Thursday, 6 May 2010

Visit to Jenin

The very mention of the West Bank town of Jenin seems to set alarm bells ringing with many of the people here. The incursion of the Israeli army into Jenin was one of the flashpoints of the Intifada, and a number of lives were lost, especially on the Palestinian side. The town was ‘closed’ for some time, and even now I doubted how easy it would be to get in (when I mentioned I was going, one Palestinian friend said I was a brave man!). As it was, there was nothing simpler than getting through the checkpoint (though the vehicle and our luggage were thoroughly searched on the way back!), and Jenin itself was a friendly, bustling town.

I had gone there with Runa Mackay and Janet Powney from Edinburgh, and our main contact was Yousef at the Jenin Cultural Centre, which organizes drama, workshops for children, English lessons and computer classes among other things. [The photo is at the Cultural Centre at Jenin. From left, Yousef, Ahmed, Mohammed and me.] It was interesting to see the children’s paintings, which had been full of violent images of soldiers, tanks, blood, people being arrested. However, the more recent ones are of more peaceful scenes, including the sea – though this is something which can no longer be seen with ease on the West bank. It was also good to visit the Refugee Camp, which had borne the brunt of the fighting during the Incursion, and see the sculpture of a horse, made out of bits of cars (and even an ambulance) which had been blown up during the fighting. Again, taking something negative and turning it into a positive.

We stayed at Yousef’s home in the village of Burqin, and I was excited to find an old Orthodox church there, set in a peaceful garden full of roses. It is reputedly the site of the healing of the 10 lepers, and a church was built there in the 4th Century. The Christian population is small, but there seems to be a good relationship between the Moslems and Christians. Also near Burqin, is a centre for fair trade products (Canaan Fair Trade). There seem to be about 40 farms involved, seven of which are organic, as well as 6 women’s co-operatives. Farmers are given a good price for their goods, and the quality seems to be excellent (I bought some olive oil and some soap). A lot of the produce is sold to Europe and America, and I felt encouraged that the fragile Palestinian economy could be boosted by an organization seeking to benefit women and men in this rural community.

A good visit, and one which re-enforces in my mind both the goodness of people on all sides of this conflict, but also the dreadful injustices being borne by the Palestinians in the West Bank. But ultimately I left feeling more hopeful for the Palestinian people.

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