Report on Clive Bailey’s visit to Palestine (June 2016)

Report on Clive Bailey’s visit to Palestine
to see the work of our partners
Y-Care International and East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA
in helping poverty, injustice, employment and livelihood in Palestine
6th to 9th June 2016


Main people involved
   Terry Waite CBE - President of Y-Care International
   Adam Leach - Chief executive of Y-Care International
   Clive Bailey – Chairman of Austin Bailey Foundation
   Andre Batarseh - General Secretary of East Jerusalem YMCA
   Mira Rizek - National General Secretary of YWCA of Palestine

Locations visited
   East Jerusalem YMCA
   Jericho YMCA
   Beit Sahour YMCA
   Ramallah YWCA

Background

As one  of our three Overseas Flagship Projects running from 2015 to 2018, The Austin Bailey Foundation is part financing Y-Care's Employment, Livelihood and Advocacy work with YWCA of Palestine.  On this visit, as well as seeing this programme, we saw the full range of work YMCA are doing to help young people in Palestine living under extremely harsh conditions.


Day One


Jericho YMCA with Andre Batarseh - General Secretary of East Jerusalem YMCA (EJ YMCA)

  • 150 students p.a. on their two year Vocational Training course.  First year in the YMCA (9 subjects including air-conditioning maintenance, accounting and book-keeping, home electrics and plumbing).  Second year is out on secondment with employers.
  • Funding is 80% from Palestinian Authority (PA), rest from YMCA but PA getting tougher.  Things will change next year.  YMCA is a very well respected 'brand' in the community.
  • We spoke to four recent graduates;-
  • Azhar - vivacious 19 year old (extreme right below) - she studied accounting.  Now working with the police as an accountant.  She is able to send money to her family.
  • Omar 22 (middle above) - studied auto mechanics.  Started his own business.  He was too generous with credit and the business folded.  He is now working in the same field, commuting to Israel.  He seems reasonably pleased with his employers but Palestinian mechanics get paid less than Israelis and do not get overtime.  He is able to send money to his family in Nablus.
  • Mohassan 18 from Nablus (second from left above).  Working in a local auto-repair shop, has spare money to send his family.  He is optimistic and wants to return to Nablus one day to start his own auto business there.
  • Ahmed 21 (second from right above) - did home electrics and plumbing course.  He is self-employed, seems confident and is doing well.

Above - air-conditioning course


  • We visited on-going classes for graphic design.  See picture above.

  • We also visited three graduates in the field.  One is working at a local radio station, one in a furniture workshop and Mu'taz has devised a clever transfer printing technique and has built his own simple factory where he photo-prints onto car wheels, glasses cases, phone cases and other things (see picture above).  He seems the most successful of the three and claims to have recovered the plant investment in a few months.  He has bought his own car.
Meeting with Joshua Regnier at British Consulate Jerusalem to discuss the political situation
  • Depressing to hear him saying that the diplomatic community believe the Two-State Solution is almost dead and is unlikely to happen.
  • Israel is in danger of becoming an apartheid state where eventually one racial minority (the Israelis) suppress a racial majority (the Palestinians).
  • UN desperately wants to keep the Two-State Solution as an option and cannot afford for the PA (Palestinian Authority) to collapse.
  • Israelis want the peace process to continue for as long as possible but are probably not interested in the Two-State Solution.  Negotiations are a way of buying time.
  • The Israeli economy is doing well right now.  Israelis regard peace process almost as a sideshow.
  • But the Israelis are concerned about BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and are using the anti-Semitism label to challenge countries tempted to adopt it.
  • Palestine needs a Ghandi or Mandella but none is on the horizon.  Hanan Aashrawi was a contender for leadership a few years ago but has retired from politics.
  • If PA collapses ISIS could come in, giving the Israelis justification for being extremely vicious.  World opinion would be on their side.

Day Two

Beit Sahour – branch of EJ YMCA – near Bethlehem, West Bank.  Meeting with Nidal Abu Zulaf about the Olive Tree Campaign

  • Olive cultivation is one of the main livelihoods in Palestine.  Unfortunately Jewish settlers think Palestinian farms are their 'promised land' and intimidate Palestinian farmers especially during the olive planting and harvesting times.
  • YMCAs from UK are sending out young volunteers to be present at these times.  It is successful in deterring settler intimidation.
  • The Wall often splits or isolates Palestinian plantations.  Access to land behind the Wall involves obtaining permits, which are not easy to get.  If land is not used for three years, Israeli authorities will confiscate it.  Continued cultivation is therefore essential to avoid the gradual confiscation of land.
  • The Olive Tree Campaign raises international awareness and sponsored the growing of over 11,000 new olive trees in 2015.  They have a page on Facebook.


Beit Sahour YMCA - near Bethlehem on the West Bank

Meeting with Nader Abu Amsher (above second from right) about the rehabilitation programme which gives counselling to young people imprisoned or injured by the Israelis.

  • Throwing stones at soldiers is the most common offence.  Response is often beatings, breaking bones and imprisonment.
  • YMCA counselling, both in individual and group sessions, tries to remove the natural desire for revenge.  They preach an anti-violence message of peace.
  • They also conduct vocational assessments.
  • They work with the parents whilst children are in prison.  Urge parents not to 'hide' their young ones if they return disabled.
  • Children return as 'heroes', but inside they are 'broken' and need counselling.  They usually do not want to return to school.
  • YMCA counsellors aim to convince them to return to school, providing one to one catch-up tutoring where school terms have been lost.
  • PA refer many youngsters to YMCA and pay fees for this.  Also rehabilitation loan schemes.


Al Raboud village near Hebron
  • We met a youth group of village youngsters that YMCA has sponsored.  Aim is to analyse their difficulties and explore options for employment.
  • Education is highly respected in Palestine.  40% of youngsters are graduates but graduate unemployment is over 80%.  Village elders were unable to solve the unemployment issue so YMCA encourages youngsters to analyse and understand the issues themselves rather than become angry and aggressive (see picture above).
  • I was struck by how confident, well turned out and positive the group members were despite these difficulties.  Responses they came up with include - discussions with private sector employers, improve communication skills, English language training, micro-grants.  Involvement with YMCA and YWCA vocational training courses.


We visited Mohamed, a 20 year old who had been shot in the head by Israeli solders.
  • It happened whilst he and his cousin 21, were driving in their car.  Unprovoked.
  • YMCA has helped him start a small corner shop business.  He seems to be remaking his life.  Without this help and YMCA counselling he would have been stranded at home without prospects or support for rehabilitation.
Next we went to the Refugee camp near Hebron and met Ala'a 14, his parents and Raji, his counsellor from YMCA.
  • Ala'a was arrested by Israeli police at 7:30 one morning on his way to school, accused of throwing stones, which he denies.
  • Beaten unconscious, repeated interrogations demanding a confession, which he refuse to give.
  • After two months in prison his father and a lawyer persuaded him to make a partial confession and he was released.
  • Raji, his YMCA counsellor, had been visiting Ala'a's parents during his incarceration and persuaded him to return to school once released.  Ala'a's aim now is to go to university to attend a security course.
  • Sadly, as a result of Ala'a's arrest, his father lost his permit to travel to Israel where he worked so is now unemployed.
  • It was very emotional hearing Terry Waite's talk to Ala'a about his own incarceration and how Ala'a must not give up hope or bear hatred.
  • Ala'a and his parents were hugely comforted by Terry's visit and his words (see picture below).
  • I was told a frightening statistic that over 50% of Palestinian adult males have been in Israeli prisons.  I do not know how accurate this figure is.


Day Three

Ramallah YWCA with Mira Rizeq, General Secretary of YWCA of Palestine

Below - members of the women's employment and advocacy group

Mira and her team spoke of the YWCA's advocacy and youth employment work.
  • There are husband/family pressure against young women attending YWCA courses.  When this occurs YWCA invite male family members to attend.  This usually convinces them that the courses are not a threat, especially when it results in the family having more income.
  • Not all women attend the course with the aim of getting a job.  In some cases it is to improve prospects and independence should their marriage get into trouble.
  • Due to this and the very difficult economic conditions, the success rate in obtaining jobs is not high - about 35% of last year's graduates have found work.  Mira hopes this will climb to closer to over 50% by next year.  This is not a bad result given that graduate unemployment is around 80% in Palestine.  Mira will be sending me a summary of what fields each graduate has gone into.
  • The employment course is run in conjunction with the advocacy course and has a major impact on women's confidence.  One lady in her 30's said that this was the first time in her life she had known success.  What a motivator than can be!
  • Another lady who married very young told us of how she learned that she had a right to work.  Work had improved her confidence.  She would never have addressed a group such as ours before.  Another had joined the local council.
  • I would have liked to have spent more time seeing the YWCA's employment programme but fasting during Ramadan, meant we could only see them in the morning.
  • Jericho YMCA has been doing employment and livelihood work a lot longer than Ramallah.  There could be scope for them to work closer and this may be looked into when devising the plan for 2017.
  • We were then taken to Al Tireh village, west of Ramallah, so see the nursery that had been started by Hanin and Gharam on the YWCA vocational training scheme with a YWCA grant.

Al Tireh village - Nursery.
  • Approval and premises obtained from village council.  Currently obtaining licenses, will start in September.
  • Gharam's husband against the idea at first but now in favour (having been invited to the meetings).
  • They already have seven children ready to start in September.  They need 15 to break even.  Aim is to provide subsidised places for parents who cannot afford the fees.
  • This is a real example of 2 + 2 = 5.  As well as Hanin and Gharam having employment, by caring for young children, they allow mothers to go out and seek work as well.  Mothers who have to be subsidised at the start should soon be able to pay full fees once they have found employment.
  • The nursery promotes itself through a Facebook page.  It looks as though it will be a big success.
  • Above - Gharam with Terry Waite.


Al Tireh village School.
The women's advocacy group then took us to a hillside where we had a view of the village school in the valley below.
  • Between the school and us a new Israeli highway has been built.    Even though it runs through Palestine territory, Palestinians cannot use it without a permit.
  • Furthermore, the Israeli have constructed settlements called Beit Horom all round the school in what looks like a deliberate attempt to isolate it from Al Tireh village.
  • The only way village children could access the school was through a watercourse tunnel running under the highway.  This was often flowing with water but worse, Jewish settlers would intimidate the children once they emerged from the tunnel.  Children became frightened of going to school.
  • YWCA advocacy group has campaigned the local authorities and PA so that a bus now takes the children to school safely.  But unable to use the new highway, the bus has to take a tortuous 20-minute route to get to school.
  • Palestinians from Al Tireh now living in USA have donated the mini bus.  Emigration from Palestine to USA, Canada and Gulf is high.  Al Tireh's population was 4,500 a few years ago.  It is now less than half that.
  • Above - The team made a short film recording of Terry Waite talking about this injustice.  Behind you can see the school, highway and settlements.

Below - settlement construction


Above - a section of the Wall


CONCLUSION

Having visited Y-Care projects in India and Sri Lanka I have huge respect for their capacity to improve young people's lives.  This applies equally in Palestine.  A bit like the Jewish settlements, YMCAs and YWCAs are 'facts on the ground'.  They have established facilities and teams of devoted workers in locations throughout Palestine.  The Christian ethos is there and available in a unquestioning way to help and guide young people irrespective of faith.

I saw this in so many ways in my three days there - effective and targeted vocational training, standing up to the settlers by way of the Olive Tree Campaign, caring for young people injured or imprisoned by the Israelis, encouraging young people to work together to understand the difficulties their communities face, building women's self confidence and making them understand they have a right to work, establishing small businesses such as the nursery we saw in Al Tireh village.  Despite huge adversities, all the young people I met at YMCAs in Palestine seemed intelligent, enthusiastic and optimistic things can improve.  They seem to have a zest for life.

Y-Care and the YMCA/YWCA are doing a wonderful job in extremely tough conditions.  They are respected by the Palestinian Authority.  YMCA/YWCA is likewise seen as an important brand amongst young people in Palestine looking to improve their present and future lives.  The Austin Bailey Foundation has an effective and profoundly good partner in Y-Care and the YMCA/YWCAs.

One final note:  I left Yad Vashem (Jerusalem's holocaust museum) in tears.  I left Palestine in tears.  What is happening in Palestine is unnecessary, unjust and wrong.  The Israelis are diminishing themselves by what they are doing.  The world expects more of them than this.

Clive Bailey - Chairman