The Palestine Solidarity Project and Center For Freedom and Justice recently welcomed a group of 8 Norwegian students from the University of Trondheim to Beit Ummar. As part of a 10-day trip throughout the West Bank, our European guests were given a two day tour around the village, as well as through other parts of the Hebron region. This year’s visit to Palestine, which is the second so far, was organised by a former volunteer at the Centre for Freedom and Justice, making the visit both a happy reunion as well as an enriching encounter between Palestinians and Norwegian students.
On the first day, the group was led around Beit Ummar by Mousa Maria, the project manager of the centre. Firstly, the Norwegians were shown the southern part of the village, which borders the Israeli settlement of Karmi Zur. It was explained to them how the fence around the settlement has severely damaged Palestinian farmers’ livelyhoods, as they are often afraid to work in the fields which border the settlements, and are often harassed by settlers or army if they do. For this reason, many Palestinian farmers are forced to sell their land for very low prices, leading to economic, financial, and of course, psychological hardships.
Subsequently, the tour moved to see the market project of the Centre of Freedom and Justice, which is located alongside the Israeli controlled highway ‘Route 60’. It was shown how the organisation managed to build a agricultural project, which would be used as a market alongside the road where farmers and artisans from Beit Ummar could sell their products. This project would contribute sustainably to the economic and agricultural development of the entire village. However, the Israeli occupation force has since put roadblocks and fences alongside this part of the highway, obstructing virtually every possibility of realising this project. Moreover, the site has been ordered for demolishion, of which the court case is in process.
Then, we moved to the northern sides of the village, where we had good views of the Green Line, the Kiryat Arba settlement, and the Israeli prison. Standing on the top of the hills overlooking these areas, our guests were told the history of the Green Line and shown the exact expansion of the settlements.
In between these visits. The group was unexpectedly invited by a local farmer for tea, coffee, and food. Here the Norwegians were given the chance to talk with locals and ask any questions about the local situation, as well as experience the genuine and neverending Palestinian hospitality.
On the second day. We took the group to the Susya Bedouin camp, south of Hebron city. This camp has been under constant pressure and attack by the nearby Israeli settlement, making life extremely hard for its inhabitants. Nevertheless, they remain firmly committed to keep hold of their land by enduring this struggle to exist. Afterwards, we moved to the camp of Aml Kheir, which is located at the fence of a settlement and has suffered enormously from Israeli demolishions of their homes. All around the camp, piles of rubble marked by Palestinian flags remind the locals of what once used to be their home.
Eventually, and much to their liking, the group went to the nearby city of Halhoun to see the annual grape harvest festival. Here they came in contact with the Palestinian festivities and local traditions, such as Palestinian dance.
After about one hundred cups of arabic tea and a thousand grapes, our Norwegian friends were set to move on to other parts of the West Bank. They will now go to Hebron city, Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, ad Bethlemem, where they will do similar tours specific to those areas. In retrospect, one of the most reocurring questions we received from our Norwegian friends was: “How can we help?”, and “What can we, as European students, do in our lives to contribute to a more just and fair solution to the issues of illegal settlements, land grabbing, and economic hardships of the Palestinian population?”. These questions demonstrate our visitors’ compassion and willingness to improve the current unsustainable situation, as well as the impact of these tours on foreigners.
The importance of these visits are invaluable. They provide internationals with first-hand experience of the situation in the West Bank, crucial information and stories which they take back to Europe and share with their families, friends, and collegues. The precense of internationals locally, as well as the spead of information internationally is a key process in changing the mainstream narratives surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole, as well as the occupation in particular.
Given the success of our previous tours and all the positive reactions we received from our Norwegian guests, the Centre for Freedom and Justice openly welcomes any person or group regardless of race, nationality, or religion to visit Beit Ummar and experience the Palestnian hospitality, as well as see the realities on the ground in the Occupied West Bank.