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Posts Tagged ‘Abdelfattah Abusrour’

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

PHOTOS

October 5, 2018, Friday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

Aida camp where I now happily reside seems not to have the same sort of draw as Jerusalem, the same richness of history. Altho Bethlehem is often the site of violence. Maybe it’s Rachel’s fault; her tomb is nearby.

A goldmine here of another sort: participants in my refugee project. Yesterday, thanks to Abed and Murad, I photographed Abed and later an old man who Murad helped me with, the uncle of Abed, Abdel Majid Abusrour, the brother of Abed’s mother. Among the benefits of life in a refugee camp are the extended family and a compact neighborhood where most everyone knows everyone else over a long stretch of time. Kids play unattended in the streets, much like our earlier generation could play freely on the streets of our neighborhoods. One might argue—Trump might argue—that UNRWA (UN Refugee Works Administration) is not needed to service these camps. He and other critics might argue that not only do people take advantage of the refugee benefits like medical, housing, educational services, but they prefer to stay in the camp. Much the way some think homeless people prefer to be homeless, or poor people poor. And there might be some truth to that. But the suffering of all these groups eclipses their supposed benefits.

It might be like arguing that people affected by a tsunami actually benefit because of the change in scenery.

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Once again I klutzed it with my interview with Abed. About 10 minutes in, after he’d brilliantly laid out his refugee history—mother and father born in different villages near here (including Beit Natiff which I plan to photograph later), parents married I believe before displacement, displaced, family first lived in a large tent with many families in Aida, then in a small, one room block house where Abed was raised—I noticed again that the recorder was in standby rather than record mode. (I vow to set the recorder to recorder mode before I set up, so even tho some memory space might be wasted, I will not have to remember to switch to record). I recorded the rest of his story: large family, some 12 offspring, many of whom died Abed thinks because of camp conditions, expanding the house, his wife from Silwan (near Jerusalem, across the valley from where I usually visit, the east side of the Kidron Valley, the side with the burials and death monuments), and into the present moment, his family split between Silwan and Bethlehem. Abed believe Israel punishes him because of his activism, most notably giving the introductory speech during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2009.

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I’d heard Abed tell parts of this story to various audiences but not the with this much detail. He’s not written it yet, altho he’d like to, even a book. He is a practiced speaker, cogent, lively, detailed where necessary, giving an overview when more appropriate, frequently smiling, and anticipating questions like what keeps you going? In large part, he said, community. His brothers contribute money and donated their shares of the family home, now the site of the Al Rowwad Vocational Training Center or what I call Rowwad-2.

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This new building and what it contains certainly marks a new phase for Al Rowwad, maybe also for the camp and for Palestinian refugee camps generally. Another fellow, the deputy director of Rowwad, a fast talking young man with a heavy accent which made understanding him difficult toured me thru Rowwad-2. Its lower floor incorporates a cave with two tunnels that formerly people used to flee the Israeli army. High tech equipment includes a computer-assisted 3-D printer, something that burns designs into wood or plastic, huge woodworking machines, etc. And on the two top floors quarters for volunteers that resemble fancy hotels. And restaurant facilities.

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The three-part strategy is to train, provide employment for local people, and offer services. My guide told me that the rooms could rent to others besides volunteers—a hotel in a refugee camp.

(Silently I compared where I stay currently with where I might stay if volunteering or booking housing at Al Rowwad. I prefer where I am, rougher, on a more human scale.)

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My guide reminds me of several other adamant, true believers. When I asked him if he or Rowwad would work with Israeli partners who actively opposed the occupation, he said unequivocally not—the normalization syndrome. He’s similar to the Palestinian-Canadian man I’d met at the hostel in Old City Jerusalem who spoke so assuredly about the folly of evolution and the truth that we all descend from Adam and Eve—and that Allah-God exists, “as surely as you and I exist.” For my guide, the truth of his oppression generates his fervent belief in the rightness of his struggle.

One might ask, is Al Rowwad’s new expansion wise? Is it a good investment? Earlier Abed admitted that he’d embarked on the project, expanding the family home into Rowwad-2, during a more favorable fiscal climate when money seemed guaranteed. That climate has disappeared, even before Trump, and now he can’t afford to pay salaries. Abed’s folly? Or Abed’s monumental vision?

Today, being Friday, Aida is unusually quiet. No one nearby, empty streets, I’m not sure about the Lejee Center, the other cultural and educational center in the camp (pronounced la-ghee with the emphasis on la, not la-ghay, which would be French). I meet Murad at Rowwad at 1:30 to photograph more people. And I might work this morning at Lajee—if open— for the fast internet and company, but I so love working alone at home, despite the flakey, in and out internet here, that I might remain home, enjoying my privacy. After one month it’s the first privacy I’ve experienced on this trip.

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A highlight yesterday was eating shuwarma on my second floor porch in the camp: cool evening, looking out at the neighborhood and the separation/annexation/apartheid wall. Two evenings ago, while sauntering to the market and cash machine and self-guided tour of the Jacir Palace, the exclusive hotel right outside the camp, I observed night football (soccer) on what may be the only football field in the camp. Play was vigorous and hot. I tried photographing with my phone, failed because of the dim light and poor zoom. Why had I forgotten my camera?

I’ve also learned about the use of names like grandma, uncle, etc. Such people may not be blood relatives; those names might be honorifics. So when Mousa earlier told me we were to meet his grandma, she was not a blood relative. Very confusing, as usual, one challenge when crossing cultures.

I should also write or see Mousa about the man who offered to go with me to his ancestral village. Follow up-follow up-follow up, one of the keys to success.

October 7, 2018, Sunday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

Researching online Rowwad’s sparkling new guest quarters, I discovered a single or double rents for $15, half what I’m paying at Lajee guest quarters. Cleaner, newer, probably everything works better, but wouldn’t I feel lonely there, with apparently so few residents? And how well does everything actually function? Where and what would I eat? An improvement over Rowwad’s old volunteer housing in the camp which I remember was long and dark with a rudimentary kitchen and one interesting housemate, someone who came and went between here and somewhere mysterious and distant. I never learned the details of his story.

Later I will seek and photograph one original site of Abed’s family, Beit Natiff. What will I find there?

Friends Of Al Rowwad

Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the Aida refugee camp (May 2009)

Al Rowwad Vocational Training Center

The rising of the light: Beautiful Resistance in the Aida refugee camp of Bethlehem, Occupied Territories, Palestine (by Skip Schiel, June 2009)

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