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Twinning with Palestine

The Britain - Palestine Twinning Network - "promoting twinning and friendship links"

Activities for the network in 2011 include * Women's visit - March * Twinning Conference in Palestine - April * Visits to Palestine April and October * Conference in Liverpool - November.

Twinning Info. / Visit reports - Cheltenham to Bethlehem (Feb.'06) Photographs from the last childrens visit - (1) (2)

On this page; About the Cheltenham group / Aida Refugee Camp / Aida Refugee Camp newsletter

News from the Cheltenham and Gloucestershire Group twinned (unofficially) with Bethlehem.

We fund raise for the needy families with children in Bethlehem, and have ( an unofficial ) link with Deheisheh Camp, as most of the poorest families seem to live there.

I started raising cash for the families of the staff of the Star Hotel, where I had stayed frequently with the pilgrimage groups that I took there since 1993. In September 2000, they found all the groups cancelling, so I went with cash we raised and helped them a bit. When people here heard about the plight of the Palestinians, they were very generous, so our circle widened, and we helped more families. I have been 24 times since then, and each time I take baby clothes, vitamin tablets, pencils for school, and whatever else I can carry.

Our group decided to bring some children over for a break from the conflict. In 2003 we brought 10 children from very poor families, who had never been out of the area before, had never seen the sea, swimming pools, zoos etc., and we took them to places like that and to London for 2/3 days. We raised £650 per child and the 1 leader. In 2005 we repeated the project, and brought 10 again, but with 2 leaders. The 1st visit was OK But some of the children were homesick as we put 2 in each family. The next time, we had 1 house for them, so one of the leaders was ‘house mother' and they were much better. They were aged 10 or 11 years, so we got 1/2 fare on the flights, and a generous discount from the Royal Jordanian Airline. One of our members produced photos of the childrens trip onto a website (see gallery).

Also, we have recently renovated a room for an ‘After School Club', which was completed during my last visit in February/March. It is called ‘AL Khemeh' the Tent. A sort of cultural centre, where the children learn songs, poetry, dance, and to draw and paint. During each visit, we try to help with expendable materials for the centre, and buy deaf aids for children in the children in the new school for deaf children who can't afford the cost. Other money is distributed to families who are needy…with children.

I hope to go in July to help with a summer school for art in the camp. In 2 days, on the 24th I am taking a group of 24 for a pilgrimage, including a day in the camp, for a tour, and lunch, so some of the benefactors can see the problems there, and how we try to help.

If anyone is interested in bringing children over, I can maybe help with some ideas, as we found our 2nd group was better, because of what we learned with the first one. They were better prepared and I think they got more out of their visit.

Some of the money I take, is profit from the sale of olive wood items, which I buy in Bethlehem, and bring back to sell mainly in churches or at talks I do for various groups in our area.

Article about a child in the Aida Refugee Camp

A park not a prison cell…

Mahmoud is 14 years old. He was in 7th grade at school. He is a child, or at least he was until three and a half months ago.

On the 10th February Mahmoud was playing in Aida camp as children do. His father is a manual worker and he keeps a large stockpile of wood in an area near to the Apartheid Wall. Children sometimes go there to play with the wood and sand. Mahmoud also kept his dog there. He lived for his dog. On this particular day he had just taken him food and was happily playing with him. IOF jeeps and soldiers had been in the camp during the day and some children had come out to throw stones at them trying to get them to leave their camp. But this didn't interest Mahmoud, he was too busy with his dog.

Then his fun was shattered in seconds and his childhood changed for ever.

A jeep span around the corner and was alongside him in seconds, the brakes screaming as it stopped alongside him, and his dog. Before he knew what was happening he was being dragged into the back of the jeep. At the same time blows began to rain down on him. Not just slaps, he was being beaten with sticks. The jeep drove to the military base that looms over the camp at Rachel's Tomb. He was dragged out and thrown into a cell after his hands and legs had been bound with cuffs.

He was alone when it happened, nobody even saw it so people around the camp were busy searching for him when he didn't return home later that night. It wasn't until after midnight when the family finally got word through the DCO that he had been arrested.

For the next two days Mahmoud spoke to no-one and had no idea what had happened or why he was there. He didn't even see the soldiers apart from when they came into his cell after they'd finished eating to offer him a plate of leftovers, half chewed food and bones. He refused the food and was given nothing but water for the time they kept him there. Two days later soldiers entered his cell and blindfolded him, he still had his hands and ankles bound. He was thrown into another jeep which sped off at high speed. He had no idea where he was going and was understandably terrified.

He was taken to what he later found out was Acion detention centre where he was immediately interrogated:

"Why did you go to an Israeli military area?"

"I didn't. I was inside the camp on the Palestinian side of the wall playing with my dog!"

The questions were repeated for about an hour then he was taken to a cell. He was not interrogated again in Acion where he spent nine days in a big cell full of children. The youngest was 10 years old. He was then transferred to Offer Prison again blindfolded and bound with restraints for the journey.

In Offer they did not get fed and were given only water. The children decided they must protest at their treatment and went on hunger strike.

After two days the soldiers came to the cell and threw in "knock-out" grenades which release a type of sleeping gas. They then entered the cell and anybody who was not already knocked out was hit with a large electric stick that released a shock and rendered then unconscious:

"We were then all put in the zinzana (a punishment cell). The zinzana measures about one metre by two metres and up to ten of us were put in each one."

They were brought food in small iron boxes. They were terrified and very desperate. They began to use the iron lids on the boxes to cut themselves as a protest, because, in Mahmoud's words:

"We were children and we just wanted someone to care…."

They were taken out after two day of this inhuman suffering. He was transferred again, this time to Telmund Prison inside Israel.

In Telmund the cells varied in size and held between five and thirty children each. They each had a bed and there was a TV, a toilet and hot water to make drinks with. There was also a tiny window but immediately at the other side of it was a wide iron bar. Small shafts of light would creep around the sides of the bar so some light did get in but they couldn't see out. It is an adult prison although the children were kept in separate cells to the adults. They were given just one meal a day and let out of the cell once daily for exercise:

"We were taken out into a large cage once a day for exercise but sometimes the soldiers would cover the open roof of the cage so we couldn't see the sun."

The Palestinian political factions sent money into the prison once a month which went straight to a small canteen. The children affiliate themselves to one of the groups and are allowed to visit the canteen monthly to choose some extra food and cigarettes paid for by the group to which they have joined. Mahmoud decided to affiliate himself with Hamas, the reason was quiet simple:

"They sent 250 Shekels a month to the canteen for me to spend on sweets and chocolate. We would split the sweets between a group of friends and ration them so we had something nice every day. I didn't smoke, but we sometimes got chocolate cigarettes."

Mahmoud was taken to court three times during his time at Telmund. At his first court appearance he was told he was being charged with throwing stones at soldiers and carrying a knife. The prosecutors produced a vegetable knife as evidence but Mahmoud had never seen it before in his life. He was ordered to pay 20,000 NIS (about $4500 US) or remain in prison:

"From where do I get this money? I was angry and crying. My family was in the court and I told my father not to pay anything as I had done nothing."

This process was repeated each time he was taken to court until on the third occasion he was finally told he would be staying in prison for three months and ten days in total.

Mahmoud's parents regularly applied for permission to enter Israel so they could go and visit him. They were turned down on every occasion. There was no access to telephones. The only time he had any contact with his family was when his young brother, Khadr, came to visit one day. Khadr is only 10, too young for ID, so able to enter Israel. The night before he went Khadr couldn't sleep. He was thinking about seeing his brother again:

"I just wanted to see my brother again. To touch him, to hug him and to kiss him."

During the journey the bus Khadr was travelling on was attacked by settlers near Effrat settlement who threw rocks and stones at the passing bus. Nobody was seriously hurt but it was obviously a frightening episode for one so young.

When the brothers finally got to see each other Khadr realised his dreams would not come true. They had to speak to each other on the telephone through a thick glass window. Mahmoud asked about the family, how everybody was at home and Khadr explained:

"Everybody misses you terribly. Mother cries a lot."

"Tell her to be strong, I will be home in 40 days now, don't worry." Mahmoud responded.

Hadr had taken the families phone number so Mahmoud could contact them as soon as he was released. Before he left, 10 year old Khadr had some advice for his big brother:

"Don't become politically active inside prison. Their always watching. You must just study and do arts."

When it was time for Khadr to leave, the brothers raised there hands, either side of the reinforced glass window and put them together, as if touching each other. Khadr wouldn't leave and the soldiers had to physically drag him away:

"I was very angry and upset because I couldn't touch my brother after all this time. But I was also happy because I'd seen him."

When Mahmoud was eventually released he was taken by soldiers to Jabber checkpoint near Nablus and left there. He found a taxi and asked the driver to take him home, back to Aida Camp. When he finally reached home the driver asked for 450NIS (about $100 US), an extortionate figure, but the family paid, they were just glad to have their son back. There was a big party with fireworks and for once the explosions in Aida Camp were those of celebration not the sound of the IOF bombarding the camp with gunfire.

Mahmoud doesn't go out much now. His dog has died and he spends most of his time in the loft with his birds. He doesn't want to go out anymore, he doesn't want to be taken again.

If you ask Mahmoud what he now wants, what he needs in his life, it is clear that despite everything, deep down inside he is still a child:

"We need a place to play in the camp, a park or a garden. Us children enjoy these places, not the inside of prison cells."

A newsletter from the Lajee Centre in Aida refugee Camp, Bethlehem.

www.richwiles.com

Dear Friends,

Hello from Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp, Palestine.

First let us apologize for not being in touch with you sooner, we have been trying to compile a complete email list. Second, let us thank you for visiting our camp, our Center, and our children and for supporting us in our goal to provide educational, cultural, and social activities for the children of Aida.

Let us inform you of some of the activities we have recently completed and some which we plan to complete this summer. Lajee has published a children's book called "The Boy and the Wall", written by the youth of Aida camp in both English and Arabic. You can see a PDF of it on our website.

It is available for a cost of roughly $5/25 NIS. Lajee has produced 2 photography exhibits with the help of our dear friend and photographer Rich Wiles. The pictures were taken by the youth of Aida and have been exhibited in Bethlehem, the UK, and Italy. Lajee has also taken our kids on 3 trips recently; to Jericho in March, Hebron in April, and Qalqilya in June. Lajee's upcoming activities include a summer camp organized by BADIL focusing on the issue of refugees. It will last 4 days and includes other children's NGO's from Israel and the West Bank.

After that Lajee will have its own summer camp for local children. It will last 14 days and we hope it will include a trip to the beaches of Haifa. Following that is Lajee's 5th International Work Camp from Aug. 6-Aug. 20, which so far has 20 international participants. Finally, Lajee continues to bring psychologists from BASR to treat camp youth psychologically traumatized by the violence and living conditions of the occupation. Lajee is also working to publish a magazine every 6 months called "Building Our Future"; it will highlight Lajee's work and have info about the camp and its residents.

Let us also inform you on the news from Aida Camp. Only 1 month ago the IDF completed construction of its "Separation Barrier" which encloses Aida Camp on 2 sides and annexes the Rachel's Tomb military base. In addition 7 youths (under age 18) were arrested last week at 2 a.m. Finally, as you probably know, the Hamas government has been boycotted by the international community and therefore most employees of the Palestinian Authority have not been paid for 4 months.

Recently Lajee has started a new initiative called "Friends of Lajee". These "friends" would donate only $10 per month to Lajee Center to cover our running costs (rent and utilities), which are not covered by grants Lajee receives to implement activities.

Please feel free to contact us if you would like more information on how you can support Lajee or would like to remove your email address from our list.

Thanks Again,

Lajee Center

Rich Wiles / Lajee Center (Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem) International Photography Tour 2007-08. URGENT APPEAL - Sponsor a child! This tour urgently needs sponsors (download the form here). www.richwiles.com

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