In 2004, toward the end of the Second Intifada, I visited the West Bank for the first time. This was my fourth visit since then and while it was good to see construction booming in Ramallah, Kalandia checkpoint remains a stark introduction to life in the West Bank and the harsh realities of Occupation.
In planning the trip with MEJDI, Karen and I had suggestions for people and organizations we thought would be of interest to the St. Mark’s pilgrimage group. After hearing Sahar Francis speak in the U.S., Karen knew we could learn a great deal from the dynamic Director of Addameer – http://www.addameer.org – a Palestinian NGO that supports political prisoners in Israeli and Palestinian prisons.
At the Tarwee’a coffee shop in Ramallah, Sahar briefed us on the very difficult situations of those prisoners. Because they live in occupied territory, they are under the jurisdiction of Israeli military courts, not civil courts. The result is that the legal safeguards that would otherwise be available to prisoners are not. These range from how long they can be held without being charged – administrative detention – to who can visit them and how often. Importantly, the offenses for which West Bank residents can be arrested include civic activities such as organizing protests and trying to influence public opinion! Later in our trip, some of us would have a personal encounter with the pain this causes when we met the family of a young man who has been held for over a year in administrative detention.
My spirits lifted when we visited Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) (www.tomorowsyouth.org) in Nablus. I had met Suhad Jabi in Washington when she was part of a delegation organized by Telos (www.telosgroup.org), a terrific organization doing outreach to U.S. evangelical Christians about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Situated below the Samaritan village of Mount Gerizim, TYO serves the children of Nablus and refugee camps nearby, many of them traumatized by the circumstances of their daily lives and the violence of the intifadas. Staffed primarily with volunteers, both American and Palestinian, who gain valuable skills for their own future employment, TYO offers children classes in education and physical activity, art and music.
For their mother’s, there are women’s empowerment classes. TYO has the only co-educational classrooms for children in Nablus. Suhad, the psychosocial program manager, touched on some of the serious issues they encounter in their work, including domestic and political violence for the women, anger management, and children deemed too difficult in school. Importantly, TYO is constantly measuring impact and adjusting their programs to the needs of the community. The enthusiasm of the staff and the laughter and joyful singing we heard as we left gave hope in a place where it often seems there is little.
Two vibrant organizations working in difficult places on difficult issues, two vibrant women committed to their work and a better future for the Palestinian people – inshallah.