An art workshop for children from Tulkarm, West Bank and pupils of the WAS-NS primary schoolJuly 2008
On June 24 and 25, an activity took place in Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom that was the first of its kind for us. Twenty-five Palestinian children aged 8 – 13 from a refugee camp in the West Bank joined children of the WAS-NS primary school for an art workshop.
The activity was long in preparation and was made possible thanks to a special grant from the Netherlands Embassy. We thank the British Friends of Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam for additional support.
Actually, the activity was scheduled for a much earlier date, but due to the formidable bureaucracy of obtaining permits for the Palestinian children, and other objective difficulties, the event had to be postponed and re-postponed until – at almost the last moment in the school year – success! The permits were finally in place and the workshop could take place.
The primary school at WAS-NS, established 1984, is a bilingual, binational educational educational system attended by 170 Arab and Jewish children (all Israeli citizens) from 25 towns in a broad area surrounding the village.
A youth centre in Tulkarm serves children of the West Bank Palestinian city and particularly the nearby refugee camp. Tulkarm, with a population of 59,000 is located 15 kilometers from the Israeli seaside town of Netanya. The refugee camp, with a population of 18,000, is inhabited by people evacuated from their former homes in what is today Israel, during the 1948 war. Tulkarm is separated from Israel by the separation barrier, while access to the city from the West Bank is controlled by military checkpoints. This means that travel to Israel is largely off-limits, and even travel to other West Bank cities is difficult.
We, and social workers on the Palestinian side, think that it is enormously beneficial for West Bank refugee children, who experience very difficult conditions, to get outside their refugee camp, broaden their knowledge of the region, meet with the Jewish and Arab children who live so close by, and taste a little freedom in their lives. For the last two years we have organized summer camps for these children and two new summer camp activities are planned for July 2008. However, these summer activities have been largely uni-national for the Arab children, and we wanted to arrange an activity in which there would be the possibility to meet children of the WAS-NS primary school.
Before the last summer camp, we were informed by the military authorities that special permits are unnecessary for children, and that the procedure of obtaining them was just a formality. However, this time, the military authorities dealt with the matter more strictly and stalled on issuing the permits. The activity had to be postponed again and again, and we were uncertain that it would even be possible to conduct the workshop before the end of the school year.
Obtaining the permits proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare in which a number of people in WAS-NS became involved. Then, when they were authorized, the Palestinian organizers were given the run-around when they attempted to collect the permits on their side. Finally, although permits were granted for the children, none were issued for any adult chaperons. This meant that teachers from the WAS-NS primary school had to leave in the middle of the school day, make the 90 minute journey to the checkpoint, and usher the children through.
The Tulkarm children arrived in the village at about noon on June 23, where they were received by the hotel staff and Reem Nashef, the primary school teacher from WAS-NS who coordinated the workshop. From the moment of their arrival, Reem became their adoptive mother (though they called her “auntie”). Perhaps she felt a special closeness to the children since she herself was born in Tulkarm.
Reem showed the children the school, but the main activity planned for the day was a visit to the WAS-NS swimming pool – a rare treat for kids who had never seen one, or ever visited the seashore, which in normal circumstances would be a fifteen minute trip from Tulkarm.
At the school and at the pool, the kids were joined by Jewish and Arab children from WAS-NS and the primary school. The fact that the Jewish children at the WAS-NS school know Arabic made conversation possible, where this would not be so in most other places. An obstacle that was just as formidable was the huge socio-economic gap. However children at the WAS-NS school had been well-prepared and showed special consideration for the Palestinian kids.
In the evening, teenagers from the village also became involved. These young people have been trained in a youth leadership course at the WAS-NS youth club. They will later be involved in guiding the summer camp activities to be held in the village in the coming month. They helped to make the children feel at home and engaged them in activities.
The next morning after breakfast, the children from Tulkarm arrived at the school and met with 30 children from the 5th and 6th grade classes. After some acquaintance games, they went to the art classrooms, dividing into two groups. Working with the children were three art teachers, Tsipi Zohar, Milla Belkis and Dyana Shalufi Rizek.
The concentration on the children’s faces as they worked on their art work was visible. The teachers contributed occasional gentle guidance. For the most part an air of quiet industry prevailed in the rooms. In one assignment, the children drew images of what made them sad in the world, followed by images of what made them happy. The sad pictures by the Palestinian children showed explosions, military vehicles crushing people, and the like. The happy scenes showed natural scenes of seashores, green fields, etc. After the children had completed the art workshop, they all went to the school’s computer room, where the WAS-NS school children showed their guests the lessons that they do on their computers.
The serious part of the day being over, everyone went for a special lunch at the hotel. Afterwards, the Palestinian children all wanted to re-visit the swimming pool, and that is where they spent their afternoon, up to their departure.
While at the swimming pool, Anwar and the other teachers asked the children what they had enjoyed best about their time in WAS-NS. Some said they had enjoyed most the pool. Others said that the artwork had been best. The Palestinian children asked whether it would be possible to organize another workshop like this. Disappointment was written all over their faces when they heard that if so, preference would be given to children that had not yet taken part.
As for the WAS-NS children, they too expressed their happiness at their encounter with the Palestinian children. Yasmin, a Jewish girl from the village said that it had been fun and had enjoyed all of the activities from the moment the Palestinian children arrived up to the time of their departure.
The departure, however was very difficult. When the bus came to collect them, the Tulkarm children were sad to be going home again so quickly.
Reem Nashef summed up the activity as follows:
“I was very touched by the obvious enjoyment these Palestinian children had in the village, and by their enormous appreciation for the opportunity. (Some of the children told us that this was a reward for receiving good grades at their school).
I was similarly moved on seeing the consideration, understanding and tolerance shown towards the Tulkarm kids by the children at the WAS-NS school.
It really hurt to see the sadness on the faces of the children when they were leaving. Despite all the difficulties, I really enjoyed the experience and hope that there will be further opportunities like it. Children everywhere deserve to have fun and gather happy experiences, and these children are no exception. ”
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