Jenin Welcomes Tower Hamlets
August saw a long planned trip by elected councillors and trade union representatives from Tower Hamlets to Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Tower Hamlets has longstanding links with Jenin and the region, and THJFA which has sent regular visitors and volunteers to the area for a number of years. In November 2012 Tower Hamlets saw a visit from the Governor of Jenin province, Talal Dweikat, and the trip this summer took place as a direct result of his reciprocal invitation.
The delegation included the deputy mayor of Tower Hamlets, Councillor Ohid Ahmed, his cabinet colleagues Councillors Rania Khan and Shahed Ali, together with Councillor Lutfa Begum. The trade union reps were Kerie Anne of UNISON and Zia Rahman of the NUT at Oaklands School. Longstanding THJFA and PSC members Sybil Cock and Guy Shennan organised the trip alongside Yousef Awad, who has visited Tower Hamlets several times as a guest of the THJFA and who is now the Jenin Governorate’s International Relations Officer.
As had been feared, things started badly at Tel Aviv (Lod) airport, with several delegation members, including the deputy mayor and other councillors being held without explanation by the Israelis for up to ten hours, despite our official invitations from the governor of Jenin. One councillor was also strip-searched and heavily delayed on his return through the airport.
A day in Jerusalem saw our party visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque and meeting with the Deputy Governor of Jerusalem, and one of his senior managers, who showed us how his area in the Muslim quarter of the Old City is being ravaged by settler violence.
In Jenin, we were given a typical Palestinian red carpet welcome, visiting many organisations and a range of villages across the region. The councillors were shocked by the hour-long performance at the checkpoint at the entrance to Barta’a village. Barta’a is in a closed military zone between the Apartheid Wall and the Green Line. The local Palestinians, of course, have to do this every day…..
Our arrival in Jenin coincided with the release of the prisoners by Israel as part of the ‘peace process’. We were able to chat with the three Jenin prisoners, each of whom had been released after twenty years in horrendous conditions in Israeli jails.
THJFA campaigned last year for the release of Khader Adnan, who started his hunger strike in 2011 against his Administrative Detention by the Israelis, leading to the mass hungers strikes that are still continuing to this day.
We were thrilled to meet him as he left the Mosque in his home Village of Arraba. His message to us in the UK was clear and straightforward – ‘put pressure on your government to end this occupation’.
We are pleased that, after several previous attempts, Tower Hamlets Council will be discussing a motion to formally twin with Jenin in November. We are optimistic that this will lead to concrete cooperation and raised awareness of the Palestine issue in our Borough.
Cllr Shahed Ali said ‘I really hope that I can now help spread the word about the actual situation there and share the spirit, warmth and hospitality of the amazing people.’
Kerie Anne said ‘Tower Hamlets Unison was both shocked at the conditions we observed in the occupied territories and humbled by the resilience and commitment of Jenin’s residents to building their communities and resisting the occupation.
Sybil Cock, THJFA Convenor 22.09.2013
You can see pictures of their experiences here
The Experiences of a THJFA Volunteer in Jenin – Summer 2012
I am a member of Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association, and one of the things we do is to encourage and help local people arrange volunteer placements in Palestine. This summer I spent four weeks in Jenin as a volunteer in the town and the refugee camp. It was my fourth stay in Palestine and my second in Jenin. Because I had been in a group who had worked in Jenin last year, I was able to build on the relationships and contacts we had made at that time.
There are volunteers from other organisations from many countries who come to Jenin. Jenin is a town of about 35,000 residents, with a refugee camp of fifteen thousand nearby. There is a cinema in the town that shows international as well as Palestinian films and runs a major cultural festival every summer. There is also a well-known youth theatre in the camp called the Freedom Theatre with a school that enables young people to act out stories from their own lives. It also runs courses in film-making, photography and creative writing. Many of the volunteers stay in the Guest House which is part of the cinema complex. This is convenient and comfortable, but I had the experience of living in the nearby camp with a family there for over three weeks. I felt very privileged because it brought me into closer contact with the local people. I was able to develop my friendship with my host Mustafa, which started last year when I was also a guest in his house. I have got to know his immediate and extended family and his neighbours and friends. Jenin camp has had a troubled and at times tragic history. The people who live there are descendants of people who were made refugees when Israel was set up in 1948. More recently in 2002, it was the site of an assault by the Israeli army during the Second Intifada, which resulted in the death of 65 people and the destruction of 40% of the camp. As a result of the shared history, the community in the camp is very close and mutually supportive. The hospitality and sense of community is very powerful, especially coming from our more individualised European society, and is a typical of Arab, and especially Palestinian culture.
There are many different kinds of work a volunteer can do. I work as an English teacher and I spent some of my time teaching conversational English to university students from the Al Quds (Jerusalem) Open University at the Jenin Creative Cultural Centre. I also know some Arabic, which is not essential if you want to be a volunteer, but I found it helpful in talking to people and also in my other activities. In Jenin camp there is a centre for the rehabilitation of the physically disabled called the Jaleel centre. It specialises in treating children and adults with cerebral palsy, and other disabilities. It provides physiotherapy for patients in Jenin camp and in a wide area around the town, and among other things manufactures artificial limbs. It is a wonderful organisation staffed with skilled and dedicated specialists, and has a growing reputation in Palestine. The other activity that I was involved with was in helping translate their website from Arabic into English, and helping them to draft a funding application
THJFA will be running a volunteer program over the next year for anyone interested in staying in Jenin and sharing their skills whatever they are. We can provide practical advice and help and also put people into contact with local people, as we have been building up close relationships over the last few years.
The websites of some of the organisations mentioned in this article are below:
Volunteering in Jenin – 2011
We set up our very first volunteer program in Jenin which took place in the summer of 2011. Our volunteers taught English to children from Jenin Refugee Camp in July. If you would like to visit Palestine, or volunteer in Jenin this summer, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To get a taster of what it entails to visit Palestine, you can also look at the account from a British visitor on the February tour.
A video of our last two visits from Palestine to TH is here:
Visit from 2010: