The BADIL Center recently completed the events of the Awda (return) Summer School in the Phoenix center in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, culminating in the graduation of 40 participants following 10 days of intensive training,
The 40 participants between 18 and 25 years of age and representing various regions of “Historic Palestine,” are refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. All 40 participants received certificates upon graduation from the 10-day program.
The Awda School is aimed at advancing BADIL’s youth development and training program in the field of defending Palestinian refugee rights. The program was launched five years ago by BADIL for the purpose of defending Palestinian refugee rights through a campaign aimed at training youth in a number of different areas such as developing skills and raising awareness about crucial issues amongst younger generations of refugees and displaced persons, in particular the right to return to their original homes and localities.
BADIL’s Awda School is the result of five years of experience in organizing the “Youth Education and Activation Program”. A majority of the participants of the Summer School have also been involved in the program during the past 5 years. Thus, all participants had extensive experience and knowledge on the topics discussed by BADIL including BADIL’s vision and its activities carried in various refugee camps and refugee communities, prior to the start of the current program.
The training topics at the Summer School were diverse and included training sessions on skill building, personal abilities, leadership training, communication skills, monitoring and documentation as well as a central focus on the mechanisms for the protection of Palestinian refugees and practical methods to return to their places of origin. The participants learned about the Israeli apartheid system that Israel has established on both sides of the “Green Line” and its effects on the Palestinian people. Also discussed were the mechanisms used by Israel in the displacement and expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and land during the past 63 years as well as possibilities to address those atrocities by adhering to a rights based solution to the Palestinian “conflict”, focusing on the issue of the displaced and the refugee.
Moreover, the program included advocacy skills and awareness raising sessions about current topics such as the Palestinian approach to seeking recognition as a state at the United Nations this September and its possible impacts on Palestinian national rights –in particular the right of return and the right to self-determination.
During the various exercises and discussions, mainly in small groups, participants had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and strengthen their communication skills (which inevitably contributed to awareness raising on the important issues related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict). Every participant had the opportunity to express his or her ideas and opinions individually or collectively to the program coordinators, teachers and lecturers.
The program included field trips to Tulkarm, Hebron, and Battir village, which is located west of Bethlehem. The participants received important information during these trips about the methods that Israel uses to forcibly displace Palestinians from their land and property, and about the daily human rights violations that people face in these areas, especially as a result of the Israeli “apartheid wall”, land confiscation, and Israeli colonial settlement construction.
In Hebron, the participants visited the old town of the city and witnessed the suffering of the residents as a result of Israeli harassment, which the residents are exposed to on a daily basis by the Jewish Israeli settlers who have occupied parts of the city. The participants participated in a tour with the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee in the alleys of the old town and were informed of the projects undertaken by the Committee for the protection and renovation of houses that settlers have damaged or destroyed. The Committee submitted a detailed account on the history and impacts of the “contemporary colonization” of the city including its division into two areas by the Israeli occupation. During the tour, the Israeli Occupation Forces stationed at the entrances to the Haram mosque, Ibrahimi Sharif, prevented the participants from entering the mosque on the grounds that they were wearing t-shirts with the slogan, “1948”.
During the visit to Tulkarem, which was coordinated with the local Popular Committee Against the Wall, the participants visited the villages of Dier Al-Ghuson and Baka Al-Sharkya to see the effects of the “apartheid wall” on its residents.
In the village of Battir the participants toured the village and learned of the harassment policies and practices towards the indigenous population by the Israeli Occupation Army, in particular in preventing them from access to their lands occupied in 1948. Moreover, they visited the natural water springs and the historic monuments of the village.
The last day of the Summer School was devoted to the evaluation of the program and the insights that the participants gained. The participants spoke about how they were impressed with the program despite the intensity of the schedule and topics during the 10 days of continuous training. One participant stated that it was hugely effective in serving the Palestinian cause through supporting and educating young people on both a political as well as rehabilitative level.
During the last day, on which the participants graduated, the BADIL campaign unit coordinator, Mr. Basim Sbaih, praised the group’s character and spirit, despite the difficulties in coping with the program at first. Mr. Sbaih encouraged the participants to continue their commitment to the Palestinian cause and to incorporate their newly acquired skills and knowledge into the struggle.
At the end of the ceremony, BADIL’s logistic coordinator, Mr. Khalil Abu Kadija, thanked all of the institutions and organizations that participated in the School, and praised the work of the group in building a communications network via the Internet to advertise the program.
Along with Badil, a number of trainers and civil society organizations participated in the program, such as Zochrot, an Israeli organization that spoke about the mechanisms for return, Al Haq, which spoke about the art of authentication, Caritas, which provided communication and leadership training, Khotwa which lectured on ethnic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the Independent Commission for Human Rights, which provided writing and documentation skill training. The participants also heard from the organizers of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, the campaign against the Jewish National Fund and Youth for Jerusalem, which spoke about the one-state versus the two-state solution.