Final Conference: Rooting Development in the Palestinian Context

March 18, 2019 admin

Venue | Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Ibda’ Center, Bethlehem, Palestine

Participants from | Mar Elias Camp, Lebanon; Al-Zarqa Camp, Jordan; Al-Shati Camp – Al Katibah Hall, Gaza (all via video conference), University of Vienna, Vienna

Date | Saturday, 26 January 2019

Time: | 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Find the Arabic version of this report here

The “Rooting Development in the Palestinian Context” conference took place on 26 January, at the Ibdaa Foundation in the Dheisheh refugee camp south of Bethlehem. The conference came as the culmination of the three-year APPEAR project, which aimed to enhance field research expertise among other goals.

 The conference consisted of three sessions, in addition to the opening session, at the beginning of which Ayman Abdel Majeed gave the following introduction to the conference:

Over the past three years, the project has sought to stimulate debate on the notions of development in the Palestinian context, by providing an alternative and critical reading of development post-Oslo Accords. This journey was led by Palestinian youth in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

This conference strives to spark a dialogue between youth, academics, and the community as a whole, in order to facilitate the exchange of experiences, and expand a cognitive network that can produce a new vision for change. These efforts come in an attempt to bring forth a state of collective consciousness by adopting critical learning as a cognitive tool and solidifying concepts and methods that simulate the act of popular development.

The high importance of rooting development in the Palestinian context requires a shift in focus from theory and knowledge to dialogue, deriving from an observation of the economic, political, and social contexts in the Palestinian reality of living.

This conference offers an opportunity to further deepen and build on the existing diverse cognitive foundation, by including perspectives from the Palestinian diaspora, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Conference Themes:

  1. Combining critical knowledge with fieldwork to better grasp the community needs.
  2. . Outline the dimensions of development work given the available resources and cognitive network.
  3. Exchange experiences from the past three years: community dialogues and youth activities in the areas of fieldwork

Saleh Abu-Laban, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Ibda’, the hosting organization, expressed his pride in hosting this conference and shared his unequivocal belief that development is especially crucial to building a successful economy and driving the journey toward liberty.

Linda Tabar, Director of the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University, provided a summary of the project’s objectives and the various axes that it worked within, summed by the following points:

  1. Provide a critical reading to development in the Palestinian context post-Oslo Accords, to re-establish the relationship between life under colonialism and development.
  2. Produce knowledge that serves alternative practices that comprise a state of collective consciousness.
  3. Highlight the role of youth and women in the march for freedom.
@Helmut Krieger

Helmut Krieger joined the conversation from the University of Vienna, starting with the remark that hosting this conference in Dheisheh refugee camp is symbolic for the integral role that refugee camps play in the Palestinian cause, both on the academic and political levels, thus transcending the limitations set forth by the Oslo Accords. Krieger also stated that this initiative and project come to provide the opportunity for Palestinian women and youth to join the march again.

Ali Abu Zeid represented Al-Azhar University in Gaza and emphasized the high importance of this project, as it provided an opportunity for youth to participate in this process of consolidating development in the Palestinian context. Abu Zeid added that the research conducted within this project challenged the siege imposed on Gaza and the whole of occupied Palestine.

From Beirut, Qassim Sabbah of the Mousawat Foundation shared his concern for the lack of representation of the Palestinian individual in the diaspora. Sabbah added that the Appear project helped amalgamate the efforts and aspirations of Palestinians, wherever they reside. In addition, the speaker concluded that the next step would be to resolve the various issues that the project helped detect and expose.

Thekrayat Al Helo of the Committee for Community Development in Zarqa camp in Jordan confirmed that this project bore a tangible impact on the young people with whom the institution worked. In addition, this development project played a fundamental role in the process of transforming the Palestinian cause into a documented and trusted reference which can legitimize the demand for equal human rights, and foster the right to return to the homeland.

In the first session, we met the youth who participated in the project, and who represented the four different regions: the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon. This session covered their experiences and conclusions from the field, and from the project in general.

 The participants successfully completed the project with the integration of several essential elements, such as holding meetings and dialogues with community members, exchanging perspectives with one another,  and establishing relationships with the institutions that facilitated the work of the project.

Islam Jamal and Yafa Al-Shayeb from Al-Zarqa refugee camp presented their research, which focused on several topics, including:

  1. Youth: Between individual salvation and social responsibility
  2. The impact of social media on the Palestinian cause
  3. Palestinian oral history

During this project the researchers sculpted their research skills, especially in qualitative research, as well as they managed to identify the gaps in development work in refugee camps. The research has also contributed to a deeper understanding of the Palestinian cause on the economic, social and political levels. They stated some challenges, like the gaps and variation in oral narratives.

The researched stated the set objectives within which they applied their research, such as the re-exploration of the Palestinian identity and solidifying the right to return.

Farah Khattab and Rawia Mousa represented the Palestinian diaspora in Lebanon and presented their research, implemented in two phases: first the quantitative research, and then the qualitative.

Among the topics of research was unemployment in the Burj al-Barajneh camp, and the relationship between the issue of security and academic performance in Ein el-Hilweh camp.

The research team listed a set of skills gained from this project similar to the previous speakers, such as identifying the gaps in development work in the camps.

Bilal Najjar and Samar Harun from the University of Gaza stated that applying research helped bridge the gap between the academic and the private sectors, thus amalgamating the efforts set forth by both sides. In addition, the project helped eliminate the fragmentation within Palestine and the diaspora, as well as it aided in the establishment of a broad intellectual network of students and research institutions.

 One of the external challenges they faced was establishing trust between the community and the researcher themselves, and a shortage of financial and physical aid, which posed a difficulty in collecting data. Among the internal challenges was the political division in Palestine.

Anas Lahasa and Ghada Shafout spoke for the research team in the West, with research topics as follows:

  1. The recycling of agricultural waste in Tulkarm and Qalqilya
  2. Alternative tourism in the West Bank: Its impact on local communities
  3. The policies of microfinance: The nature of the projects funded and how they serve the Palestinian cause.

The second session, titled Alternative Views from the Field, included a discussion of the work that the participants implemented within their communities. This work was applied in various contexts, such as the political, economic, and sociological context, to promote and expand the understanding and practices of alternative visions of development.

Economist Bassem Tamimi opened the session and spoke of the economy as an essential tool in resisting colonialism, and the importance of boycotting the products of the occupation as a fundamental step towards independence.

Salah Khawaja, a member of the secretariat of the National Boycott Committee and Stop the Wall campaign, acknowledges the importance of looking back at past experiences with colonization and presented several models of alternative development from across the globe.

Fatima Breejieh from the village of Al-Ma’sara joined to share her perspective on alternative development. Fatima is the head of the local council in her village, as well as a farmer and a shepherd.

Fatima is dedicated to developing the community she lives in, and is raising her grandchildren the same way she did her children; to love and establish a connection with the homeland through agriculture.

Among Fatima’s achievements is a project that she founded at the Zawahra Women’s Center, where she and other volunteers prepare healthy meals for Zawahra village schoolchildren. Her commitment to the nourishment of children extends from her belief in the sacredness of the Palestinian home and family, as they symbolize Palestinian permanence.

Nisreen al-Azza, another resilient Palestinian woman, joined the conversation. A Palestinian refugee, a mother, and a widow to a martyr since 2015, Nisreen lives in Tal Rumeida, a village that’s separated from the settlement of Ramat Yishai with a mere fence. The residents of Tal Rumeida constantly endure the assault of illegal settlers and Israeli soldiers. However, despite the daily challenges of life in Tal Rumeida, especially for a single mother like Nisreen, she is still standing strong, selling her artwork to make a living, and refuses to succumb to an occupation that is trying to forcefully displace her and others. 

Director of Ibda’ Foundation, Khaled Al-Saifi, delivered an inspirational talk about the possibility of fulfilling dreams with the most minimal of resources. Saifi has guided this institution with hard work since its inception 25 years ago, with the bare minimum of resources and budget. Today, it comprises two headquarters with a multitude of departments and a huge staff, offering various specialized programs to the community, and bearing a significant presence in the community.

Amjad Alayan from Zarqa camp in Jordan commenced with the following observation, that joining the conference from one of UNRWA’s centers breaks the policy of neutrality that the organization has followed since 2005. Alayan regards this project a unique learning experience that defies conventional research methods, as it allowed participants to detect the community needs and address relevant issues, such as the identity crisis that many young people face.

The speaker further addressed the various benefits of the project, explaining how it breaks the hegemony of the elite over the Palestinian cause by being dedicated to Palestinian refugees. In addition, the project created the freedom and space for youth interaction, especially surrounding the issues regarded as sensitive by the ruling authorities.  Finally, the participants took the following important message, that any work devoted to the service of any marginalized group is considered a contribution to the project of the liberation of Palestine.

Sufian Al-Shindari joined us from Gaza and delivered a speech titled “Critical Vision in the Context of Return in the Context of Popular Resistance.” First, Sufian mentioned some of the policies practiced by the occupation such as the deliberate distortion of facts, history, and the right to return, and the obliteration of the identity of the Palestinian individual.

As for the policies that Palestinians adopt in their fight for the right to return and the right to self-determination, they are the following three:

  1. Political settlement
  2. Armed resistance
  3. Popular Resistance

Since the Oslo Accords, up until today, the Palestinian people have lived in a state of political division. This division, in addition to the absence of development, is causing a gap in the collective consciousness of the Palestinian people and harming the struggle for liberation. Therefore, what Palestinians need today more than ever is to reactivate the elements of popular resistance, revamp the revolutionary identity, achieve political unity, foster a sense of belonging, and preserve the Palestinian identity. Here is where the march for return plays a role, as focusing and uniting efforts towards the right to return can awaken collective consciousness and foster national unity.

The last to speak for this session was Salma Rashdan of the Palestinian diaspora in Lebanon, and she represented Diarana Association. The association first came about by initiative of a small group of five friends in the Borj El Chmali camp. Today it is officially registered with the Lebanese government and a part of the Palestinian Youth Network. Diarana caters to many issues, such as providing job opportunities for youth and women, as well as fighting corruption, drugs, and extremism.

Among their work, the association offers specialized programs that cater to women, youth, children and the elderly.  One of Diarana’s goals is to boost the presence and participation of youth in the political, economic and social spheres.

Salma first addressed the main issues that refugees in the camps in Lebanon face, before explaining how development can treat them. These issues may be summed up as follows: the economic and social disparities between the camps, the mismanagement of resources, the lack of an in-depth study of the refugees’ needs and finally, the lack of focus on development for the favor of relying on relief. Rashdan believes that development plays a key role in empowering refugees by focusing on capacity building and self-sufficiency, as well as providing the conditions that promote empowerment and facilitate refugees’ lives, while also ensuring to unite Palestinian efforts towards liberation.

The third and final session strived to finalize and summarize the arguments and results of the past three years. The session included a discussion of the various approaches implemented in this project, from theory to method, to alternative practices, all in the context of producing critical knowledge.

 Ayman Abdel Majid – “Theory and Method to Drive the Alternative.”

 Ayman commenced the session by stressing the importance of merging theory with practice to achieve the best results. The speaker then posed the overarching question: How can we approach the term “development” in the Palestinian context under colonialism? To be more specific, post-Oslo Accords, against neoliberal policies?

In addition, Abdul Majeed addressed the colonial practices that aim to weaken the population, such as performing administrative detentions, confiscating lands, demolishing homes and terrorizing children, among others.

Ali Amer, a researcher at the Center for Studies – “An Alternative Vision for Development.”

 Ali reiterated the importance of defining the context and conditions we live in to produce plans for alternative development. He then demonstrated the relationship between global authorities and the Zionist movement, which collaborate to oppress the Palestinian people through these methods: extermination, displacement, and fragmentation. The latter is boosted by external funding policies, which view Palestine as comprised of small communities bearing varying cultural, political and economic characteristics, and operates on this basis. These policies of external funding feed into the economic disparities within the country, thus fragmenting the Palestinian society.

Helmut Krieger, the University of Vienna – “For whom is knowledge produced?”

Helmut expressed that through this project, we managed to take the first step into the journey of rooting development in the diaspora and in Palestine, which is to detect the underlying issues that hinder progress.

 Krieger continued that with continuous work and research, one can ask favourable questions, thus reviving the debate on resistance, whether it be popular resistance or economic resistance, to draw up future plans of action accordingly.

Krieger also pointed out that one of the most important issues that the project targeted was linking Palestinians from different regions, uniting intellect and effort to transcend the restrictions imposed by imperial powers. He concluded that the next step would be to focus on bridging the gap between academic and activists’ knowledge by working out a common research agenda.

Abaher Al Sakka, professor of sociology at Birzeit University – “For whom do we produce knowledge?”

In his paper, Al Sakka addressed the necessity of rooting the tools and methodologies of knowledge in Palestine, indicating the value of making knowledge more accessible to the native population. Furthermore, he revisited some points previously mentioned, such as the need to go back and re-explore one’s roots, noting that people are mistakenly straying further from local knowledge, and opting to adopt western ready molds of knowledge. On that note, Al Sakka emphasized the necessity of restoring faith in our local wisdom and thinkers, and to become active doers and thinkers, while simultaneously drawing from past experiences. The combination of theoretical knowledge and fieldwork, or theory and method, are is vital, since the two are complementary. Therefore, we must strive to enhance fieldwork and embed it into our culture to achieve improved results.