A - Z information about Palestine, volunteering and skateboarding.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Palestine? I bet it’s something to do with negotiations, occupation, and conflict. But have you also heard about hospitality, olive oil, and kanafeh? About being grateful for everything, while you have nothing? Palestine is far more than the things you see and hear from media outlets. Below is a compiled A-Z to expand your knowledge of Palestine.

* It’s difficult to cover every aspect considering the political and cultural clashes that have been taking place between Israeli and Palestinians for decades. We have tried to cover as much as possible, based on official research reports, but there will always be different sides to the story according to different people.

Area A  | Area B | Area C | Donkey | Education | Food & Falafel | The Gaza Strip | Hello | Israeli Defence Forces | Jenin Refugee Camp | Kanafeh | Love | Music | Names | Oslo Accords | Playing | Qaqilya | Roads | Samaritan Village | Transport | United Nations | Volunteering | Women | X and Arabic Language | Yasser Arafat | Zebabdeh and other Christian Villages |

Area A

After the Oslo II accord (see ‘O’), the Westbank region has been divided into three different areas. To start with area A, this area is administered by the Palestinian authorities. While the Israeli army might pass through the area, Israeli citizens are not allowed here. Area A includes the cities and surroundings of Bethlehem, Jenin, Jericho, Nablus, Ramallah, Tulkarem, Qalqilya and approximately 80% of Hebron.

Area B

The second area in the Westbank region is administered by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. This area covers about 22% of the Westbank, mostly small villages and the surrounding lands.

According to International Law, areas A and B host no place for Israeli settlements. But contrary to what this law states, we have seen settlements near Nablus and other cities and heard a lot of stories about the expansion of the settlements. In addition, the United Nations (UN) covered this subject in 2016, fourteen countries voted against the illegal expansion of Israeli territory, only the US abstained. Leaving the UN to condemn the situation and recall the obligation for a freeze by Israel of all settlement activity. The freeze also includes ‘natural growth’ and dismantling the illegal settlements being built since 2001.

Area C

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Image showing the lands which are off-limits to Palestinian use.

This part, which covers a little over 60% of the West Bank, is controlled by the Israeli authorities. Security, civil matters, and infrastructure are all handled by them. However, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for medical and educational services to Palestinians living in Area C. For this, they are dependant on the infrastructure provided by the Israeli administration.

As someone in Bethlehem told us, when an accident happens, they have to call the Palestinian medical services. Leaving residents with limited access to medical care, which can only be accessed only by crossing checkpoints, because there are no Palestinian general hospitals in Area C.

Donkey

A multi-purpose animal in Palestine. Good for keeping us awake at night. Other purposes are the transportation of goods and people, a natural alarm clock in the morning and entertainment. If you can’t find the donkey, check beside the bus stop. It might be there waiting for an escape to the big city.

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Donkey waiting at the bus stop. Asira, 2018

Education

The education in Palestine is relatively very good and seen as very important to Palestinian people. Compared to the rest of the world, they score higher than average on education enrollment and literacy. That being said, the drop-out rates tend to change dependent on the political situation in Palestine. The biggest barriers to education are poor infrastructure, lack of funding, and overcrowding. Predominantly, schools in the Gaza area are influenced by external factors. The Palestinian ministry of education stated in 2014, that more than 180 out of the 690 schools in Gaza were damaged beyond repair.

There are three kinds of schools in Palestine, these categories are based on gender division. There are boys schools, girls schools, and co-educational schools. Schooling is compulsory for children between 6 and 15 years old. Following up on the basic education, there is secondary education. The program lasts two years and upon completion of the program, the children can take an exam to receive this qualification.

Higher education includes community colleges or universities. The community colleges are designed for technicians and so-called ‘middle-level workers’. Universities provide bachelor’s degree programmes as well as masters and doctorates. From personal talks with locals, we know that young people like to study abroad. Some participate in foreign exchange programmes or do a minor in another country.

Education is very important to Palestinian families who regard education as being of high-value and an achievement which brings honour and respect to a family. The Palestinian curriculum plan concentrates on four major dimensions. Firstly, the national identity followed up by the Arab identity. Thirdly and fourthly, it focuses on religion and international education. However, the children we speak with, know little English. The people who are good in English often studied abroad or have family who studied abroad. To know more about the curriculum, I would advise you to read “Palestine; World Data on Education” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Food and Falafel

Palestine has a diverse cuisine with its own traditional meals and cooking methods. The cuisine varies by region and can often be linked to the particular location and climate factors of that region. Although all SkatePal volunteers were familiar with shawarma, falafel, and meat, none of us ate these things on a regular basis before arriving in Palestine. The markets in Palestine offer a million different flavours, all ready for you to use in your meals. I think the best thing is just to walk around, and buy some random products to experiment with!

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The Foodmarket in Jenin

Falafel might be the number one street-food snack here. Almost every street has a falafel place, if not multiple. Falafel, a deep-fried ball made from chickpeas, comes in many different forms and will taste different everywhere you go.It is often served in a pita, but we’ve also seen it in flatbread. The falafel ball is covered with vegetables, salad, and sauce. Most street sellers give you the opportunity to choose the ingredients as you like them so you could say the falafel shops are the Arabic equivalent of Subway.

The Gaza Strip

The Gaza-strip is an infamous area in the south of Israel which is part of Palestinian Territories according to the Oslo Accords. Gaza has a long history of conflicts, being under English, Egypt, and later Israeli occupation. Gaza had a full Palestinian government under the occupation of Egypt for about 10 years, although some say it was just a façade for Egyptian control. Palestinian civilians didn’t have a lot of rights or facilities during this time, they received aid directly from UNRWA (a united nations program supporting Palestinian refugees). A lot of Palestinians fled to Gaza in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab – Israeli war. After the dissolution of the Palestine government in 1959, Egypt continued the occupation and restricted movement to and from the Gaza-strip.

In 1967 during the six-day war, Israeli forces took over the Gaza-strip. After an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in 1979, Gaza stayed under Israel occupation. The inhabitants were given limited resources increasing pressure on them to emigrate and leave the area. Following the first Oslo accords in 1993, Gaza regained (limited) Palestinian control and the Israeli forces left urban areas. The leader of the Palestinian Authorities, Yasser Arafat (see Y), chose Gaza City for the authorities’ headquarters. In 1995, with the Oslo Accords II, the Westbank and Gaza were combined creating the Palestinian territories.

Following the handover of control to Palestinian Authorities, Israel built the Gaza Strip barrier improving the security in Israel. The barrier was built “to prevent terrorists from carrying out deadly attacks on Israeli civilians” (IDF Setting the Facts Straight). However, after 5 years of failed negotiations, all the Palestinian area’s remained under Israeli occupation. At the beginning of the second uprising of Palestinians in 2000, the wall was destroyed. This was the start of a wave of (suicide) bombing attacks by Palestinians. As a result of this, Israel rebuilt the wall with the addition of high-tech observation points and a change to the rules to which the soldiers had been acting upon. Since then, there has been an increase in the shooting of people who were around the wall. Being imprisoned in Gaza by the Israeli wall created a shift in the fighting style of Palestinians, who moved away from suicide bombs and began making use of self-created bombs to fire at Israel from Gaza.

After the second Intifada ended in 2005, Israeli settlers and military forces left the Gaza Strip. Although they claim to have ended the occupation, this has not been accepted internationally. Israel still has control of the airspace and the sea. However, Gaza’s inhabitants are not part of Israel nor do they have any Israeli rights. Following the end of Israel’s control within the borders of Gaza, the people were granted their own elections for a Palestinian Authority. Hamas gained over 42 % of the votes, but in order to rule, they would have to accept all previous agreements. Hamas did not accept the existence of Israel and would not renounce violence, resulting in the shutting down of human rights aid money.

In 2006, a civil war started between Hamas and the old interim Palestinian Authority (PLO) named Fatah. Previously, they had been working together, however, Hamas wanted to take over, resulting in over 600 civilian victims caused by both sides. Eventually, Hamas gained the power in the Gaza Strip, leading to the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas in 2008. It is proven that a lot of schools, healthcare facilities and family homes have been destroyed by Israeli attacks. Israel’s justification for this was that these places were used as weapons storage or Hamas safehouses. Whether or not this was the case, a huge number of civilians suffered because of it. The Hamas-Israeli war lasted 22 days, but Gaza has never been without conflict since.

The beginning of 2018 saw Gaza gain a lot of international attention, launching 6 weeks of protests. These began on March 30th with about 30,000 Palestinians. Five tent camps were set up about 600 meters from the border with the aim to remain there throughout the campaign, a campaign to allow Palestinian people displaced by Israeli occupation the right to return to their previous homes in what is now Israel. At the point of writing this piece, 34 Palestinians have been killed during the protests. Most of the demonstrators demonstrate peacefully but some groups have been throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli troops.

Hello Habib(t)i

The greeting you will hear most often walking around in Palestine. Or as they would say it: “As-salamu alaykum”. Literally translated this means “May peace be with you”. I think it’s beautiful that they wish this to each other and us. A more formal way of greeting someone is “Marhaban”. An other word which starts with an ‘H’ is Habib(t)i, which stands for ‘my love, my friend’. The spelling is dependant on the gender of the person who you’re saying it to.

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Our little habibti Rama

Israeli Defense Forces

The IDF is the Israeli military and their presence can be felt when travelling around Palestine or crossing over into Israel. They’re armed and highly trained and may stop transport to check passports. The IDF is present in all three areas, and are allowed to use their power in all three.

Jenin’s Refugee Camp and The Freedom Theatre

One of the cities we’ve visited is Jenin. This city is quite famous for its refugee camp, which has a population of 14,000 residents. The camp borders the city, but during our visit, it didn’t look like we expected it to look. We were used to pictures that you see in the media of tents and shelters, but all we’ve seen are ‘normal’ houses. Despite this, we know the camp is overcrowded, and that the UNRWA (part of United Nations) are busy with regulating the housing and placement of people.

Jenin’s refugee camp has been the scene of a great deal of suffering. It was established in 1953 after the original camp had been destroyed by a snowstorm. During the second Intifada, the camp was occupied by Israeli military forces after 10 days of fighting. More than 500 homes were affected by this which leaves more than a quarter of the residents homeless. The refugee camp was home to a few of the suicide bombers which killed Israeli citizens. These boys grew up in the camp witnessing IDF violence and participating in the camp’s cultural projects. To know more about this we recommend watching the documentary “Arna’s Children” on youtube. Today, protection issues remain a concern for residents. In 2014 four refugees were killed in operations by either Palestinian or Israeli forces. The violence and traumatic background of the residence has a big impact on the emotional and psychosocial well-being of the children.

The cultural program in the camp is provided by The Freedom Theatre. The documentary linked to above is partly about Arna, the woman who established The Freedom Theatre. After dying of cancer, her son filmmaker Juliano Mer-Khamis continued her activist work and involvement in the theatre. Sadly, he was murdered in 2011, however, the organization still exists, providing all kinds of cultural activities for children, adults, and visitors to the Jenin Refugee Camp. We’ve seen a play, during the Cultural Resistance Festival of Palestinian Theatre, which was based on the relationship between Israel and Palestine. I’d recommend you to go there, even just to talk to the people working with the theatre.

Kanafeh

I know we’ve already covered food, but this one needs its own category. Kanafeh is a delicious dessert which can be made in different styles. Basically, it is a cheese-based pastry soaked in a sweet sugar syrup and topped with pistachio nuts. Kanafeh originated in Nablus and is a well-known dessert in all Arab countries. We’ve had the luxury of eating a few different preparations of Kanafeh during our stay and can wholeheartedly tell you it is delicious, or “zaki”, in Arabic.

Love

One thing we have learned during our stay in Palestine is that we absolutely love the culture and the people. Most Palestinians are incredibly open-hearted and we’ve been invited into peoples homes continuously. So much so that we don’t have enough free evenings to accept all the invitations we’ve received. The communities and families we’ve visited, seem to take care of each other in a way that Western-Europe has forgotten about. We’ve had good talks about the differences between our lives, religions, and ways of viewing the world. On top of all of that, we’ve received so many gifts varying from food to necklaces and scarves.

Of course, we’ve experienced the very occasional bad vibes and not so friendly people. We know that within Palestine people are not always supportive of each other. But generally speaking, we think that Europe can learn something from the people here. I’ve never been so heartwarmingly welcomed in a country, which seems in stark contrast to the situation they are living in.

Music

Up until the moment of arriving in Palestine, I didn’t know any Palestinian music. If you do a quick search, you’ll find that traditional Palestinian music has originated from traditional Arab music in general. However, we’d like to talk about the lesser known music.

During our trip, we’ve visited the Palestine Music Expo (PMX) in Ramallah. For the Dutch people out here, you could compare this to Amsterdam Music Festival. Well, maybe a bit smaller, with fewer venues. Actually, it was just one venue, but the main idea is the same. PMX organised a three-day expo which showcased both established and up-and-coming Palestinian artist to the audience and key members of the international music industry. This included record companies, booking agencies, music supervisors and media. The goal was to bring artists and professionals together, in an effort to build mutually beneficial relationships and develop valuable networking opportunities.

What made PMX so special in our eyes is that they have so many political and cultural challenges to overcome to make it outside Palestine. A lot of the music we heard displays the feelings they have about growing up in a conflict area.

Even though we didn’t understand any of the Arabic, we danced well into the night and had an amazing time. If you want to check out the artists we saw, visit their website.

Names

Obviously, the Palestinians give different names to their children than we do. Also, their pronunciation is very different from ours due to the Arabic phonetics. That’s why we’ve been having difficulties with remembering the names of the people we meet. For a few days, I’ve even been writing down every single name of people we have met.

What makes it easier for us is when we meet someone who shares the same name with someone we already know. A few of the names we’ve heard and their definitions are:

Abdulla(h) – Servant of God
Ahmed – To praise
Nur/Noor – Light
Qadir – Capable
Farrah – Beautiful
Halah – Halo
Kamil(l)a – Perfection

Oslo Accords

The Oslo Accords are agreements between the Palestinian Liberation Organization & Israel. The process was hosted by Norway, hence the name Oslo Accords. The first accord, completed in 1993, was later followed up by Oslo Accords II, which was signed in 1995.

The accords called for an Israeli withdrawal and a right for Palestinians to form their own interim government within their areas. The areas were divided into 3 sections (see Areas A, B, and C) originally, this was an interim measure until the negotiations were agreed upon. The two parties signed the documents for a peaceful coexistence. Palestine got its interim government and Israel agreed upon the withdrawal of their forces. After signing the documents they were given 5 years to negotiate the unresolved issues and formalise a way to make the agreements work.

In 1999, when the 5 given years ended, area A, B and C still existed. Israeli forces didn’t withdraw, and the illegal settlements expanded. Palestine got to keep their Palestinian Authority which nowadays still exists in the West Bank area. Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian civilians were still victims of violence of both sides. Because Israel and Palestine didn’t work out the remaining problems and the situation hadn’t improved, the USA tried to revive the negotiations in 2000. After this didn’t work out, the second Intifada started. Later, it turned out that Israel had been preparing a military strategy to conquer towns in Area C and Gaza. The results of the second intifada were disastrous for Palestinians, the West Bank area is now surrounded by a wall and the borders continue to be moved. However, compared to the time during and just after the intifada, violence against civilians has decreased in both West Bank and Israel.

Playing

I’m pretty sure we all loved playing when we were young. Playing football on the street, knock-a-door-run, or neighbourhood-wide games of tag. But imagine what that would have been like if you grew up in times of war and occupation. Playing outside, with the risk of stepping on a mine, or playing inside hearing bombs fall nearby. Children who grow up in conflict areas also need a way of having fun, but their surroundings don’t always provide them with that.

Providing children with playing material or a safe area to play in, isn’t only about the fun. Playing gives the kids a sense of freedom, while they are trapped in a difficult situation. It is a way of socialising with others, developing emotional and logical reasoning and to get physically active.

Skateboarding is one method of play that can help children escape the traumatic things they’ve lived through, even just for a little while. The consequences of war and military occupation can cause numerous psychosocial problems. It is a proven fact that sport can aid the process of recovery. This is one of the reasons we want to encourage and promote skateboarding in conflict areas. While we think it’s important to create a platform to empower women, we’ll be there for all the children and the families we meet. We want to bring something that makes children feel strong, free and happy.

Qalqiliyah

Recently, we visited Qalqiliyah, a medium-sized city, a little less busy than Nablus and Jenin, which we’ve visited before. The people were very welcoming as always, and we enjoyed some delicious shawarma while we were there. The reason I put Qalqiliyah on this list is that it is a good example of how the barriers between Israel and Palestine influence the daily life of the people who live here.

During our lunch, we met someone who was willing to show us around the city and take us to different points of the wall surrounding the city. Qalqiliyah is almost completely surrounded by the Israeli wall, there is only one road to get in and out of the city without going through a checkpoint. The local told us that approximately 7000 people go through the checkpoint each morning. Palestinian cars are not permitted to pass through the checkpoint so either you have to rent an Israeli car, or walk. From the checkpoint, you can clearly see the Israeli freeway full of cars driving to work freely.

The other thing that we could see beyond the wall, in every direction, were high skylines, good infrastructure and nice new houses. The contrast between the Palestinian roads, crumbling flats and chaos on the street was unmistakable. When we stood on top of a hill in the nearby Jayyous skatepark, we could see large Israeli cities and the shimmering of the sea, a sea that the Israeli wall denies Palestinians to go to. Whilst taking in this sight, we heard stories from the local children shot by Israeli soldiers for being near the wall, one of these children was in a wheelchair as a result.

Needless to say, this visit had a lot of impact on us.

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Jayyous Skatepark

Roads

Some Palestinian roads are quite an adventure to travel on. Tip number one is don’t trust Google Maps. We’ve tried it once and ended up on an unpaved gravel road with a 35% incline. Second tip, don’t let the road signs scare you. While driving, you’ll probably spot a sign that says something like “Dangerous for your life!”. Most often seen on roads which pass the borders of areas A, B, and C. These warnings are intended for drivers with a yellow Israeli license plate. As areas A and B are officially forbidden for them to enter and therefore these roads could be riskier for them. However, these signs have more to do with the hostility between Israel and Palestine than they do with actual risk to life. These signs are political statements more than accurate warnings.

Samaritan Village

On top of Mount Gerizim, looking over Nablus, lives the religious community of Samaritans. Globally, there are only 700 Samaritans and approximately half of them live on Mt. Gerizim, in the village Kiryat Luza. The Samaritans see themselves as the ‘authentic’ Jews. They are led by a high priest, who is believed to be a descendant of an important figure in their religion. With their Pesach celebrations, all Samaritans gather in Kiryat Luza where they perform the Passover ritual.

Aside from the stunning views, this village has to offer, this is one of the few places near Nablus where you can get a beer or any other alcoholic drink. As a foreigner, it is okay to have a beer but watch out if you bring local friends. The rules and traditions locally are strictly against consuming alcohol, so if you want to drink alcohol, make sure you’ve discussed it with them beforehand.

Transport

As Holland has it’s bicycles, Israel and Palestine have their sheruts. A sherut is a minivan taxi which lets you share a ride with others going in the same direction. Every city has an area where the sheruts gather. Some cities even have multiple of these, one being for travel within the city and one being for other locations. It is a nice way of travelling and it won’t cost you much as you share the costs of the ride with the other travellers, and it will drop you off at home (or near home).

If you don’t want to share, there’s always the normal taxis. These are a bit more expensive, but you have the luxury of travelling on your own. If comfort is your priority, you’ll be better off in a normal taxi as the sherut vans tend to be a little older.

However, the best way of travelling that we’ve experienced is hitchhiking. You’ll meet the locals, pick-up some Arabic and discover the small roads leading from the one village to another village. We’ve hitched a ride in vans, tractors, cars, and you might even be able to get a ride on a horse. Just stand at the side of the road, throw your arm out and wave to the passing cars. While you’re at it, keep some ground rules in mind.

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Hitchhiking in Palestine

1. Research the current situation in your area. I don’t recommend hitchhiking when there aren’t a lot of cars around, or if you don’t have much experience with the local people or the area you’re in.

2. Perhaps this is obvious but if you are a girl, don’t hitchhike alone. On the other hand, as women, you may be able to get a ride from Palestinian women, which isn’t the case for hitchhiking boys. Just be a bit careful, assess the situation and trust your instincts.

3. At night, you are better off taking a sherut or taxi. Particularly outside the cities, it’s often not safe to be on the side of the road. Party, because the infrastructure isn’t that good, corners can be unexpectedly sharp and in low light, a car might not see you. Also, as with anywhere, you just don’t know what or who is walking around late at night.

United Nations

The United Nations is a global organisation which consists of 51 countries. It was set up after World War II, to promote international cooperation and to create and maintain international order.

In Palestine, the United Nations is active in almost everything relating to social welfare, under the name of “The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees” (UNRWA). For 70 years, they have been supporting the Palestinians in their struggle. These services include education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance, including aid in times of armed conflict. One of the goals is to help Palestinians acquire knowledge and skills, achieve decent standards of living and enjoy human rights to the fullest. UNRWA is active in the Westbank and the Gaza-strip but also works in Lebanon and Syria.

Volunteering

Are you interested in volunteering? Good, there are many organisations who could use your help. Figure out what you like to do, or what you do best. If you love skateboarding, try SkatePal for example. Are you a teacher? Maybe you can help teaching English to children. Look around online and do some research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, e-mail the organisation if you want some extra information, or look for previous volunteers to get in touch with.

Besides SkatePal, there are many opportunities such as teaching sports, arts or languages. If you want to know more about different experiences with volunteering, you can usually read blogs on the subject and don’t be shy to ask us questions.

Women

One of the tasks of a Palestinian woman is to take care of their family. As opposed to our Western culture, they maintain the traditional gender-roles whereby the man is the dominant figure in the family and the woman is the caretaker. Nevertheless, the position of women has developed a lot over the years.

Specifically, the education of women has been growing since the 70’s. The women are motivated to study and graduation is celebrated by the family. The women are allowed to work, and besides that, a lot of women have been involved in activism jobs.

The position of women in Palestine is hugely influenced by the Islamic way of thinking and the way the family uses the Quran and Islam for their daily life. However, local culture is just as influential, if not more so. While most of the women we met have an education, and/or a job, the United Nations reports show us that there’s still a lot of work to be done. In 2013, UNRWA cancelled its annual marathon in Gaza after Hamas rulers prohibited women, including Palestinian women from Gaza, to participate in the race. Hamas follows a strict version of Islam, but this is not always the case in the Westbank area which is ruled by the Palestinian Authorities.

A good development is ‘The Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Palestine’, which was established in 2003. The ministry is the main governmental sector responsible for promoting and protecting women’s rights. The ministry works to integrate gender in terms of democracy and human rights. The ministry promotes the reform of discriminatory laws and gender units have been established in each ministry.

In terms of skateboarding and volunteering, the rules and traditions vary in every region. In the liberal city of Ramallah, both male and female volunteers are allowed to teach all kids. It is a mixed group which doesn’t seem to cause an issue. In our hometown Asira, you might notice a slight change in attitude towards people of the other sex. As a woman, I have to wait for a man to offer me his hand when we’re introduced. For the male volunteers, it works the other way around. It is a sign of respect for their partner, and as a foreigner, I respect the local traditions. That said, the majority of people we meet shake everyone’s hand.

With teaching, we’ve noticed that some girls will (at first) only interact with a female volunteer when they need help. Especially when they get older, it is frowned upon to have physical contact with a man. This illustrates why it is important to always have female volunteers at the skatepark. When we visited a skatepark in Jayyous, a more conservative area, we learnt that the boys aren’t allowed to teach girls above a certain age at all. This goes for both the volunteers and the locals. When we asked a local boy if he helps the female skateboarders he told us he couldn’t unless they were under 7. We haven’t seen any official rules for this, but it’s best to observe the local customs and ask if you’re unsure.

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A new generation of Palestinian women.

X and the Arabic alphabet

The Arabic alphabet is different from ours, which makes the pronunciation and writing complicated to learn. Some of the volunteers we are travelling with have taken Arabic classes in Nablus where they learnt about the variety of letters and where the sounds should come from. A few examples of letters that aren’t used in the Arabic language are ‘C’, ‘P’, and ‘X’. In addition, the Arabic alphabet contains letters that we don’t use in the English language. Two examples of these are the ج which sounds like ‘dzj’, and the ش which sounds like ‘sj’.

Depending on your native language, some letters will be easier to learn than others. English people shouldn’t have a problem with the pronunciation of ث (which sounds like ‘th’), but as I’m Dutch, I might throw in an ‘f’ or a ‘t’ instead. On the contrary, Dutch native speakers will easily be able to pronounce the خ (sounds like Dutch person pronouncing a ‘g’), which has no English equivalent.

So, how do Palestinians communicate in Arabic when they don’t have access to an Arabic keyboard? They get creative and use numbers instead. The letters which aren’t present in our alphabet are replaced by seven numbers. For instance تحكي عربي؟, or “do you speak Arabic?” becomes “ta7ki 3arabi?”

Yasser Arafat

Founder of political movement ‘Fatah’ and former leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat dedicated his life to the freedom of Palestine and battled against the Israeli occupation.

Yasser Arafat was born in Caïro, Egypt in 1929, but when his mother died, his father sent 4-year-old Yasser to Jerusalem to live with his Uncle for four years. When he returned, he was raised, for the most part, by his sister. According to a biography of Yasser Arafat, his sister recognised him as a natural leader, taking groups of boys around town and organising them. In 1959 Yasser Arafat founded ‘Fatah’ with a group of like-minded people creating a Palestinian run group fighting for freedom rather than depending on the action of other countries. From that moment, Yasser Arafat fought to get the Palestinian struggle internationally acknowledged.

Fast forward to 1993 and the start of the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat had been in charge of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation for more than 20 years, leading the Palestinians through the first Intifada, and gaining much international attention. With international acknowledgement for the Palestinian fight for freedom, Israel was unable to ignore the situation any longer. Both parties acknowledged the existence of one another, the negotiations started and the Oslo Accords were being formed. This was followed up by their leaders winning the Nobel peace prize in 1994.

In the meantime, Islamic organization Hamas brought a new wave of suicide attacks to Israel, alongside Israeli was attacks on Palestinians. This triggered new negotiations which were never finished. According to the Palestinian Authorities, Israel’s solutions would fragmentise Palestine and entirely ignored the refugee problem. According to Israel, Arafat was unreasonable and wouldn’t listen. Either way, the US (led by President Bush) partnered up with Israel and didn’t acknowledge Yasser Arafat as a negotiation partner anymore. A new wave of violence followed as the tension between Israel and Palestine increased and the second Intifada started.

During the second Intifada, Arafat lived in Ramallah as this was where his headquarters were. When the Israeli defence forces occupied Ramallah and 7 other big Palestinian cities in 2002, the Palestinian battle forces retreated as the conflict had cost so many lives already. Yasser Arafat lived under total Israeli control until his death.

After surviving an aeroplane crash in 1992, Yasser Arafat suffered from neurological problems which increased throughout the remainder of his life, eventually leading to him needing a complicated surgery in France. A week after he arrived in France, the news broke that he was in a coma and it was later announced that he died November 11th due to complications of his illness. However, many have theorised that Yasser had been poisoned by either an Israeli group or another group who wanted him out of the way. While this theory lacks some proof, Swiss and Russian research teams found evidence of unnaturally high traces of poisonous substances in his blood. Despite this and other research, the French hospital and government have stood fast to their own research and that the cause of death natural.

Zababdah and other Christian Villages

Zababdeh is a small Palestinian city in the North of the Westbank. What makes Zababdeh special, is that it’s one of the few ‘Christian cities’ in the Westbank area. This means that most of the residents are Christian rather than Muslim. The Christian communities are predominantly Greek Orthodox, Catholic, or Roman-Catholic, in addition, there are also smaller Eastern churches like the Coptic church, the Armenian church and the Syrian church. Lastly, there is a very small percentage who belong to the Protestant church.

I’ve visited a Greek Orthodox church in Burqin, a place near Jenin. As the story goes, Jesus healed 10 lepers at this site. The cave where that event took place is now built into the current church. We were invited to stay and watch the special easter ceremony, which we did for a while. The church is located in beautiful surroundings and, as with everywhere we’ve visited in Palestine, the people we met were very friendly and willing to answer our questions. One thing I noticed was that the young people here behaved in the same I’ve seen young people behave during church services at home (snapchatting the singing, and making selfies during the service etc.)

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Church service in the Greek Orthodox church of Burqin

Christian cities are also popular among tourists for another reason besides the cultural aspect. Drinking alcohol is allowed here, so after a nice walk around town you can sit down and relax with a cold Heineken.

I hope this A-Z of all things Palestine has piqued your interest and challenged a few preconceptions you may have had. For a true flavour of Palestine, you should experience this wonderful and vibrant country for yourself. We really can’t recommend visiting Palestine enough and we can guarantee you’ll receive a warm welcome.

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