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Summer in Palestine

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 06.07.2010:

Summer and Palestinians

By George Rishmawi

TWIP June 2010

Summer in Palestine is a real-life festival. Palestinians who live in the diaspora return to Palestine to visit their family members, tourists from all over the world come to visit Palestine especially since summer is a low season for tourism, students from all over the world travel during their summer holidays to encounter some new life in an attempt to find themselves.

During the summer one can find various rich opportunities to experience traditional and modern-day Palestinian life. Palestinian community organisations from the north to the south are engaged all year long in preparing for summer festivals starting in the village of Artas, near Bethlehem. Artas hosts the annual lettuce festival celebrations at the end of April or in early May. Artas is famous for its water springs that irrigate the Artas valley and farms. The festival is organised by the Artas Folklore Centre. During the festival, people are offered an opportunity to understand traditional life in the village and to enjoy traditional Palestine food. Beit Sahour, the traditional place of the Shepherds’ Field, has become famous for its faqquos festival, organised by the Palestine Wildlife Society. Travelling north, one can visit the beautiful village of Jifna and its ancient fortress. Jifna, which is known for its apricots, hosts the annual apricot festival when thousands of people go to visit and enjoy.

Also during the summer, community organisations hold various kinds of festivals on different themes. Birzeit village is not only famous for its university but also for its beautifully preserved old town, where the Rozanna Association organises a week-long cultural festival that includes music, drama, and art and brings together vendors of traditional handicrafts from all over the West Bank. Although the festivals are usually located near the main cities, a number of recent festival initiatives have reached vulnerable rural communities such as the village of Saffa, west of Ramallah.

One of the most important towns in Palestine is the village of Sabastiya, rich in its 6000-year history that began with the Canaanite Era and moved through the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, and Ottoman periods to modern life today in Palestine. By visiting Sabastiya, one can gain a better understanding of the roots of the Palestinian people and how their culture and identity are a unique tapestry that has been woven together from the riches of all the previous cultures and civilisations. The village of Sabastiya was completely devastated during the years of the second Intifada, but the villagers, as a reflection of their determination to bring life to the village, soon began to host a summer festival every July. The evergreen village covered with olive groves offers evidence of a genuine, living Palestine.

Palestinian summers also welcome many students from all over the world who come as volunteers to gain international experience. Palestinian organisations have been prepared to host and conduct summer programmes that aim to engage with international students and provide them with the best Palestinian experience possible: studying Arabic, volunteering at community-based organisations, etc. As most of these students and volunteers live with families during their stay, they have a positive economic impact on many families in Palestine.

Palestinian universities organise summer work camps. Palestinian students need to accumulate a number of voluntary work hours in order to graduate, which has led some universities to organise an international work camp: two weeks of working, laughing, dancing and, of course, encountering real life in Palestine under occupation. After this experience of working and playing alongside international youth, Palestinian students emerge with a better understanding of their own situation as well as that of others. Internationals leave with a deeper experience of day-to-day life for Palestinians. Such camps have enabled many internationals to be real advocates and ambassadors for the Palestinian cause of justice.

During the month of July, Massar Ibrahim organises an international youth walk that includes Palestinian and international students from the around the globe. This walk starts from the city of Nablus and moves through Awarta, Duma, Ain Samia, Taybeh, Beitin, and Birzeit. Bus trips are then arranged to Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, and Jerusalem. These walks benefit not only the students but also the villagers and villages that welcome the walkers; the students are given numerous opportunities to experience traditional Palestinian village life and enjoy traditional meals such as taboun cuisine. As a result of these walks, many Palestinians are able to explore and discover Palestine for the first time in their lives, which strengthens their identity as Palestinians and encourages a sense of pride in their own culture.

Summertime is a unique opportunity to discover Palestine through various means of travel: walking, taking a bus, and biking. This year, more than ever before, biking tours will be encouraged for locals and internationals.

During the summer months, local tourism for Palestinians reaches its peak. Many people travel to and spend weekends in various attractive spots. Today, due to tourism infrastructure developments, more tourism facilities have been built in Jenin, Jericho, Ramallah, and, of course, Bethlehem. Qalqilia boasts the only zoo in the West Bank – high on the list of priorities for children and adults alike. Other towns have been developing amusement parks for people of all ages, which provide fun weekend entertainment for families.

During the summer holidays, many schools and community organisations provide summer camps for children. A variety of activities are offered, including swimming, sports, and educational activities. Volunteers are always needed to conduct activities with the children during the summer camps.

Summer in Palestine means people enjoying a late-night stroll through city and town centres, visitors wanting to experience Palestinian life, families reuniting… Summer in Palestine means fun, festivals, and hope for a better future.

George Rishmawi is the coordinator and co-founder of Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies (http://www.sirajcenter.org), which organises cultural and political tours as well as hiking and biking tours in Palestine.

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