We at the East Jerusalem YMCA, and as an active and indigenous segment of the Palestinian social movement, contribute to the reconstruction of Palestinian society, which has been facing decades of systemic destruction, dispersal, and violations of its national, legal, and human rights. Within this current political situation we perceive the need to concentrate local, regional, and international efforts in order to recover the just rights of our people and to build a democratic state where transparency, equity, and social justice may prevail.
—Policy mandate statement
Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel
May 16, 2013, Thursday, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem Occupied Palestine
There are many sides to the various stories emanating from this region. One not often heard or seen is how Palestinian society deals with the effects of occupation: trauma, physical injury, loss of work, degraded dignity, and despair (for a short list).
Thanks to my geographical proximity to the East Jerusalem YMCA (despite the name, the organization serves the entire West Bank of Occupied Palestine), a 20 minute walk down the main road of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem—plus my intimate experience with the Y during my early university years—I finally thought, hey, the local Y, let’s investigate how it manifests its “aim of positively contributing to the physical, mental and spiritual development of children, youth and the community at large…”
(The site is also the third of 3 purported shepherds’ fields sites, significantly less visited than the Latin/Catholic and Greek Orthodox sites but touching nonetheless.)
Raed Abu Jriers, the East Jerusalem YMCA’s’s affable media and communication coordinator, set up 2 visits to people benefitting (beneficiaries) from the rehabilitation program. First to Raed Ateyyah, a 37-year-old who at the age of 17 was shot by Israeli soldiers—not during a demonstration but when local settlers attacked his village. His mobility was impaired, he could only work common labor jobs where he didn’t have to stand or walk, but now, with the help of counseling and vocational training, he is employed in a small garment factory producing clothing for “export.”
Benificiary of the Rehabilitation Program, Raed Ateyyah, severely injured by Israeli soldiers, with Abdullah, his social worker (middle),
and Raed Abu Jries (left)
His case manager or guide, a social worker, Abdullah, explained that currently after one month of work, Raed only earns 35 NIS (about $9.50 daily) but pays roughly half of that for transport to and from his village near Bethlehem. Leaving a net gain of some 20 NIS or $5 for a day’s labor. Where are these garments sold? I asked. —We export them. —And where is that? —Israel. —And what label does Israel sew in? —“Ketty, made in Israel.”
Raed endured my photography, never offered much affect, a withdrawn expression on his face. This perhaps is an indicator of his trauma. Images of tranquil nature scenes covered one wall of the shop, which made a powerful counterpoint to the machinery and workers. A sister-brother team apparently owns the facility. (Background on what I photograph is often scant and since I’m not writing I do not apply myself very diligently to that aspect.)
Co owner of the garment factory
Our second visit was to Jamil Al-Wahsh, his older son, Ali, and the little one, Muhammad, in the village of Za’tara. Jamil is in his 40s, born with a major defect that rendered his feet splayed out, his legs akimbo, thereby severely cutting down his walking ability. Three of his 7 children have the same malady. Luckily for my photography they were home from school—Nakba Day—and so could demonstrate for me how they walk. The rehab program first counseled the father, and then installed additions that offered the family a more comfortable existence. Namely an entrance ramp, a sit-down toilet (vs. the squat), and for the youngest boy leg braces (which he refuses to wear). Contrasting with Raed Ateyyah, the garment worker, this man and his entire family were jovial, outward, and seemed to play to the camera.
Jamil Al-Wahsh, his older son, Ali, a daughter, and the youngest son, Muhammad, in the village of Za’tara—all 3 males have congenital leg problems.
On the ramp constructed by the Y program
With the family’s social worker
Preceding the tour, the director of the program, the humble and highly articulate Nader Abu Amsha, explained the genesis of the program. I was struck by how exploratory and experimental it was, beginning in 1989 as a response to injuries from the First Intifada, (“shaking off” or uprising, which began 2 years earlier), learning as they developed (he was first a volunteer, then paid staff), and then evolving into what appears to be a comprehensive program addressing many aspects of suffering: counseling, vocational training, physical services, advocacy, and general education. Some 50,000 children and youth were injured during just the first year of the First Intifada (roughly 1987-1993), or, according to Save the Children, over the first two years, an estimated 7% of all Palestinians under 18 years of age suffered injuries from shootings, beatings or tear gas. By 1993, the YMCA had shifted its treatment approach from the individual to a more holistic one, involving the entire family and perhaps the community, schools in particular.
Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program
& Beit Sahour Branch
According to an estimate by the Swedish branch of Save the Children, as many as 29,900 children require medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers during the first two years of the Intifada alone. Nearly a third of them are aged ten or under. Save the Children also estimates that between 6500-8500 Palestinian minors were wounded by Israeli gunfire in the first two years of the Intifada.
I asked, how do assess the presence and severity of trauma? Answer: from the point of view of resilience. We first discuss options with the beneficiary. We build trust. We share stories. We ask what they think and feel, which is usually revenge at first. Boys often manifest the “hero” complex, overrating their strength. We don’t give advice. We ask questions. We ask our beneficiary to report their suffering—Israel arrests an average of 700 children aged 12-17 every year. And we develop criteria for improvement. Obviously, the earlier the intervention the better, otherwise they become sick and need serious treatment. (paraphrasing)
Needless to say, I was impressed. So when Nader told me other agencies outside Palestine often invite staff to do trainings, like in Columbia, I was not surprised.
Rather than attempt to write a full account of the riches of this interview with Nader—a pity my news agency chose not to cover it, seems like poor judgment—I’ll simply refer my readers to the website listed below.
During the Second Intifada (roughly 2000-2005) as of January 2004, the Palestinian child rights organization Defense for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI/PS) had documented the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children (under 18). These deaths were the result of Israeli occupation policies implemented in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip since September 2000. DCI/PS reports that an estimated 10,000 children were wounded during that period.
After nearly 45 minutes of this introduction I asked, has anyone ever written a book about all this or made a comprehensive movie? No book but several movies, mostly by the Y rehab program itself. (I list several on-line below.) My general impression of Nader is that he is sharp, talented, dedicated, and works hard. I enjoyed listening to him but found photographing him at the same time a challenge. He admitted he was distracted when I brought out my camera so I doubt I have any photos useful of him. And my writing is so fragmentary. I am torn between practicing my photographer’s eye and my writer’s ear. And I fail to understand the apathy about this story by the news agency I volunteer for. Maybe limited time and scant staff. Or maybe an inability to recognize a good story.
I walked to the Y in a drizzle, under nearly overcast skies, a stretch of my legs that is a good way to begin the day. A little after noon I walked back, again in some drizzle speckled with bright sun, and found a 3-person olive wood factory (factory is too grand a name, how about the less imposing and vaguer manufactory?) with the participants either eager to be photographed or quiescent. Two were smoothing out contours with tools that may have originally been dentist drills, while the third, a young man chain-smoking, operated a duplicating machine. The operator, a sort of magician, multiple times resurrected the dead and wood-embalmed Jesus with this clever machine. He gently traced shapes and 2 rasping drills dutifully followed instructions and carved out—resurrected— many Christ’s.
I photographed freely, and when finished the man nearest the door who’d beckoned me in gave me a little gift: a patriarch statue, maybe King David himself or perhaps one of the Wise Men adoring Christ. The face is too old to be that of Christ. He looks sad. His right hand has a hole in it, perhaps it once held a staff. What looks like a nail protrudes from the base, making the statue unstable. I treasure this artifact and introduced it to the other elements of my altar: Christ, Buddha, jasmine (in season), stun grenade, 2 cartridges, 2 candles, incense, various political lapel pins, photos of family and friends, Mediterranean sea shells from Gaza, and the ceramic plate AFSC staff gave me when I left Gaza. All treasures.
I ponder: are any of these olive wood workers beneficiaries of the Y’s rehab program? How have they been affected by the occupation? If not for the occupation what lives would they now live? Will their conditions be any different when free?
And further: as the wood workers can in effect resurrect Jesus, does the YMCA rehabilitation program resurrect—positively transform lives shattered by onerous conditions—its beneficiaries?
TO BE CONTINUED
Their movie links:
The Suffering of the Palestinian Child Under the Israeli Occupation by Ahmed El Helal and Mariam I Itani