The Occupation Notebooks: Entry 14: Nablus

On Wednesday (January 22) and the morning of Thursday (January 23), we were in Nablus.
 
An-Najah University
 

Wednesday morning, we met at An-Najah University (ANU) with several key administrators and faculty. Our discussion took on two main issues.


The first was the possibility of establishing working relationships between our institutions in the US and ANU, for study abroad, faculty exchange, and summer institutes. We addressed some of the logistical challenges and outlined an organizing plan for moving forward.
 
The second was the real history of Israeli suppression of Palestinian human rights to education.
 
In 1997, the ANU established the UNESCO Chair on Human Rights and Democracy as a research center in coordination with the UNESCO Chair Program. The chair oversees a number of projects, including research on local and global human rights issues, documentation of human rights abuses of ANU students, training and conferences, a film festival, legal advocacy, and the Right to Education Campaign.
 
ANU faculty shared with us the history of the work they have done at tracking Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights to education. These violations have included restricting student (and faculty) travel to and from campus, physical harassment and violence, detention, arrest, and censure (see their reports for more details).
Women and Labor
 
Our next meeting was with several women labor rights leaders and activists. Due to time constraints, the meeting focused on our introductions of ourselves and our work to one another.

We heard about the many projects that the women are involved in, including organized address to salaries, work conditions, health and child care as well as gender and sexual violence and harassment. Labor under occupation is difficult at best, given how restricted travel is, exasperated by the limited access to health resources in the territories and the ongoing issues of environmental contamination from sewage and other waste dumped into their neighborhoods.
 
The Balata Refugee Camp

  • Registered Refugee Population: 21,903
  • Special hardship cases: 699 families.
  • Number of damaged shelters that have been affected due to the IDF incursions in the West Bank since the beginning of the Intifada till March 2004: 81 in which 74 shelters were assisted.
  • Number of families receiving emergency food rations: 2906

Our next set of meetings was at the Balata Refugee Camp. We walked briefly through the camp and then met with the director of counseling at the Yafa Cultural Center. Afterwards, we met with a recently released political prisoner whose community leaders and family were hosting a reception at the sports center.


This was a difficult set of meetings. Again, we heard about the severity of force used by Israel against refugee camps–with constant policing, raids, detentions, arrests–that combine with a poor economic situation to contribute to rampant drug problems, crime, and depression. I liked that those we met with refused to put their story or the situation they confront into some happy-ending Hollywood archetype. The situation is bad; they need allies in the U.S. who are willing to say so.

Tanweer Center

Our last meeting of the day was with some of the staff and volunteers at Tanweer Center, which works at building political solidarity among and between Palestinian groups (in collaboration with the International Solidarity Movement).

Our discussion addressed the real need of Palestinian coalition, but was frustrated by a former attorney with ISM in London.

She reminded me of so many academics (and) activists in the U.S. whose “good intentions” in working with indigenous peoples are fraught with the righteousness of telling them what they ought to be doing, even what their goals and objectives ought to be, without having to live with the consequences of either.

At one point, the woman said “these refugees ought to just pack up and move home. It’s not like Israel can stop all 30,000 of them.” Ok. No. They probably couldn’t in the moment. But given Israel’s history of violence against Palestinians, why would you make such a suggestion, putting everyone in a line of fire? It is just that sort of irresponsible and pretentious political solidarity our delegation intended to question.

References

Alice Rothchild, “In Balata, the occupation is not just of body, but of mind” (June 21, 2013).

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