By: Vince smith
This was my third consecutive visit to Palestine and the Zajel project. Why do I come? The simple answer is the people and the project. The project is great in that it brings a diversity of international volunteers. With the assistance of the local volunteers who look after all of our translation and logistical needs, we’re comfortable to get on with our classes.
I teach public speaking skills and the students are incredibly receptive and contribute massively to the classes by making short speeches each day. The progress from undergraduates, speaking in a non-native language is eye-catching. They’re fantastic. Their confidence and delivery skills grow exponentially.
When we’re not in class we have the most wonderful tour of the Holy Lands. We spent a night in the desert and visited the Dead Sea. We had sunrise on the clifftop on a still morning overlooking the hills in Jordon. That was wonderful. We visited Jenin and learnt about the migration of 600 million birds per year. We visited stone factories and food factories in Hebron. We visited a mosaic factory in Jericho that exports its work to churches all over the world. We visited St George’s church, Burqin. We visited the river Jordon and paddled where John the Baptist worked long ago. We visited Bethlehem and Jerusalem and toured both towns.
This year we were hosted for dinner by two local families and spent an evening getting to know them and find out about the difficulties of their daily lives. This was a great exchange where we had access to multiple generations of the families and they told us their stories of their experience of the occupation.
Despite the educational aspect of the trip, there is a great concern for the security of the Palestinian people who are subjected to indignity and intimidation each day. The Israeli settlers want the Palestinian lands and play the long game of attrition. Constantly provoking and intimidating the Palestinians under military law. Children are deprived of education because they’re intimidated on their way to school. They are denied their basic human rights unless international volunteers escort them through checkpoints each day. The Palestinians are treated as second class citizens in this apartheid state. The separation wall in Bethlehem shows visitors that the Palestinian is not welcome in lands they have worked for centuries.
Thankfully, I have never witnessed any aggressive incident and the Zajel project is not a political event. It’s an educational and cultural exchange where people from diverse countries, creeds and cultures come together to share two weeks of harmony with Palestinian volunteers and students.