Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: June, 2016

My Bethlehem project continues

I spent the last two days exploring Jerusalem and then had my first day teaching at the Alrowwad Centre at Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, State of Palestine.
The Jerusalem days came courtesy of Green Olive Tours, as the outfit I organised my adventure through, the Green Olive Collective, is an offshoot of it.  I did wonder if I really needed two days exploring that city, as this is my fourth trip here, but in the end I’m very pleased that I did, because we went to areas that were new to me, and though there was some inclusion of Israeli West Jerusalem even those parts were free of Zionist jingoism.  The Extreme Orthodox Jewish area was in fact positively  pro-Palestinian, as they regard the State of Israel and Zionism as abominations, given that they firmly believe that the Temple will not be restored until God’s Messiah arrives!
 The guide was a youngish Jewish guy who had previously worked for an NGO that investigated, reported and exposed the regular and continuing illegal Israeli government demolitions of Palestinian homes. A good guy, and a reminder that not all Israelis are rabid Zionists.
My first class at Alrowwad wasn’t drama, which I’m supposedly here to do, but helping with a visual art class. Fancy finger painting really, but great fun and the kids were delightful.
The drama lessons do though start tomorrow, to which I’m really looking forward. I’ll have to focus on non-verbal drama games because the kids only have a few words of English. They can all say “Hello”, “What’s your name?”, and “Where you from?”, but after that their fluency varies enormously. Should be great fun though!
In several ways it is good to be in Bethlehem, for most of the time it is free of obvious Israeli presence, as it is part of Area A, which means full Palestinian state control. Israeli troops can still come, and do so, “because they can”, having overwhelming military might, and the attitude to go with it.
However, because the largely Christian tourism has not fully picked up from its downturn during the Second Intifada, it is not especially prosperous, but the again, what part of Palestine is, and what part can be given Israel’s stranglehold? It is all very depressing, but the resilience of the people amazes me, as does their hospitality and friendliness.

Now in Bethlehem

Now in Bethlehem, I made my first visit to the Alrowwad Culture Centre at the Aida Refugee Camp, where I will be teaching drama. Everyone is very welcoming and I have a stack of drama games, creative drama activities and play building projects, so hopefully it will all go well.
The Centre seems quite well endowed, with a drama room / small theatre, small library / computer room, a multimedia room for TV , film and radio. They even have an online radio station. I think it is largely funded by EU donor nations, plus its own fundraising from supporters.
The camp itself, which was established by the UN in 1950, is a poor place, with apartment blocks cheek by jowl and most in a very bad state of repair, naturally enough, I guess. Looming over it all is the Israeli Separation Wall, built right alongside the camp as Israel built it well over the 1948 Green Line, taking land from Palestine as it did so. More on the wall below.
I’ve rented a small low budget flat for the two weeks I’ll be here. Its a bit shabby but clean, and I have a fridge, kettle, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a huge double bed and a functional bathroom – and a fabulous view over large swathes of Bethlehem.
Its about a 15 walk to the camp, but the dominant feature here in the north of Bethlehem is the Israel Separation Wall, complete with gun towers and observation points. It is everywhere, looming over everything, at least 6 metres high. Built of grey concrete, but enlivened by fabulous graffiti and Banksy type political illustrations. I’ve even found a Banksy Shop, but have yet to find it open.  
A small but telling point: during an early morning (6.30 am) walk I found a traffic jam on the local main road near my flat. Walking along a bit I could see up ahead the flashing lights of ambulances and what looked like police type cars. Back home in Australia it would have indicated an traffic accident, but here it could have been an Israeli military incursion. Though Bethlehem is in Area A, which is supposed to mean 100% Palestinian control, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) moves in at will. A couple of weeks ago, for example, they killed two Palestinians.
One final point. The name of the IDF is pure propaganda, for it is a tool of expansionist aggression, and so has little to do with defence.

Blogging my next project in Palestine

I’m in Occupied East Jerusalem on my fourth visit to Palestine. This time I’m a volunteer at the Alrowwad Theatre and Culture Centre in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, to which I’ll travel tomorrow.

Getting here wasn’t easy. Well, the flights from Wagga via Sydney, Dubai and Amman were fine, as was the 30-minute drive from Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport to the Allenby Bridge across the so-called River Jordan. I say ‘so-called’ because there’s no water in the Jordan, it having been pumped dry by the illegally occupying Israelis.

The problem was the four hour(!) interrogation by the Israeli border force, including a session with the Israeli army. They really don’t like international peace volunteers, figuring we will expose their cruel inhumane and largely quite illegal tactics as they continue to defiantly occupy the Palestinian Territories.

Anyway, after this harrowing experience, when I did feel that this time they would really not let me in, I made my way up to East Jerusalem for a day’s rest before travelling on to Bethlehem. In theory that town is in Area A of the State of Palestine, which means that it has full Palestinian sovereignty, and no Israeli presence at all. And pigs might fly – the Israeli army (full title Israeli Defence Force, acronym IDF) comes in and out at will. Last week it raided the Aida Camp, killing two Palestinian civilians.

IDF is of course a euphemism, for it is nothing more than a brutal army of aggression, hell-bent on fulfilling the Greater Israel policy of the extreme Zionists in power in Israel.

Despite being jet-lagged and emotionally knocked about by the IDF’s interrogations I’ve just had a great day in (illegally occupied) East Jerusalem. I love this place and lament what it could be like without the Israeli presence, which means that it is very neglected and run-down. Despite that it is a vibrant community, jammed packed with places of historic and cultural significance.

Highlights for me today were the Old City, including revisiting the Dome of the Rock, both a real pleasure by being there early in the morning, the Educational Bookshop in Saladin Street and its sister shop at the American Colony Hotel, and, a new one for me, the Palestine Heritage Museum.

This museum, funded by the EU, is a modern place in an old building, well curated and a fascinating educational and cultural experience. Having found it on my fourth visit to this city I’ll need to visit it again and again on future visits.

My next entry to this journal-blog will be during my settling in to Bethlehem.