In the morning eight people shower in a hurry because there is no water in the lower apartment and we have to be at university at 10:30 to take a group photo. Nearly all students are present and it does not take long to take the photo in front of the IT-department’s building.
After that we are sitting together with some German and some Palestinian students to give Professor Wulf who arrived yesterday a brief overview of our impressions and the projects so far. We talk about many things that impressed us because they are so different than expected, but there are also things that are surprisingly equal to Germany. For example someone points out how the university, the students and the campus aren’t really differing from their German counterparts. Afterwards the groups present their projects and the progress so far. Professor Wulf seems to be happy with all the ideas and the progress so far.
To satisfy our hunger, we then go to the cafeteria before every group continues its work on the projects. I am a member of the “game”-group with Basil, Jasmin and Renad: Our main goal is to create a PC-game, meant for children, that supports cultural exchange between Germany and Palestine. We agreed upon creating a Point and Click adventure that tells a little story about everyday life in the refugee camp Al-Am’ari. We didn’t have a real idea for the graphics style and the story is not completely finished yet, so we write a storyboard while Ramsis (who is supporting us) draws sketches for the main character.
When we have to change rooms because of a lecture, Younes invites us to work in his office. By that time Younes is working on a Palestinian constitution which he hopes will be needed one day. He explains a lot to us about the Palestinian identity and his own religious views. He prevents us from working, but the insights are very interesting and totally worth it.
In the evening Iyad invited us to a concert at the University. It is an orchestra called “Palestinian Youth Orchestra” (http://ncm.birzeit.edu/en/palestine-youth-orchestra). It is divided into different age groups, each playing a few songs. Although we are all quite tired, it is really nice to listen to them. They play songs of various genres, for example the soundtrack of “Pirates of the Carribean”, or an original composition about peace in Gaza.
At 09:00 we get picked up by a bus which takes us to Bethlehem and Hebron. Renad is joining us as she has organized the trip. Unfortunately the bus is missing one seat so one of us is always sitting on a tiny foldable wooden table the driver brought.
On our way to Bethlehem we are driving past many settlements, protected by checkpoints, soldiers and huge walls. Someone tells a story about tear gas grenades. In moments like this, it becomes very clear to me that this is an occupied country. I try to imagine how it feels for the Palestinians to see all this every day.
We arrive in Bethlehem. It is very crowded and for the first time in Palestine I see many other groups of tourists. We want to visit the Church of the Nativity, but it is also very crowded as there is going to be a mass, so we leave again. Our guide Hassan wants to show us the milk grotto. Surprisingly it is also very crowded and noisy. Everyone there is taking selfies in front of everything else. People shout and talk very loudly. We see a woman taking a selfie in front of a locked corridor and one of us gets asked to take a photo of someone in front of a fuse box.
Afterwards Hassan takes us to a shop where some of us buy nice handmade souvenirs and scarfs from Palestine. The shop owner also offers us tea while we are waiting for some members of the group which got lost at the Church of the Nativity. Most of us are a bit disappointed by Bethlehem. Of course we did not see much of it, but it was just so crowded and so touristy that it seems impossible to feel some kind of spirituality or historic importance there.
On our way to Hebron our guide stops. He wants to show us a project he is working on. It is about rebuilding old, abandoned Palestinian villages and repopulating them to oppose the settlers that once made the residents leave. They already rebuilt one house and there is also a family living there. Hassan introduces us to the family’s father, Mohammed, who is very grateful for the opportunity to live there again. Hassan points out that we, as guests, are all witnesses of what is going on in the West Bank and that this is very important. Back in the bus Hassan talks about his political activities. He has been imprisoned 19 times because he is some kind of leader of non-violent resistance in his village. He points out, that every single non-violent action a Palestinian does to resist the occupation is an important victory and a step in the right direction to never lose hope.
Since Palestine is quite small and everything is very close to each other it does not take long to arrive in Hebron. Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank and very ancient. Because of its association with the biblical Abraham, it is viewed as a holy city in both religions, Judaism and Islam. Today the city is divided, due to an Israeli settlement right in the city center. About 400-700 jewish settlers and a lot more IDF soldiers are present there (around 4.000). The separation can be realized by huge walls, barbed wire fences, cameras and – of course – a lot of soldiers. While we are visiting the market and move along a street with small shops, there are always cameras above us and soldiers on the rooftops.
Because the settlers live so close to the Palestinians, there are huge grids all above the street to prevent the settlers from throwing stones and rubbish onto the Palestinian streets. Our guide takes us to his rooftop. From here the separation is very obvious. We see a trench through the city, filled with garbage. Right behind a huge fence on a roof there is a place for basketball where we can see Jewish kids playing with their kippah on.
The feeling of going through the streets is difficult to describe. There are streets which are so close to the settlement that Palestinians don’t go there and every shop is closed. The soldiers on the rooftops create an atmosphere of constant fear. There are also many Israeli flags, only to be seen from the Palestinian side. Everything here seems to be trying to say: “This city is ours. Leave!”.
After visiting the old town, we also enter the Ibrahimi mosque (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Patriarchs). The mosque is associated with Torah, Bible and Quran and is famous for its tombs. The mosque is also known for a massacre that happened in 1994 and left 29 Palestinians dead after a settler (Baruch Goldstein; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Goldstein) entered the mosque and opened fire. Today the mosque is divided, just like the city. While we take our shoes off and enjoy the cold stone floor we can hear Jewish prayers through a door next to us.
Before leaving Hebron, most of us buy one or more Keffiyehs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keffiyeh). Near Hebron there is the last Palestinian factory that produces them in a traditional way. All other Keffiyehs you can buy in Palestine are made in China nowadays. They are produced in a variety of color combinations to fit everyone’s taste and to reflect the political opinion.
Unfortunately on our way back to Ramallah some mechanical part of the bus breaks and it makes strange noises while the driver continues slowly. Just when some of us start to get nervous because there is going to be a steep downhill part of the road, the driver pulls over and we reach a workshop where the bus is soon to be fixed and we can go on. Back in Ramallah we are invited for dinner at Renads home. Her family prepared an awesome meal and we fill our bellies with rice, lentils, bread, yoghurt, olives and salad. Everything is homemade and tastes just great. Because we all are tired and the driver needs to return to Hebron on the same evening, we leave and call it a day.
Today most of the groups work on their own to achieve progress with their projects.
Jasmin and I want to visit the Al-Amari refugee camp to take some photos to create background scenes for our game. Jenny also joins us and we leave just at noon, which turns out to be a bad idea because it is very hot today. At the camp we start to take photos, but soon we begin to feel uncomfortable because many people are observing us in a skeptical way or talk to us in Arabic. Since we cannot explain the purpose why we take the pictures, we decide it would be better to leave. On our way out we notice bullet shells on the street.
In the evening we are invited to Iyad’s home. There is a wide variety of food and everything is very delicious. They even made chicken on top of beer bottles which some of us know from Germany.
Later, when we are back home, it is already quite late, but some of us cannot wait to watch the new episode of “Game of Thrones” – a television series some of us like. So we watch it together before going to bed.
– Moritz –