Yesterday marked the first time our group ventured past Kalandia and Ramallah, deep into the Palestinian Territories. Our destination was Nablus, primarily to meet withProject Hope, an NGO which teaches English, French, and other activities including hip hop in Palestine.
We met with Abdulhakim Sabbah, the director of operations in Nablus. He explained to us how the NGO works, and spoke frankly about the less romantic aspects of NGO work in Palestine outside Ramallah. For instance, it is not possible to go to a restaurant and have wine with your mean in Nablus, and if you enjoy arts and culture, the only films and plays on offer are those organized through Project Hope programs. He also spoke about the problems of corruption in NGOs, and the community of immoral middlemen who live of securing funding for groups in exchange for a commission. Overall, my impression of project hope was overwhelmingly positive – so much that I am considering coming back to volunteer here in the fall.
Perhaps most interesting for me was meeting one of the volunteers, Jenn, who is doing an MA on conflict and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine.
After leaving the project hope offices, we were led on an informal tour of Nablus where we were shown areas bombed out and destroyed for military purposes during the 2nd intifada. Although most of the struggle involved throwing rocks, Nablus was also an area of armed conflict between IDF troops and Palestinian irregulars, and as such the whole area was quarantined. Nizar, our guide, worked as a medic during that period and was arrested numerous times for 5 day periods.
The contemporary political situation in Nablus feels much more politicized than Ramallah. Nizar showed us posters and monuments to martyrs, and many elections posters which display the candidates holding weaponry.
Nablus does not get many tourists. But walking around the market some of us found Nablus much more welcoming than East Jerusalem or Ramallah – areas where tourists are commonplace. Many people said “welcome” to us, but not in such a way that they were only interested in selling us things. Many children came up to me to talk in the english they could manage. These experiences make me want to come back, and especially to learn Arabic.
Before we left Nablus, we visited the shopping mall. It feels much like any other shopping mall, with much more economic activity than malls I’ve seen in East Vancouver or poorer areas of Toronto. I know that the appearance of prosperity in this one place is not simply a sign of Palestinian prosperity, but also a sign of increasing divisions in economic class between wealthy Palestinians and refugees who continue to live in poverty. Still, I still can’t help but feel happy at the sight of some prosperity in Palestine.