By: Neelam Salem
Volunteering with An-Najah has been an eye-opening, crazy experience. Before visiting Palestine, I had no idea what life was like for Palestinians apart from what’s presented in literature and media. However, from a young age my family has always explained that Kashmiris’ situation is strongly connected to the Palestinians. Since arrival, the welcoming smiles and friendliness from every Palestinian I have met represents their true strength despite their adversities under Israeli occupation. The camp was very tiring but extremely satisfying we travelled to Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Jericho, and Jenin.
Everything was very well coordinated, the local volunteers are so helpful and lovely company – many I have become close friends with. Talking with them, as well as farmers whose land feels threatened by settlers, Palestinian Christians, Samaritan and Bedouins meant that we interacted with every fabric of Palestinian society.
I am so glad that i came for this camp, I have met people that i will never forget and visited places that have become my favorite places.
We went to Bethlehem, it was really interesting to meet Palestinian Christians, especially YMCA and learn more about the nonviolent activism they take part in against occupation. The olive tree campaign to protect farmers’ lands against Israel, it was really eye-opening to meet a farmer and see his land and physically see olive trees that have been sponsored internationally and really understand how they feel when their livelihood is being threatened.
Bethlehem was really interesting in general because a lot of tourist come there, but unaware that it’s part of Palestine. We went to the church of Nativity and the Banksy hotel and museum. It’s really great what he’s done there to improve awareness for people who come to Bethlehem about the actual situation. Everything was so symbolic because it was right across the wall. I’ve seen pictures of the wall, but it was crazy to see the art and peoples’ expression.
We spent the night in the desert with the Bedouins, which was really interesting. I was most excited for this part and they were so hospitable and nice. They even got us mattresses to sleep on. We saw the sunset and sunrise over the Dead Sea, which was a once in a lifetime experience. The food was amazing.
We went to the Ibrahimi mosque which was half synagogue and half mosque with doors separating them. While speaking to the locals, they explained that it was hard to come there for every prayer.