– Post by Jenny Z. –
21.10.2018 – Day 25
Today’s morning started with some more or less tragic surprises. Firstly Jenny K. found ants in our sugar while she was making coffee. To my amusement she decided to literally TALK them out of the cup and then continue to do her coffee with it. Next surprise was just waiting around the corner, as Razan was sick and Renad could not make it to our group meeting in Ramallah. She was enclosed into their village, called Hizma, as the checkpoint surrounding it has been closed (for no reason as far as we know). So we were basically bound to wait and hope for the checkpoint to reopen. After having lunch we got to know that Renad made it out of her village and was on her way to Ramallah. Today there will be two workshop sessions in our “YALLAH CLUB!” in the Al ‘Amari refugee camp – Mandala drawing and wooden crafts for girls. When Tamar, Jenny K. and me walked into the camp I realized that some of the inhabitants have meanwhile recognized us, as they were greeting us with a smile. We entered the children club in the camp, where Renad was already waiting with a dozen of girls. Some of them greeted Jenny K. and me with “Hi Jenny one, Hi Jenny two”. Leyla, one of our amazing volunteers, started the session with some easy mandala patterns. All the girls were super excited and kept on comparing their drawings with each other, complimenting their fellows. After a while one of the kids asked for my name and where I was from. As I had basic knowledge in Arabic I was able to understand and answer her. “Alemannia” – “Oh, allemannia?”, she asked. The girls surrounding her were seemingly enthusiastic and looked at me like I was yet an undiscovered species. As Renad explained to me later, the kids have barely seen any non-palestinians (aka white potatoe from Germany) except for Israeli soldiers and some of the rare tourists in the city. Thereby interacting with foreigners would be something completely new and exciting to them. While we were drawing we suddenly heard several shots coming from the outside. I instantly felt like freaking out but thought I should rather keep the cool in front of the girls. But to my surprise, none of the kids seemed to even bother. They just reacted like it is a regular thing, nothing to worry about and continued drawing their mandalas.
Later on I found out that there was someone released from prison, which is why they were shooting in the sky, as a sign of celebration. In the evening, we had a big group meeting with YALLAH!. Luckily this ended with a dinner at 3Ramallah for some of the germans and palestinians. The dinner and the palestinian beer (did not know that they were good in that, damn) was suuuuper delicious and the waiters were hilarious. One of them tried to talk a little german to us as his girlfriend was german. He said he loved the people, but the language simply sucks. Even “butterfly”, one of his favorite creatures were destroyed by our language – “Schmetterling, what kind of a word is that?” 😀 Well he made a point, so we gave in. Then Moath and me discovered another interesting thing about the language, as we appearantly have the same surnames. The profession “Zimmermann” also exists in Arabic as “Sandouka”. So basically we might as well introduce ourselves as Jenny Sandouka and Moath Zimmermann next time.
22.10.2018 – Day 26
Today started quietly, as all the others from my apartment were at the science day. I decided to stay at home though to rest, write fieldnotes and process the past days. The others later on told me how it went and that they baked edible spoons with the kids in order to raise awareness and reduce plastic waste. Soon Yara appeared and we went for lunch at Angelo’s, an Italian restaurant which makes fairly good lasagne. In the evening the eating continued, as Samer brought Maklouba (say thanks to your mum!), a traditional Palestinian rice and chicken dish. It translates to “upside down”, cause it is literally turned upside down when putting on a huge plate. We all sat together and had food, while Renad told us a story about Rita, her 4 year old sister. I cannot remember the exact words, but the dialogue was roughly as follows: Rita asked “Are we going to the zoo in Jerusalem on Friday?”. Renad replies “I do not know yet, we have to see if we get a permission” – “What is a permission?” – “You know, when you want to visit someone at their home, you need an invitation” – “Okay, but who gives us this permission to go to the zoo?” – “The Israelis” – “What is an Israeli?” – “Israeli’s are people, not only but also the soldiers that you see here in our village” – “Oh no, those assholes? Then why are we waiting, they will not give us a permission anyways”. We all laugh and move on with eating.
I guess that is how you – or at least I – deal with the things that go on here daily; you laugh about it and then move on. Later on we were visited by an Israeli activist, who is fighting for the Palestinian cause. We, meaning the germans and some of the palestinians, had a six hour talk with her, that I would claim challenged all of our perceptions and answered as well as raised a whole new set of questions. Basically I am even more confused now, but on a higher level. What stroke me the most was the way she talked about the Israeli non-education as well as ignorance of the people living there: “I was rich, I had a good life. Why would I care? It is none of my business”. She also said that until she became an activist, she did not even see Palestinians anywhere; they were basically wiped out of her perceptions. She stated that she as an Israeli personally now feels a deep obligation to be an activist. In this context, she also mentioned the current political situation in Germany. Following her experiences, she warned us about the upraising right wing movements and explained how easily such a thing could turn out in actual actions. As someone who is anti-zionist, she said she had even been accused by germans of being anti-semitic. This obviously can only be considered as a joke, she said “my grandma was burning in Auschwitz, not yours!”. She also emphasized how influential the israeli mass media was and how they were manipulating the issue by its use of language, focus on certain aspects, false accusations, etc. Even though the talk with her was incredibly motivating and inspiring, it still bothered me, that my rather often posed question “But why?” (which I ask too much according to my fellows :D) could not always be answered. This is the case a lot of the time, where the simple answer “bedun laesh”, comes into place, which translates to “without why”.
23.10.2018 – Day 27
After the six hour talk yesterday I needed a lot of sleep, as I felt just like Makloubah – turned upside down. 😀 Later on during the day the VR-team (Samer, Julian and Majid) took me to Jaffa/Tel Aviv, as they were taking some footage there. When we were stuck in traffic, I did some “drive through shopping” and bought a 10 shekel (~2.5€) carpet from one of the palestinians who was selling them while standing inside the traffic jam. Only a few meters further down the road we entered a checkpoint with heavily armed soldiers. Palestinian rollercoaster at its best… And I guess that is exactly it! Sometimes you feel like you are just in a normal city, anywhere around the world; you feel almost nothing of the occupation. And then on another day/in another hour, you find yourself in a debate with soldiers or inside a house waiting for the teargas outside to go away. It feels like you are constantly living inside a moving rollercoaster. And to be honest, sometimes I really miss the steady life in Germany. I never thought I would say that, as I didn’t even miss germany much when I was abroad for 6 months in Australia, but after living here in Palestine for three weeks, I can really say I DO miss Germany. I say that in a true feeling of gratefulness, my homecountry just seems like such a paradise to me now. I guess you cannot really have this feeling when you are just living your good life and once in a while hear by others or the media how lucky you are and how bad other people’s living conditions are; while you are sitting at home in your cozy bedroom. After being here I realized that the only way you can truly FEEL it, is to go through it and experience the life other people have.
After we entered the israeli side everything suddenly changes. Not only the colourful design of the separation wall seems nice on this side, there are also loads of trees, tidy streets and most importantly no checkpoints nor soldiers anywhere in sight. Only a 45min ride from Ramallah, I feel like I am in a different country all over. When we arrived in the city we saw a lot of old buildings, the incredible port of Jaffa, its alleys in the oldtown and the beautiful beach of Jaffa/Tel Aviv. All of it looked super nice and we saw a lot of tourists from around the globe who seemed to enjoy their vacation. The beach was full of pretty people and it was surrounded by a pretty impressive skyline; this is what Miami Beach probably looks like I thought. After the guys took some footage of all the incredible places, we sat down at the waterfront to enjoy the view. Unfortunately we could not. Majid and me stated that it just felt strange. Not only that most of our palestinian YALLAH! participants are not allowed to come here. It also felt like we were lost in an Instagram barbie world full of skyscrapers, pretty people, fitness, beautiful beaches and girls in yoga poses. While only 65 km away in Gaza and 45km away in Ramallah, the world is totally different. I felt like I was in two different countries, on two different continents. I also noticed the appearance of mosques as well as woman that were wearing a headscarf, everywhere in the oldcity and on the beach of Jaffa. I imagined how an average Israeli (as well as tourist) must feel about it. Just judging from this superficial impression s/he probably believes Israelis and Palestinians live together in peace and harmony; with the same rights. And I would assume this is exactly the impression the Israeli government aims for.
The second we left Tel Aviv I instantly felt a sign of relief. Almost like I had a slight feeling of anger in my gut for the whole time being there. I can only imagine how it must feel when you are actually Palestinian and you cannot live or even go there (at least not without a permission). Even if you got a permission from the Israeli government and you can go through the various checkpoints, I cannot imagine how hurtful it must be to see all of that glamour and then driving back through the checkpoints, back to the reality.
Back in Ramallah we went straight to the BBQ with Mahmoud and his family. He is the head of the children centre in the Al ‘Amari refugee camp in Ramallah and invited us to have dinner with him in the city garden, as we are currently working to sustain the YALLAH CLUB! for refugee kids there. We arrived late and all of our german fellows were already soaked in chicken, kofta and hummus. Plenty of kids were playing and happily jumping around in the park. We directly started to join the food parade as we were starving (the food in Israel was ridiculously expensive). All of the dishes the family prepared were super delicious and we were served by the whole family like we were some sort of german princesses 😀 I really enjoy the Palestinian hospitality here. We were invited to so many dinners from the families of our fellow YALLAH! participants. And all of them were amazing and super delicious! We talked for a while about the project and how much we enjoyed working in Al-Amari with the kids. I personally really enjoyed our women power group, consisting of awesome palestinians and germans and I believe we have reached a lot so far. When I went back to our apartment with Renad (a Palestinian girl, who now lives in Cologne), we talked a little about the delicious BBQ, our day and the feeling of experiencing Palestine after having lived in Germany. Ironically we agreed to discuss it any further when we’re back in Cologne, while having a palestinian aka syrian falafel together.