– Post by Julian –
06.10.2018 – Day 10
I got up about half past nine in the morning and shuffled up to the other apartment, where we mainly stay and meet for meetings or to chill out. Arriving there, the others were already sitting on the sofas, washed and in shirts and long trousers, drinking their coffee. I knew that something was going to happen today, but I didn’t have anything on the screen and so we talked about going to the HCIE (Higher Council for Innovation and Excellence) conference later. The conference would start at half past nine. Tired and sleepy as I was, I was wasting my time and taking too long to get ready, so most of the group had already gone to the conference by the time I took a shower at about a quarter past ten and went back up in my shirt. All I found was Majid, who, like me, had come out of bed a little harder that morning. We then took a taxi, but drove in the wrong direction because the app of the conference gave a different address than the actual conference location. After a short consultation with the others who were already there, we corrected our destination address and drove to the Red Crescent Center. This is a center of the Red Crescent Movement, which is part of the humanitarian Red Cross Movement, which in Germany is known to most people for its work in blood donation and rescue services. In front of the entrance to the imposing building stood many heavily armed forces of the Palestinian autonomous government, who were probably responsible for security and at the same time gave us a feeling for the importance of the conference. We walked straight past them and up a long staircase towards the main entrance. Above the entrance was a huge banner on which the conference was advertised. We walked along the entrance to the left, past the reception and then to the left. Since we were told by the others that there was still plenty of room on the gallery, we went straight up the stairs and then walked towards an entrance to a hall. The door was opened for us, we looked in briefly, but saw no one from our group and since it was probably the ground floor of the hall, we went up another staircase, and again to the hall door. There we were subjected to a security check by the security and were then allowed to enter. The gallery was actually quite empty and so we saw directly our project managers Prof. Volker Wulf, Konstantin Aal and Dr. Iyad Tumar sitting on the left side. We went to them, sat right behind them and talked to them. Dr. Iyad translated some of the Arabic speeches for Volker and he then passed the information on to us from the front.
It became particularly interesting when the European envoy spoke, whose speech was to be understood on the one hand in English and thus for us and on the other hand reflected the view of the EU on Israel and Palestine (see above). Thus he assured the autonomous regions of further European support, emphasized the illegality according to international law and non-recognition of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and spoke out in favour of a two-state solution. For his statements and encouragements, he also received much applause from the audience, especially at the beginning, so that he argued that it might take longer if so much applause were given. He was followed by the Minister of Education of the Autonomous Regions (see below). Originally, President Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to speak in person, but he apparently hadn’t made it.
After the minister all the speakers of the opening ceremony had had their say and there was a coffee break. So we all slowly went down to the ground floor and refreshed ourselves with coffee, tea and juices in the hallway. In addition there were puff pastry pockets filled with cheese, chocolate croissants and cinnamon snails. Afterwards we made a round through the exhibitor area and took a look here and there at different start-ups, companies or institutions around education, innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the exhibitor areas and especially the corridors between them were so narrow that there was hardly an opportunity to stop at one of the stands and get some information from one of the exhibitors, as the flow of people was being driven further. Of course it was quite difficult to push through the alleys with a backpack on your back, in which our camera equipment was located.
After the round through the exhibitors we went back to the big hall and listened to further lectures, among others about economics and innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises and the problems in the education system of Palestine from the point of view of a Canadian professor with Arab background, where we also took some material for our VR Experience. This was followed by a very interesting lecture by Yasmin Mustafa, but I only heard the beginning of it, as I was then called to lunch by the others. One of the members of the HCIE committee had invited us and so I went with Majid to the fifth floor. Since there was already no more room at the other’s table, we were taken to another table and then enjoyed the rich buffet. Afterwards we all went down again together and waited for the beginning of the following lectures or symposia. But nothing happened in front of the big hall, only from time to time some conference visitors came there and looked if something was going on in the hall. After some time we noticed that the hall had also been locked from the inside, so I went downstairs and asked at the counter where the next lectures should take place. Thereupon I was directed to a seminar room, to which a lady led me and thereupon I also told the others, none of whom knew anything about the seminar room. The room was also too small to accommodate all those interested, there were still chairs brought, but some were waiting outside the door in the foyer and talked there. The theme of the symposium was innovation and how it could be sustainably promoted in start-ups, for example. After the symposium we all made our way back to our apartments. Originally it was planned to have dinner together with Volker and Konstantin, because Volker would travel to Siegen again at night. But in the end we stayed in our apartments and talked together about the last ten days and reflected together what went well and what could have been better. It was also important for Volker to emphasize again that we should not go into possible danger areas and should always pay attention to our safety – even if the situation in Palestine always brings with it a certain unpredictability. As on so many evenings before, we talked for a long time after saying goodbye to Volker and went to bed late at night.
07.10.2018 – Day 11
This Sunday I got up early because we wanted to take the bus to Jerusalem at nine o’clock. Samer had an appointment there in the morning to extend his visa for Germany, for this reason he was already there. He would then be our guide in Jerusalem, because he grew up there and knows his way around there. Together with Konstantin, who would travel from there to Tel-Aviv for his flight to Germany, Marios, Sarah and Majid I headed for the bus station. Today I had dressed especially obviously as a tourist, so that I would not attract so much attention in Jerusalem, if we would film there at the religious or safety-critical, public places. The bus station was only two side streets away from us, surrounded by a wall and at this early hour quite chaotically provided with entering and leaving buses. Both minibuses and coaches were waiting for the passengers. Our line had probably left recently, at least there was no bus in its place anymore, so that we had to wait for the next about ten minutes.
When he arrived, there was a big crowd at the entrance, as we should experience it several times today, although there was more than enough space for everyone. The older ladies made German schoolchildren big competition while pushing. Then we drove for the first time in daylight the way from Ramallah to Jerusalem. On the way we saw colorfully painted walls, with most diverse motives, which stood for me partly for hope on a beautiful future and partly for grief due to the occupation.
We also passed a girls’ school, which is sponsored by UNRWA. A short time later we arrived at the wall that separates the Israeli and Palestinian territories. There we had to arrive through the Qalandiya Checkpoint. A long backlog had already formed, so that we came only bit by bit closer to the checkpoint. As a bus of the public transport we could get into a lane on the far right, which separated us from the rest of the traffic and made us a little faster than the other cars and trucks (see below). Directly at the checkpoint two soldiers boarded the bus and checked all passengers’ passports from front to back.
Once again, I had a strange feeling when I saw the soldiers in their heavy protective gear and with their assault rifles on, running through the bus. Sarah was shocked when one of the rifles touched her thigh from above with its muzzle during our passport control. The passport control was however quickly finished and after the soldiers had gotten out again, the bus drove only some meters behind the checkpoint and let all passengers get out. We then had to walk a few meters to another bus station, which was directly on one corner of the wall. There some bus drivers sat under a provisional pavilion on old sofas and armchairs, talked and drank coffee. Another bus driver stood in front of it and spoke to us in English when he saw that we arrived at the bus station somewhat disoriented. He explained to us that we would have to wait a little longer and that the bus would come to Jerusalem right away. When we were pushed into the bus by older ladies and sat in the back row, we drove into Jerusalem and at different stations some more people climbed in, so that even a few had to stand. Near the Damascus Gate was the last stop where we got off and Samer was already waiting for us.
He had dealt with his appointment in a few minutes, because he had received it from the administration in West Jerusalem and there was hardly any waiting time. With the administration in East Jerusalem, however, waiting times of over five hours were normal. We then moved a few streets further on to a falafell restaurant, to which Samer invited us, as he had eaten regularly in this restaurant before when he had worked in Jerusalem. Down in the restaurant was the bar behind which they worked and next to it only a narrow corridor. Samer was not only an old acquaintance with the employees, but he also met a former colleague in the rather small restaurant. At the back right a small narrow staircase led to the first floor, where we made ourselves comfortable at the row of windows (see below).
After the best falafels we had tasted in Palestine so far, we moved on to the Damascus Gate. On the way we already met the big, old city wall of Jerusalem, which today divides the city into the Israeli part in West Jerusalem and the Palestinian part in East Jerusalem, whereby the whole city is controlled by the Israeli army.
Arriving at the Damascus Gate, we filmed this, the lively hustle and bustle before and directly under the gate with our 360° camera. There were three hut-like viewpoints in front of the Damascus Gate, one on the left and one on the right side of the gate, next to the stone bridge leading into the gate. At first we were not sure if the soldiers would address us, because we always move away from our camera when we film, so that we are not visible on all shots, but the places we want to show. But nobody was bothered by our camera, only an Asian couple looked curiously before they continued to dedicate themselves to their Selfies. Our way led us through the Damascus Gate and then into the old town. Through narrow, built over or with cloths or tarpaulins overstretched lanes we ran past all kinds of spice, jewelry and souvenir dealers.
Shortly before the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we followed the stream of tourists through a narrow archway, which like an eye of a needle released the crowds into the forecourt of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On the square we filmed again with our camera, before we went into the church and took some pictures there as well. We kept the camera always well in view, because on this Sunday morning the church was flooded with tourists – there was nothing to see or hear of religious silence or even devotion anywhere.
Therefore we went from the washing stone to the shrine of the Ascension, pushed ourselves up to the crucifixion point and then went down again into the lower vaults, in whose place the Holy Helena Jesus cross should have been found.
After about an hour we stepped out again into the fresh air and went on through the narrow alleys. We went to Samers uncle, who owns a small bakery with a shop in the old town, where we were warmly welcomed and drank tea in a relaxed atmosphere. After the short break we walked on through the old town and arrived at a big old castle. We passed it, filmed at a place directly at the edge above a car tunnel and then went back to the old castle. It was called Davidszitadelle. We walked around the castle and went in to film there. At the entrance a security man checked our backpacks. When he saw our camera case in my backpack, he asked what it was. I told him it was a camera. He then asked further questions, Samer, who held our camera, opened the protective cover and showed it to the man. Samer later explained to me that the man said that you had to pay for shots with professional camera equipment, but we could get in with the small camera. He had only shown the security man a camera lens so that he would not get suspicious. We then paid admission at the reception and stepped out onto the wall paths in the inner courtyard. From above we could look into the castle courtyard, where art was exhibited in the form of metal males, between ruins reminiscent of small houses or corridors similar to those in the Colosseum. We then went up to the highest tower, because one should have a great view from there, as we had thought before. And we were not disappointed, the view over the old town of Jerusalem was madness (see below).
It was the perfect place to film over the rooftops of Jerusalem, and we did. With a view of the most important places and buildings of the monotheistic world religions on one side, and three large Israeli flags attached to the walls of the tower, as well as the modern office and hotel buildings on the other. After we had filmed enough up there, taken photos and enjoyed the view, we went back down to the wall corridors above the inner courtyard of the castle. We decided to leave David’s Citadel again and not visit any of the exhibitions in the large building as we still wanted to go to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall for filming. So Samer led us in the direction of the mosque through the narrow streets again. When we turned to the mosque we saw a kind of checkpoint about 50 meters in front of us with a mobile barrier fence and five or six soldiers standing there. We stopped for a moment, but then went on to them and asked why the road to the mosque was blocked. They told us that visitors were only allowed to go to the mosque at certain times, otherwise only Muslims would be allowed. We decided to visit the mosque with the whole group and went back a few meters and around two corners to the entrance to the Wailing Wall.
There was already a longer queue before the security check, so that we decided not to go to the wall, but past the queue, in order to only look at the wall from a distance. We would also film them when we return with the whole group, because we had an appointment with Tarek Bakri at 4 pm and we had to walk back to East Jerusalem. So we turned around and Samer brought us back on the fastest way. We walked across a courtyard to a kind of shopping mall where there was a cinema, a café and several shops. At the entrance we met Tarik Bakri and sat down with him in the café. The café was very modern, many young people seemed to meet there or above all to work.
In the café we exchanged ideas: we told Tarek what we wanted to do in our project and he told us about his project in return. I had heard about him before in Germany, but now he himself told us how he got involved: He had always been interested in the history of Palestine and which families used to live in which villages. He came across the village of Al-Walajeh, which was still part of Jerusalem in 1948. On this basis he discovered that during the foundation of the state of Israel about 500 villages were completely destroyed. He then showed a friend of his from Canada, who had Palestinian roots, the home of his grandparents and great-grandparents in Haifa. Tarek showed him the city where his family had lived before and together they searched for the house where they lived. Inspired by this, Tarik searched for more stories of this kind and found more and more Palestinians in the Diaspora, but also in the Palestinian territories who would like to see their homeland, that of their parents or grandparents (again). Based on a picture, a route description or a description of the building itself, Tarek then sets off and searches for these buildings. Some are destroyed, but many he finds again and encounters Israelis who live there today. He then often rings their doorbell and tries to talk to them about it – but in almost all of them he falls on deaf ears, they are not interested in it or say that they live legally in this house, because the house was given to them by God.
After spending some time in the café, we wanted to go with Tarik to a museum across the street, which was closed, and so we went on to his office, which was not far away. There he showed us pictures, videos and artefacts from his stories he had experienced so far. He gave us postcards from three old women whom he had enabled to return to the place where their village used to be and then took them to the sea, which they saw for the first time in their lives. His stories and videos were amazing and we were all emotionally touched. He told us that he wanted to attract people’s attention with these stories, which showed individual fates and the stories of families and villages. And once he had the people’s attention and they were fascinated by the stories he was telling, they would also be interested in the historical background of Palestine. He told one or two stories and it became late and dark. In between we heard about protests and traffic problems at the Qalandiya checkpoint in the late afternoon and agreed that we would not return until later in the evening. We agreed to cooperate with Tarek and to look over his shoulder during a search.
Afterwards we got together with him a Shawarma and sat down at the Damascus Gate. On the way we noticed that Tarek was well known by everyone, people on the street came up to him and shook his hand. By sharing his stories mainly through social media, and some of which have gone viral, he reaches a wide public and is accordingly a public figure in Palestine. Many came to him, thanked him or wished him all the best for his work. We sat on the stairs in front of the Damascus Gate and talked about the things that had happened there recently. Thus we learned, for example, that the three soldier’s cabins there were built only in the last 2 years, before they did not exist there yet.
After we had eaten up we ran back, said goodbye to Tarek and got on the next bus at the bus station in the direction of Ramallah. There we met some young people who made fun of us foreigners in the bus and after a long day we arrived back in Ramallah, where we shared our many impressions with the others in the apartments and then fell into bed tired and a bit agitated.
08.10.2018 – Day 12
On this Monday we started rather calmly. After the long day yesterday, we slept well for a while. Around 11 o’clock I met Majid in the upper apartment and we worked after a bowl of cornflakes on our field notes. Around noon we did a little shopping tour through the city, bought bread, hummus, olives, cheese and had a snack around noon. After that we worked on our notes and blog a bit further. In the afternoon the first Palestinian students came and we told them about our experiences in Jerusalem, about Tarek Bakri and his stories.
In the evening we held a big team meeting together with (almost) everyone, where we talked about when we would make which trips and who could come when. And of course, which places we want to and can visit together and which other activities might be interesting for all of us. After extensive discussions we agreed on a trip to Nablus next week. Afterwards the meeting turned into a cosy get-together. Since the team meeting was planned for yesterday, but our VR Experience Team could not participate because of the long trip to Jerusalem, we met afterwards in our VR Team. The other teams had already discussed the day before. In our team we agreed then on which trips we would make in the coming weeks and who would take over which tasks, also to advance the programming of a possible app. After we had clarified this, we agreed on the trips in the coming week, who would do the driving and who would participate in it. At this point it was also clear to us that in addition to our trips with the VR team, we would also have to film during the trips with the whole group as we would not be able to visit these places twice. Afterwards we dissolved our team meeting and the Palestinian students started their way home while we sat together for a while before we went to bed.