Nablus, Project HOPE

Humanitarian Opportunities for Peace and Education (HOPE)

18 January 2009 -

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Nablus, 20 January 2009
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Nablus is situated in the northern West Bank, part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It has a population of 134 000, of which about 45 000 live in the four refugee camps: Askar, Balata, Al Ayn and Al Farah.
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19 January 2009

Project HOPE, Old Askar Refugee Camp

There are about 14 629 people living in the Askar Refugee Camp in Nablus according to UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East)

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Boys from Askar Refugee Camp
Yes, very charming
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The school
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In class the children are drawing - quite a few of them make drawings of Gaza. They get the uncensored stories and images from Gaza through the media and they are very much affected by the situation there.
Their experience of insecurity and fear regarding their own future here in Nablus, has naturally increased due to the knowledge of what happens to their fellow Palestinians in Gaza.
How can we give these children a feeling of security and trust, a space for joy, enthusiasm and hope, far from the fear and vulnerability of their everyday reality? This is the important challenge which we face here at Project HOPE.
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One of the children wrote "Be patient, people of Gaza. God is with you."
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25 January 2009

Sense of freedom challenged

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Israeli military base on top of a mountain overlooking Nablus.

My sense of freedom is being challenged.
I experience this city, Nablus, located between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim - these are mountains controlled by the Israeli military and we can see their stations on the top of the hill - a constant reminder that we are being controlled, that we are surrounded by the military machinery. Indeed the people living here are being controlled; every move they make, like a 'big brother' constantly watching over them. And at night invading the city, making arbitrary arrests, frightening and terrorizing the population, especially the populations of the refugee camps, which are claimed to produce the most fighters and violent resisters to the occupation.

It is unsettling for me, coming from the outside and I wonder what it feels like for people who are living in this reality, who are trapped in this city, who have never in their life experienced the kind of freedom that I have; the feeling of immense openness, limitlessness of movement, the priviledge of crossing borders, of being a world citizen. The people I meet here grew up under colonial military occupation, deprived of basic human rights like freedom of movement, deprived of the right to self- determination. They grow up with the humiliation of checkpoints, where they are treated like criminals, being exposed to mistrust, abuse and domination. Some of the men I meet here tell me that they avoid leaving this city so that they don't have to suffer the dread and humiliation of the checkpoints. Others tell me accounts of brutality, shootings and killings that have occured at the two main checkpoints around Nablus during the past years.
The people from this area have experienced the destruction of land which has been taken from them. They have been separated from families and friends by the illegal development of a separation wall, by settlements, settler roads and checkpoints. They have grown up enduring attacks on their social, cultural and political institutions as well as on their national identity.
They have grown up in the middle of the everlasting presence of violence, force and abuse of power, the tyrrany of coercion by the powerful over the less powerful.

When I tell them that I actually belong to two continents; to Europe (Norway) and Australia, it is hard for them to grasp and seing myself through their eyes makes me feel spoilt and guilty: why do I have the right to live in such freedom? Why did I grow up with the idea that I can do anything, and that the whole world is before my feet, while the children here grow up learning that their movement is restricted within a city of 28.6 km². If you move beyond the borders the soldiers will shoot at you. If you go up to the mountain you will be shoot at, which is why the people I talk to here tell me that they have never been there, they do not dare access the mountainside surrounding their city.
Facing their reality so vastly different from my own, how can I even begin to tell them about Norway, about the high level of national identity and national pride that exist there, the way we celebrate our independence and our constitution.
Also the way that most of us never question nor reflect upon the priviedge, wealth and freedom to which we are born.

After a long day; listening to the refugee children fighting for attention in the classroom, trying to teach them something, trying to understand a completely unfamiliar language, encountering people who tell me about their feeling of hopelessness, their resolve not to partake in any from of resistance activism due to lack of belief that it will make a difference, navigating through the chaos and noise of the city and in the evening; the sudden absence of electricity in the entire city; the total darkness.
Going to bed, listening to Ane Brun singing and in my mind travel to Sandøya, on a Summers day.

30 January 2009

A tour in the old city
It's Friday and we go on a tour in the 'old city' of Nablus. A Palestinian man from Project HOPE is our guide. He talks to us about the significance of this place. He talks of its history and of destruction as a result of occupation especially during the 2nd Intifada. He was still a teenager at the time when the Israeli army invaded the 'old city' with tanks and armoured vehicles driving through the narrow lanes, crashing into buildings, destroying many of the cultural and historical significant buildings. He tells us about brutality and violence; Israeli soldiers who moved from house to house bombing their way through internal walls, kidnapping children and using them as human shields. In 2002, the city was under imposed curfew for several weeks, and entering the street in order to buy food meant risking your life. The Israeli military controlled the streets and shot Palestinians who went outside.
The guide tells us that bombs were dropped on the 'old city' and that he was sitting inside listening to the bombs, wondering where they would hit next..
Although he was only 15 years old at the time, he was arrested several times, together with many other men and young people. They were handcuffed and blindfolded, detained and sometimes interrogated for two days before they could go.
The army demolished houses, both on a random basis as well as houses belonging to familes of violent resisters.
The old city is filled with posters of martyrs, when walking through the streets we see them holding their machine guns, looking at us from the walls, confronting us with the idea of violent resistance. This raises the queston of non-violent versus violent reistance and I ask the guide and his Palestinian friend about their support for violent resistance and the dilemmas encountered. I am interested in finding out how people here think about their struggle for justice and self- determination and I find myself asking too many questions sometimes. But they answer me willingly and talk about their support for the violent resisters and about their hopes for the future of Nablus.
Their own form of resistance, though, is working for Project HOPE; helping to empower groups in the community, informing the international people who come here about the history of Nablus and the current situation, hoping to somehow participate in influencing the wider international community. "From little things, big things grow" as the saying goes, or so they like to think. Their Hope is strong. Hope and faith sustain them through long days of uncertainty, through years of experiencing the situation and the prospect for their future getting worse.
I admire their Hope and strenght, their incredible gentleness of character, the endurance they possess, growing up in this condition; a wounded city, a wounded people.

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Martyr posters in the 'old city' of Nablus, January 2009
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Martyr posters in the 'old city' of Nablus, January 2009

Walking through the narrow, labyrinthin streets of the 'old city', the many archways and dark corners and spaces, seing ruins of homes, bulletholes through walls, it's not hard to imagine the nightmare scenarios that have taken place here. The city's long history of invasion, fear, brutality and human rights abuses has been etched into the core of its being, adding to the gloom and tension in the atmosphere. The streets speak of suffering and desperation. The destuction and decline of the city as well as the poverty of the people, speak of years of both direct and structural violence, the endured brutal attacks on social, cultural and economic systems.
In 2002, a 400 years old soap factory was completely destroyed by the Israeli military in an obvious attack on the economy of Nablus. There are also sad stories of schools, hospitals and cultural institutions being targeted.
At present time, the Israeli military invades the 'old city' almost every night in order to arrest people.

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The 'old city' of Nablus, Jan. 2009
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The 'old city' of Nablus, including the Mosque, Jan. 2009
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The'old city' of Nablus, Jan. 2009
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NABLUS, PROJECT HOPE (2)
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