for the children across the refugee camp. Shortly before the end of the conversation, the dean of Uni Siegens’ “Faculty of Economic Disciplines” Volker Wulf, his wife Mika and his scientific research assistant and PhD student Konstantin joined. Also they seemed to be fascinated by the ideas.
After this major step forward for our project, we walked to the restaurant Abu Hammam. Though to get there, we had to cross an incredibly crowded market. From all corners, pitchmen shouted out their daily offerings for everyone to hear. For us Germans who are not used to this, it acted more like a deterrent than a temptation. At Abu Hammam, we enjoyed delicious traditional Palestinian meals for little money.
We headed home around 4 o’clock to work on our field notes for the rest of the day. Suddenly, we were informed of a protest in the centre of Ramallah. Palestinians demonstrated against the killing of an activist by Israeli soldiers. When we arrived home, we tried to inform ourselves of the incident as the demonstration would only take place at 5 o’clock. At 5 o’clock al-Manara square – the main square of Ramallah – was not yet packed with protesters. We guessed that the organizers could not mobilize people in such a short time so we were wandering around the shopping malls instead. Maren, Patricia, Somaia and Gregor were with Melissa and me, when suddenly a crowd of people drew our attention. They were demonstrating against the killing of the activist Basel al-Araj who died in the night of March 6th. Following the demonstrators, we were surprised how so many people were able to gather spontaneously. Protesters were hugging and crying or screaming out in pain helplessly. Melissa and I joined the masses entranced, tears welling in our eyes as well now. For us it was sad, but also beautiful to see so many people standing up against the killing of a single person together, comforting each other. After coming back home, we talked about the experience and how it has moved us for a long time.

7th March
By the 7th of March, we were in Palestine for two weeks and we would also stay for another two. On that day, we visited a workshop of the Disarming Design of Palestine Initiative in Ramallah. Three artists and designers presented their products to us of which each one had a special meaning related to Palestine. The entire team of artists aimed to spread alternative narratives regarding contemporary Palestine and tried to reflect upon the role of creative practices in situations of conflict. For example, they designed a wooden box in form of the region Gaza to symbolize the feelings of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip who are neither allowed to leave the “box” nor able to fit into this limited space which is smaller than the German city of Cologne, but populated by about 2 Million people. In addition to this, the artists showed us a ceramic plate depicting distance markers to Gaza. For example, one plate showed the distance between Ramallah and Gaza which is only about 97 kilometres. We recognised that Gaza is not far from us in Ramallah, although we also could not reach it due to the closed borders. On the one hand, this showed us the close distance between Ramallah and Gaza, but on the other hand, we realised that – although we were right next to Gaza – we would not be able to enter it and get to know the life there.
After the presentation of a lot of different art works and goods, we made our own packaging (bags and boxes) from newspapers and flyers. It was really great to see how easy recycling – or in this case upcycling – can be done.
Then, we walked to our beloved Abu Hammam again – the restaurant with the best prices we had gotten to know so far (no covert advertising intended ;P).
Afterwards, we went back home because it suddenly got quite cold and windy. In the evening, we met Anne Paq, an activist and photographer, and went to Ziryab with her to have a shisha and hang out. Anne already told us that especially al-Khalil (Hebron) might become a very emotional experience for us and tried to prepare us for it.

8th March
All of us got up very early because we started our trip to al-Khalil (Hebron) at 8:30 am. Anne and Renad, a participant from the last YALLAH exchange, joined us. It took us a long time to arrive in al-Khalil (Hebron) and we saw a lot of Bedouin camps during the ride. We also had to pass lots of checkpoints. One of them was closed, so we had to take a detour which added about 30 minutes to our overall travel time. The sun was shining the whole day and a friend of Renad came to us and took us to a restaurant where all of us had a great breakfast.
After that, we visited a church in al-Khalil (Hebron) and got to know two lovely Palestinian children who walked with us through the church and its surrounding area and played games with us all the time. We came to the old city of al-Khalil (Hebron) and went through the market place. Here, the sellers were a lot more obtrusive than in Ramallah or Nablus. On the walls, we could read the plea “FIGHT GHOST TOWN” and we could not understand why someone had written this on a wall because the streets did not look like a ghost town at this time. Above the market street, a net stretched between two houses to protect the people on this street from stones or trash. We could see an Israeli military watchtower right above us. This confused us because just like the area guarded by checkpoints we had seen on our way between cities al-Khalil (Hebron) is part of the Palestinian West Bank.

Shortly after that, we went to a gate at the border. Beyond the border, we could see a lot of Israeli flags and above the border we recognised one soldier wearing a machine gun who was observing our group. Then we had to pass through a checkpoint because we wanted to visit one of the Palestinian inhabitants right next to the market street. Many young soldiers were standing next to us. To me, they looked like teenagers despite the huge deadly weapons in their hands.
We arrived at a crossover and chose to take the shorter way on the left as a matter of course. But immediately, when we tried to move to the left, two soldiers stopped us and told us that it is not allowed for Muslims to use this street. So, we took the street on the right and a few of us started to cry because it felt so unfair and discriminatory that some of us were not allowed to use this street only due to their religion. An old Israeli settler ran towards us and started screaming at us and the soldiers. We could not understand what he was shouting because he spoke Hebrew. He especially stepped up to a Palestinian member of our group and planted himself in front of him very aggressively. But our guide stood calm and just looked him in the eyes. One of the soldiers half-heartedly tried to calm the settler with one hand on his shoulder. Still, the old man continued and ran towards one of our girls who had just arrived and was not aware of the dangerous situation. Gladly, nothing happened to her.
After this emotional situation, many different cars with Israeli licence plates drove by. Anne told us that in this kind of place only Israelis are allowed to use cars. On our further way to the house of the inhabitant, a car stopped abruptly and a settler told us: “Welcome to Israel!”. He spoke of his opinion on settlements and tried to show us his approval of a peaceful solution. Some soldiers wanted to step between us, but he quieted them down. Although he lived in a settlement established on the territory planned for a Palestinian state according to the Two-state solution, he told us he was a supporter of it.
After that, we had to use a very rocky road with lots of trash. Right next to us, there was a high fence through which we could see a tarred and tidy street with the same direction. On this one, Palestinians are forbidden to walk upon, though.

When we arrived at the house of the inhabitant, we went to his roof and got some water and mocha. After a while, we went to the Ibrahimi mosque where we had to pass another Israeli security station. We had to show our passports and the Palestinian members of our group had to answer a few questions like where they were from. Renad answered that she was from here, from Palestine. The soldier answered that he had never heard of it and gloated, when he pointed to her ID which did say nowhere “State of Palestine”.
The mosque was really huge and we could see a lot of Muslims praying. On our way back to the travel bus, we saw children hitting a donkey with sticks. We tried to stop them, but it only worked for a moment. For us, this underlined the effect the omnipotent violence had on the new generation of children. They grow up in horrible circumstances of oppression and never lived an autonomous and peaceful life like ours.
We walked back to our travel bus, passing the market street again. It was getting dark and the street was completely empty. Every shop was closed and the street was dark, giving some of us chills. But when we walked to the centre of the city it didn’t feel like being in a ghost town anymore because there were lots of people. By now, we could understand why someone had written “FIGHT GHOST TOWN” on the walls.
After this long day, all of us were very tired. We had received a lot of different impressions of Palestine. On the one hand, we saw how inhumane the lives of Palestinians under military occupation are and how Muslim as well as non-Muslim Palestinians are discriminated against. But on the other hand, we could also get to know how resilient and brave a lot of Palestinians were dealing with this situation of oppression.

Day 10-12

Post by Robin 

Day 10

At 10 o’clock, according to “German accuracy“, we began our trip to Bil’in, where the film „5 Broken Cameras” was filmed. We drove in two taxis and were dropped off in front of the building of „Friends of Freedom and Justice“. A guy called Kefah was expecting us. He told us about the history of the village and the demonstrations. He also shared with us his experiences he made in prison. He was locked up in a small bright room for more than 15 days and was accused over and over again of having done things he did not commit. He did not confess to the allegations and came back after about three weeks.
We joined demonstrators and followed the road to the wall. We took a lot of pictures and watched the demonstrators knocking with rocks against the gate. The contrast between the beautiful landscape on one side of the wall and the large new settlements on the other side was enormous. Then we met the director of “5 Broken Cameras” and got to ask him questions. Afterwards we drove back to the apartment and some went to sleep early, because the last night we didn’t get much sleep. Later, a few of us met in the living room to further discuss and refine the project ideas.

 

Day 11

Today we met at 10 o’clock for breakfast at a restaurant called “filfil” near the university. We had a huge selection of Palestinian food and some of us also had pancakes, which are not comparable to usual pancakes though. During the meal, we continued discussing our projects and then went to the university to work with the other Palestinian students. We discussed our work and everyone could give their feedback. There was an open exchange and we progressed very well. In the end, each group was divided into smaller groups, whereby a main project and a secondary project had to be chosen. Afterwards we drove to the apartment and then met with Saja just before 5 pm because she wanted to show us the old town of Ramallah. She guided us and no guide could have done that better. This tour gave us the opportunity to discover new sides of the city. Then we met in a karaoke bar with Reem, Rand and Shahd. It was a fun but expensive evening. The highlight was the performance of Melissa rapping the song „Gangster’s Paradise“.

Day 12

The day started at 8:30 am when we met outside the apartment to take a bus to Nablus. Renad had taken care of the organization and so we could start without complications. A bus took us to the headquarters of the Government in Salfeet, where they gave us a lecture on the political situation. They tried to present their opinion in order to approach this sensitive topic. Subsequently, the governor could still be asked questions. They offered a falafel sandwich and juice for breakfast and then we followed a bus with other exchange students from the Birzeit University. We stopped many times and we were told many different things about history and regulations regarding building houses. The highlight of the trip was the meeting with a man who did not want to move when an Israeli settlement building and a fence/wall was built around his house. He reported that he was only allowed to enter or leave the grounds at certain times to get into his own house. He had a very strong personality and he realized that he had to remain faithful to his ideals.

Then we went to the city of Nablus, where a friend of Renad led the group and showed us many beautiful spots in the city. We strolled through the streets and ate the best Knafeh (a dessert made out of white cheese, sugar and durum wheat. During the bus trip, many fell asleep and after our usual conversations in the evening, we went to bed early.

Day 7-9

Post by Maren 

Project ideas and work progress

After a weekend fully packed with new experiences and a Monday working on our presentations, we started our Tuesday slowly. We slept long, had breakfast and at midday we began with our work sessions. We finally finished the slides, we would present at the university the next day. For lunch we went to a restaurant called ‘Abu Hammam’. It is not exactly a restaurant, it’s more of a canteen. The interior and the atmosphere was less fancy but the food was really good and also very affordable. I had a meal called ”fried tomatoes”a thick soup made of tomatoes, onions and peperoni. It is served with bread, falafel sandwich or rice with green beans.

Afterwards, we walked through the city and could not resist to do a little bit of shopping.
The next day was the first day of working at Birzeit University (BZU) with the whole group of Palestinian and German students, and we gave our presentations. These were done in groups, and they were about scientific and creative methods, but also about research papers about previous research efforts from the University of Siegen in the West Bank. The aim of those presentations was to establish a common ground for all participants on how to work scientifically. The presentation format was Pecha Kucha. It means that you have to present with a maximum of 20 slides, with maximum of 20 seconds to explain each slide.
My presented research paper was ”Challenges of CI Initiatives in a Political Unstable Situation – Case Study of a Computer Club in a Refugee Camp” by Konstantin Aal, Marios Mouratidis, Anne Weibert and Volker Wulf. My fellow german students presented “Computer-enabled Project Spaces: Connecting with Palestinian Refugees across Camp Boundaries” by George Yerousis, Konstantin Aal, Thomas von Rekowski, David W. Randall, Markus Rohde and Volker Wulf and the paper “3D Printing as a Means for Participation in Developmental Settings – A Field Study” by Oliver Stickel, Dominik Hornung, Sarah Rüller, Volkmar Pipek and Volker Wulf.
The presented methods from the Uni Siegen students were interviews, field notes and observations. The Palestinian students presented the Walt Disney Method and the Future Workshop, Cultural Probes and Brainstorming/Brainwriting. Before each presentation, everybody had one slide for a brief introduction of him- or herself.

After lunch, we started the creative process to work on project areas. In the first step, we did a Brainwriting session. Everybody wrote his/her specific ideas or what he/she has noticed what problems there are in silence on small pieces of colored paper. After that we spread the ideas on our round table and started to cluster them into groups, putting them next to each other on the table and adding paper slips with respective group names above them to get a better overview.

Everyone looked up which possible ideas there were and then groups were formed around these topics. There were ideas about upcycling of different things like cans or clothes. Another topic was the refugee camp al’Amari and the computer club there: ideas were formed to do some workshops with the kids about animal rights, arts or videos. Other ideas that evolved were concerned with garbage, creating spaces, sexual liberation and environmental issues.

In the next step we stuck the ideas on the wall to get a better overview. We further narrowed the ideas down, by renaming clusters and rearranging cards, combining and excluding some, discussing possibilities and so on to further compress them. Everyone engaged in the planning of first steps, and also gave feedback on each of the project ideas, so in the end everyone had a good overview about all the topics. We formed loose groups around the topics to be able to work in smaller groups.

The final problem areas to work on were the following:

• Food Sharing/Food Saving
• Creating Spaces on Roof Tops
• Garbage & Rewarding Bins
• Computer Club in al-Amari refugee camp
• Any kind of Workshops
• 2nd Hand Shop for Clothes
• Cooperation with Bibliobus
• Sexual Liberation/Sex education
• Detailed information about Programs in BZU

The final and definitive project ideas were to worked out by the project groups after some research and pre-evaluation.

In the evening, some of us spontaneously decided to go out to a club for the first time. It was a little scary to walk in such a dark unknown territory. There was a DJ playing techno music. The party crowd was resembling party crowds anywhere around Europe. One detail was different: the club closed at 12:30 am. We learned that this was due to the fact that the police do not allow parties after that and club managers would have to pay a heavy fine if they disobeyed that rule.

Day 4-6

Post by Patricia

First impressions, first conclusions

The first weekend in Palestine went by so quickly, although we gained so many new impressions: We met our fellow students from the University of Birzeit and had the first intercultural exchanges with them, experienced how it is when a Falastini wins the Arabic Idol, visited the al-Am’ari Refugee Camp and got a guided tour through the camp, met the director of Goethe Institute in Ramallah, and of course we had our daily fresh juice, because ‘a day without juice is no day’.

museum juice

But back to the beginning. On Saturday morning, we had a meeting with the Palestinian coordinator of YALLAH. He gave us a sightseeing tour around the campus of the University of Birzeit. Waiting outside for the coordinator, I recognized the first main difference between the University of Birzeit and the University of Siegen; Security forces at the gate, entrance only with permission. Inside the university all of us were impressed by the size of the campus, the university even has an own art museum. Lucky us, there we met the artist of the current exhibition ‘Documentary Drawings of the Kafr Qasem Massacre’ Samia Halaby. For me it was a great pleasure to meet Samia Halaby in the museum, she is recognized as one of the Arab world’s leading contemporary painters. Listen to her how and why she had painted her pictures in that specific way, gave us deep insights into her thoughts and feelings during her painting process. You as the observer have the look from the Israelis soldiers to the Falastinis and most impressive she gave every victim her/his real name. After the sightseeing tour, we got together with our exchange students from the Birzeit University. Everyone, the German and the Falastini students, were of course excited meeting the students with whom we would spend at least two months together – in Ramallah and in Siegen. After the formal part, the first personal and cultural exchanges between the students started, everyone was curious and very interested in each other. For me it seemed to be a very good start for the whole group to create new projects.

rawabiIn the afternoon, we made a spontaneous trip to Rawabi, the first planned city in Palestine, with the slogan ‘Live Work Grow’. The construction began in January 2010, by 2015 the first people moved to their apartments. During the bus tour through the city, it appeared rather as a ghost town than live out the slogan, only a few children walking on the street and a father with his son playing football in the tiny garden in front of their house. I had the feeling that most of us felt a little bit strange walking in this city, which seemed to be so untouched and sterile. Also with the background knowledge that it might be realistic that the land on which the city was build had to be sold by the Falastini owners for a cheap price, left a bitter taste for me.

 

 

Although we had a long day, we could not miss the final show of the Arab Idol, two of the three finalists were Falastinis. In the center of the nightlife area there was a live transmission of the show on a big screen with at least hundreds of people watching it. After our dinner on the way home, we heard that one of the Falastinis, Yacoub Shaheen, won the Arab Idol show. A few minutes later all the streets were full with honking cars and people walking around with Palestine flags, totally freaking out. I think we can compare it to a won soccer world cup in Germany, but more in a political way. A Falastini guy won the contest, so in conclusion it might be an indirect confirmation of Palestine as an own country to the Falastini citizens from the Arabic world.

On Sunday, we visited the first time all together the al-Am’ari Refugee Camp in Ramallah. Since in the first Yallah exchange last year the students started to work there with the children in the Computer Club, which was built up in one of the projects last year, it is a major concern for some of us to refresh and continue this project. Three residents of the camp gave us a tour through the camp. I felt a little bit uncomfortable walking around, looking at all the people and their living conditions and taking photos. Furthermore, for apparent reasons it seemed to me that not all of the inhabitants of the camps welcomed us warmly, feeling like people in a zoo observed by outsiders. In a kind of kindergarten, we came into contact with some children of the camp who gave us a feeling of being more than welcomed warmly. They wanted to interact with us in every possible way, asking our names and telling us their names, taking photos with us or even taking the camera out of our hands to takes photos by their own. The most impressive moment for me was in the internet café, where I saw a boy round about 4 years old playing counterstrike on the computer. I took a picture of him, almost exactly in this moment he shied away from the computer. First I thought he wanted me to play the game, but after the second photo I recognized that he was frightened by the click sound of my camera. This moment and the knowledge that the click sound might be similar to the sound of a gun left in me a deep shock.

refugeecamp jungecounterstrike

On Monday, some of us, including me, had the first little low, after our arrival in Ramallah and the first days discovering our new surroundings. In our working room at the University of Birzeit we continued to work on our presentations for Wednesday. In the afternoon, we visited the Goethe Institute in Ramallah and talked to the director, reflecting our first impressions and discussing possible projects for the upcoming weeks. Furthermore, she delivered us very interesting and helping insights into the cultural and social aspects regarding to the life in Palestine, especially Ramallah. She lives here for about 2,5 years and feels more than comfortable living here. She encouraged us to explore the city and Palestine as good as possible, talking with the inhabitants, seeing everything with our own eyes. After those three days, full with impressions and new conclusions, I fell exhausted into my bed, but with the confident promise that I still have to discover a lot more in the next upcoming weeks.

Day 1-3

Post by Linda

Day 1:
A long trip over to Israel it was. But it was also a really good opportunity to get to know each other better. We as a group of twelve students in a small aircraft made our meetings in advance of that trip almost unnecessary. Finally arrived at the airport of Tel Aviv, some of us were stressed, some elated and some totally hyped up due to the lack of sleep. I count myself to the first two. I cleared immigration and customs without any issues. One question – one answer – and I was in. After that also the last little jumpiness fell off my shoulders. Overall, ten out of twelve members of our group had a similar experience. Unfortunately, two have of us have been kept in for hours for further screening. Marios, Sven, Gerrit and Maren stayed at the airport waiting for those two to clear immigration. After quiet a turbulent ride, the other half of the group arrived well in the apparently abandoned and way too cold Ramallah. Our home for the next four weeks. The streets were completely empty and our apartment completely cooled down. Already in the staircase with its broken windows there was not much hope for real isolation of the entire building. We killed some time and checked our cell-phones every second, just in case any news from the group left behind at the airport would have been sent our way. (Not one radiator, but Wifi – thank you, Palestine.) The first highlights during that time: a 24/7 juice bar at the end of the street and the first batch of tea from Miriam. Around 4 am we received the notification that the others finally made it through immigration and that they are heading our way. After we checked the rooms and assigned the rooms/beds, we finally fell into our beds by 6 am. Arrived in Ramallah!

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Day 2:
It took us until the late afternoon to settle and to realise that we have arrived. It still is way too cold. We all expected something completely different and packed accordingly. But during the day Ramallah shows a completely different side than upon our arrival in the middle of the night. It is super busy and colourful. One store next to the other and a huge crowd of people moving through the streets. It’s a lot to take in. Especially with the unmanageable traffic situation. And now the third highlight: the food! Marios and Sarah brought in a big variety of everything, so we accomplished to have it for two days. This day was dedicated to solely arriving and getting settled.

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Day 3:
The third day I started off with some early morning workout with Robin and Miriam. We went out jogging through the streets, which went surprisingly well due to the fact that all the sidewalks were almost deserted. Also, all the stores were closed, because it was Friday. Just before breakfast we also discovered our rooftop and enjoyed the view over the city. The sun also said hi and delivered some warmth. On today’s agenda: city excursions in small groups. Robin, Sven, Sarah, Miriam und me went through the still empty streets over to the Arab market, where we encountered completely out of a sudden a huge crowd of people. Behind some fruit stands we discovered the mosque, where the people gathered around. They were sitting in front of, behind and in the mosque to listen to the sermon, which was broadcasted loudly over speakers. Robin wanted to get a little bit out of the city – out to a more rural area. We followed his desire and pretty fast we arrived somewhere more rural. We looked around and also talked to one of the residents. Afterwards we’ve met with Marios and Renad and walked together through al’Amari refugee camp. Already after the first five meters, we immediately could recognise that we just entered a complete different world, a world of its own. The alleys on the right and left became narrower and narrower, but were stretched longer than expected. Not everyone seemed to be well-disposed towards us, and people appeared to be not amused of “visitors” in their own little city. Besides evil eyes they also have thrown carrots and rocks after us. Nothing happened and since this was driven by motives of individuals, the impression remains that we were not welcome at all. Nonetheless, it was amazing to see all the curious kids, playing soccer in the streets – just being kids, frisky and happy. Hereafter we went back to the base and exchanged our experience we just made with the others. They also made an experience of similar nature – not a pleasant, but formative experience – they got threatened by a little boy. On the whole, we discovered Ramallah quiet well and collected a lot of impressions already. After the nightcap routine, we all went to bed.

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