Ala hadi al-ard (On this earth)
For two weeks this summer, when you approached Lajee Center, Mennonite Central Committee’s partner in Aida Refugee Camp, the sounds of children laughing and clapping to music as they learned dabke —a traditional Palestinian dance—for a moment drowned out the sounds of oppression.
Aida is a United Nations refugee camp north of Bethlehem in the West Bank, one of many camps established for the more than 750,000 Palestinians displaced from their homes in 1948 by the founding of the state of Israel and still not allowed to return.
By most accounts, this summer has been one of the worst there in recent memory. Aida Camp is right next to the Separation Wall and Rachel’s Tomb, so Israeli forces regularly enter the camp to shoot tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition, and “skunk” water (water mixed with a special chemical that creates a horrible, long-lasting odor). The activity increased this summer as tensions flared between Palestinians and Israel.
Despite these daily difficulties, Lajee Center decided to continue with its plan to host its annual children’s Summer Camp, a program sponsored by MCC. Salah Ajarma, Director of Lajee Center, noted that it is especially important to give children a safe place to play and build friendships during times like these. The weeks of Summer Camp gave the children, staff, and international volunteers the opportunity to engage in normal childhood activities: face-painting, crafts, and swimming at a local pool.
The camp T-shirts for this year feature a line from a poem by celebrated Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish. The Arabic line reads, “On this earth, what makes life worth living,” while the end of the poem declares, “We deserve life.” Ajarma emphasized that the staff wanted the children to know that even while conflict and violence affect the lives of Palestinians everywhere, they all deserve life.
Israel regularly uses tactics of “divide and rule,” most significantly through the blockade of Gaza—cutting it off from the world, but also from Palestinians outside its borders. But the recent violent conflict with Hamas in Gaza seems to have renewed a profound sense of unity among Palestinians.
Like many Palestinian organizations, Lajee Center decided to collect money to support relief efforts in Gaza. Within two hours, Ajarma said Lajee had collected 12,000 shekels (almost $3,500 USD) and 600 large water bottles to send to Gaza.
Churches host prayer services in support of Gaza, East Jerusalem hospitals take in victims from Gaza and several have sent medical teams to assist the beleaguered medical centers in Gaza, and civil society organizations collect clothing, money, and water to donate.
The United States provides $8.5 million in military aid to Israel each day, according to If Americans Knew. This money funds both Israel’s attacks in Gaza and in Aida Refugee Camp. This Peace Sunday, September 21, 2014, you can join Mennonite Church USA in praying for “the peace of Jerusalem” and help MCC call for a just peace for all Palestinians and Israelis.
“We are all Gaza,” read T-shirts and billboards around Jerusalem. and protest signs around the world. Lajee’s Summer Camp children proudly wear their shirts while saying that “ on this earth [Palestine], we deserve life.” Let us also pray and act in support of life.
Sara Brubacher is the peace program coordinator and Jessy Hampton is the advocacy and learning tour assistant for Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine and Israel.
Posted: 9/11/2014 7:00:00 AM
Interested in more analysis from the MCC Washington Office? Sign up to receive our free quarterly newsletter, the Washington Memo, as well as our monthly electronic newsletter, the E-Memo.