The return of 22 Diaspora Palestinians

Bethlehem/Aida refuge camp/PNN

Tuesday 11th May, 2017

As you enter Aida camp the first thing your eyes will meet is The Key. It is said to be the biggest key in the world.  The Key embodies the atmosphere of the camp. It holds a flood of emotions but one in particular stands out, hope. “The Key of Return” reminds every child in Aida camp as they return from school that there is hope and that they shall never give up fighting for it.

The Key is where the tour, which is organized by Aida Youth Center, begins for 22 young Diaspora Palestinians from seven different countries around the world. They are traveling through HCEF Know Thy Heritage program to Jordan and have now arrived in Palestine. The keystones of the program is to “explore and live Palestine and have the Diaspora Palestinians strengthen their knowledge of their Palestinian identity, culture, history and traditions and learn more about Palestine’s economic, political and social context“.

The young Diaspora Palestinians all have different backgrounds and have all grown up in evidently different countries but at this moment they are all united by their Palestinian heritage and their will to experience it.

“I have always felt very connected to my original routs and wanted to see where I’m from” says 25-year-old Mohamed from Denmark.

Some of the Palestinians also accentuate that the motivation to come to Palestine came from the need to know more about their country.

“I don’t know anything about my country. When people ask me where I’m from my first response is Palestine and then the questions starts and I have no idea. We are just raised to hate Israel and love Palestine and I don’t know why. That’s why I wanted to come here to learn and see it with my own eyes” adds 24-year-old Rawan from USA.

One of the stops on the tour is a black wall with 264 written names. These are the names of the 264 children that were killed during the Israeli Massacre in 2014. As the delegation is facing the wall Rawan outburst “that’s my cousin“. Her 14-year-old dead cousin is the first name listed on the wall. The cousin was kidnapped during Ramadan in 2014 by three Israeli citizens that burned him and thereafter threw rocks on his head. He later died from his injuries.

Rawan explains “It was a shock. There are probably so many stories like that here so I definitely didn’t expect to see his name, also as the first one listed. To come here and see these people remembering his name on the wall, they are constantly remembering our son that makes me feel bad. We always hear about these stories, we are sad for a couple of hours and then we forget about them the next day”.

22-year-old Serene from the US had an opposed reaction to seeing the list of names, instead of being sad she was filled with anger towards her country.

When I saw that it had USA written on it I got so mad, I was so mad being from the USA. I have seen the media and all the lies they spread about Palestine and I now know it is not true“.

Walking around Aida refugee camp and seeing the living conditions for the 5,500 Palestinians who live on 0,71 square kilometers makes a significant impact on the delegation.

Moreover they are all marked by the camp in different ways.

24-year-old Wissam from France says about his experience “Walking around reminded me of Beddawi refugee camp but much bigger this time. I felt a bit uncomfortable because of the lack of space and figured that it could be difficult to have privacy in such a place“.

On the contrary to this Mohamed drew his attention to the warm and welcoming atmosphere he was meet by in the camp.

When you see the conditions they are living under they are horrible but at the same time I also feel like it’s one of the best places to be. There is always life and despite the tough conditions here people will always greet you with a smile and will always see the positive in things. There is a very unique spirit here“.

As the tour is lacking towards the end, the delegation has one last stop on the way. They are going to spray graffiti on the 721 km long separation wall that also borders Aida refugee camp.

Led by Munther Ameira, from Aida Youth Center, they approach the wall closely watched by the Israeli soldiers from their watchtower. The atmosphere is intense and powerful, it is filled with energy from all the Palestinians and every face is pointed at one thing, the wall.

I felt insecure at first but then I felt like we had to keep going and not stop” Wissam comments.

Free Palestine” is written in a variety of different languages all over the wall.  However the patience amongst the Israeli soldiers quickly runs out. They approach Munther and ask him in Hebrew “what are you doing? Do you think you are a hero?”. They persistently tell him and the delegation to leave or else they will start shooting even though they haven’t done anything illegal.

When confronted with the soldiers Rawan says she felt” powerful, unlike anything I have ever tried before“.

Wissam on the contrary seems moved by the realization of the limited options for the Palestinians in Aida camp when he was confronted “What we felt for 15 minutes is what they feel all day, every day. The feeling that you are not free to even paint on a wall“.

As the delegation leaves the wall and the Israeli soldiers behind them they scream from the top of their lungs ” free Palestine “. The atmosphere is explosive with a touch of serenity.

Before the delegation leaves Aida refugee camp, Suha, leader of KnowThyHeritage 2017, says she hopes the Diaspora Palestinians will take a newfound drive home with them from this trip.

They already feel strongly about their culture but there is a distance, a level of not realizing there is hope, there is something to fight for, there is something to be angry about. The things that our parents complain about we lost we need to be angry about that. I hope they take with them a newfound drive to keep pushing for this country and to keep fighting for what we have here and how we do that. You start to understand what are the methods we can use to fight“.

As the delegation says goodbye and enter the bus you notice a newly evoked glow in their eyes, you could almost call it an Olympic flame.