Palestine Monitor, 7 August 2010
Palestinian youth throughout the West Bank and Gaza participated in summer camps in the month of July. Run by popular committees and non-profit organisations, the camps mostly offered activities to young children enjoying their school break before the hot month of Ramadan. In Beit Ommar, leaders of the popular resistance had a different idea. They organised a camp for 12 to 17-year-olds, and incorporated a political education programme alongside the usual activities of swimming, games, and traditional dabke. Kara Newhouse visited the summer camp.
“We have many children here in Palestine, they are on the street. They don’t have any programme to learn about the situation,” said Mousa Abu Maria, one of the camp’s coordinators and a co-founder of Palestine Solidarity Project. “They know this is occupation, they know this is checkpoint, they know this is army, but they don’t have any information why the settlements are here and why the settlers take land. Because we have experience, we teach them about that.”
120 youth from the village registered for the Freedom Flotilla Summer Camp, which cost a nominal 15 shekels for three weeks. The ten coordinators organised the youth into four groups: “Tomorrow’s Youth,” “Mt. of Olives,” “Return,” and “Jerusalem. Each group had their own cheer about Palestinian rights and heritage that they chanted when meeting each day.
The camp leaders aimed to educate the youth on the political context of Israeli occupation. “When we talk about the wall or about the settlement, this is not the big face of the occupation, but this is like corners of the occupation,” said Abu Maria.
To encourage the youth to make connections to the issues they discussed, the camp organisers led trips away from their usual location in a park overlooking the land. On July 25, for example, they attempted to take the youth who were under age 15 to visit Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam. According to Bekah Wolf, Abu Maria’s wife who accompanied the children on the trip, the children should have been allowed into Jerusalem because they are not old enough to obtain Palestinian identity cards. Israeli forces at both the Nahalin and Beit Jala checkpoints disagreed, however. They turned the children back and told Wolf she would have to arrange the visit through the District Coordinating Officer.
“I don’t know if they really believed they could go to Jerusalem anyway,” Wolf said of the children’s reactions. “The Israeli military has massive amounts of control over their lives, so when we say to them, ‘Oh, the soldiers aren’t letting us in, we’re gonna have to go somewhere else,’ they were like, ‘Okay.’” That day the group went to a swimming pool and amusement park instead.
A week before to the failed Jerusalem trip, the youth planned a demonstration at the fence that separates Beit Ommar from Karmei Tsur, one of several illegal settlements surrounding the village. Israelis established Karmei Tsur in 1984, but confiscated an additional 600 dunums of villagers’ land when building the fence there in 2006. While Palestinian and international activists demonstrate against the fence and the occupation every Saturday, the summer camp youth brought a distinctive mark to the protest they organised: kites.
The youth created 45 papers kites, decorated with names and slogans. They marched to the fence and flew the kites above it while doing cheers and dances. The sight caused the settlement’s security alarm to be sounded, and a group of settlers gathered on the other side of the fence to watch. Security officers arrived, followed by Israeli soldiers, but unlike at most demonstrations in Beit Ommar, they did not fire tear gas into the group of children wearing Freedom Flotilla Summer Camp hats and t-shirts.
Abu Maria said that the kite idea came from the children, and the adults’ role is to facilitate their political education. “We want these children to be activists in the future,” he stated. The camp’s success camp is seen in the participation of new youth in Beit Ommar’s weekly demonstrations. At the protests, resistance leaders discourage youth from throwing stones at soldiers—the form of resistance for which Palestinian children are most well known.
“The future it comes not for me,” said Abu Maria. “The future’s for the children. If you teach a group now about non-violence, I’m sure in the future they can succeed in that. But if they don’t know anything about non-violence, it’s nothing, they don’t know anything.”