Voluntary service in Palestine

01 Siedlung in Naehe Bethlehem

Settlement near Bethlehem (Photo: Alicia Fullin 2019)

The volunteer Alicia Fullin reports about her 4-week assignment in the rehabilitation program in Palestine.

On the 9th of July I arrived in Tel-Aviv. I was a bit concerned about how I would manage to get thorough the border and what to say when I was asked questions. Still, I made it out of the airport without having any problems. When the driver approached be, I felt comfortable at once. We talked throughout the whole drive to Beit Sahour and I was encouraged to meet everyone else. As I had expected, all the people I met were open and saw it as a priority to make my stay here great. I was going to spend a few days at the rehabilitation centre, then work at the sports centre and finish my visit with the Journey for Justice.

On my first day I was introduced to these centres and got to spend the afternoon with a youth group. They were being trained to communicate in English and the trainer asked each of them to tell me a story from their life. It was the first time I realized how privileged I am to live my life in Switzerland. And even though I was well prepared for the situation here, it is not the same to read about and learn about it. I can always close the book and return to my reality. Here, reality looks different and all the teenagers are used to having a relative or a friend who is affected by the occupation, mostly they are themselves. There were stories of arrests in the middle of the night, people being shot or hit and families being afraid that something could happen to them or their family.

At the rehabilitation centre I unfortunately did not have the chance to help much, I was a bit surprised and disappointed about that but the activities I got to do out of the office were great. On the first day I visited a youth camp in Bethlehem, where I first saw the separation barrier with my own eyes. We also drove to Hebron where Nader, the manager, had a meeting with visitors from “Save the Children UK”. It was an amazing opportunity; they talked about the legal situation here, how human rights are not imposed and what effect that can have on the youth. Six young men came and talked about their experience in the Israeli prison, they have all received help from the YMCA once they got out of prison, and their family was looked after while they were still there. These stories are touching, something we as Europeans can not imagine. They have been harassed and physically hurt. It is not an exception that a young man has made experiences with detention and imprisonment. One of my planned fieldtrips even got cancelled because someone from the village we had wanted to go to had died in the Israeli prison due to injuries caused by excessive beating from Israeli prison guards. And even though these young people have seen and experienced so much pain and trouble they can still laugh and be happy.

Outside of work, I live with Haneen who works at the JAI office and her two kids. We live only a few minutes away from the office. She took me to play Bingo, visit her family, go swimming and we even visited Ramallah. It is an amazing experience to live in the middle of this world. Even though I do not understand anything when they talk Arabic, I still feel very welcome by everyone I meet. The people here live in an incredibly shocking reality and I doubt that there is any Palestinian here that does not have a touching story to tell. When I sit in the car with someone from here, they point out so many things; the wall, the checkpoints, the settlements. All of these are so present in their lives, they are constantly reminded that they are not free and that so many things restrict them in their everyday life. The checkpoints can be closed anytime, the farmers are constantly afraid of losing their field. Many own land, which they cannot use and build on and too many are afraid of travelling because they do not know if they will return back home.

Beit Sahour, 19th Juli 2019, Alicia Fullin