Report for FONSA
In November last year, three FONSA trustees, Mike Whitehead, David Collison and myself, visited Nablus as part of a delegation from Dundee-Nablus Twinning Association (DNTA).
As part of the delegation’s trip, it was an opportunity for both DNTA and FONSA to assess the situation on the ground and meet with friends and partners in Nablus.
Our visit coincided with a prolonged period of heightened tension for the people of Nablus and Palestinians in general. The outcome of the Israeli elections was already casting an ominous shadow over life in Palestine. Nablus had been in lockdown for three weeks. We were unsure if we would even get through. However, the blockade was lifted just prior to our leaving Jerusalem to head for the West Bank and we actually passed through the checkpoints with no interference from the Israeli forces and checkpoints.
The situation in Nablus was dire. Five days earlier, Israeli forces had invaded the old city killing five young men. Two of whom were members of the resistance group The Lion’s Den and three were “collateral damage”. Many people were injured and the destruction caused by gunfire and drone attacks was evident wherever we looked. The Israelis had used undercover agents in the city in preparation for the onslaught so naturally people were suspicious of strangers. Many people we met were traumatised by the recent events and the occupation was clearly continuing to take its toll on the physical and mental health of the men, women and children living under such horrible and frightening conditions.
Despite this, our welcome was as warm as ever. Even those who did not know us were grateful for our solidarity visit when they realised who we were and why we had come.
Other solidarity visits had been cancelled due to the precarious and uncertainty of the situation and for those in Nablus it was important to have tangible proof that the world had not forgotten them.
DNTA and FONSA are very closely linked with DNTA helping to fund many FONSA projects – most recently our tree planting campaign. Over the last year, DNTA has helped to fund the planting of over 1,000 trees in the villages around Nablus. So, a major part of our trip was spent with Ahmad from The Witness Centre our partner agency in Nablus. We had the opportunity to hear first hand from Witness volunteers (mostly young women) about the work that Witness does.
We were particularly impressed by the confidence and competence of the young women who articulated their roles and highlighted the ongoing need for training and support in order to find employment and use their skills for the betterment of all of those living under occupation.
After a briefing and question and answer session in the centre itself, we headed to the village of Deir Sharaf to see some of our trees. The visit highlighted the importance of tree planting as Israeli settlers, illegally living close by in what they call Shave Shomron, had destroyed many that had been previously planted. The resilience and determination of the farmers here is replicated in villages all round Palestine. Despite increasingly violent attempts by settlers to force Palestinians off their land, the courage of the Palestinians demands our continued support.
At a meeting with members of Nablus Municipality, appreciation of the links between Dundee and Nablus and the work of DNTA and FONSA was acknowledged. The Deputy Mayor expressed his gratitude for the continued support and building of further links between our organisations. It was a great moment of surprise and joy to see Nehad, FONSA Chairperson, join us at the civic reception. His presence further underlined the importance of the work we try to do through FONSA.
A trade union delegation from Dundee was simultaneously visiting Nablus; these 14 people represent the largest delegation from Dundee ever to visit our twin city. The Fire Brigades Union were able to announce the procuring of a second fire engine for Nablus which should be on its way in the spring of this year. The Dundee Trades Union Council signed an historic memorandum of understanding between trade unions in both cities.
After the formal meeting with the deputy Mayor, we all attended an event at SEEDS Garden of Unity. SEEDS is another important organisation in the civic life of Nablus developing initiatives for young people and providing a space for discussion and ideas.
DNTA helped to fund the creation of The Garden of Unity at the site of an old Samaritan Synagogue. It was a very emotional event and after speeches from the Deputy Mayor and me, a plaque was unveiled and a tree planted in memory of the late Ernie Ross MP who was instrumental in establishing the links between our two cities and who was a lifelong supporter of Palestinian rights.
Of course, as part of the delegation we met with many other organisations and individuals; our contacts and our friends. We went to Project Hope and New Askar refugee camp. We discussed the current political situation with everyone; Naseer, Rafiq, Rasha, Shams, Saed, Hadi. The list could go on and on. We ate knafeh and recited poetry with Saed. We are grateful to all of them for helping us to understand the continuing importance of our work in FONSA and for the love and friendship they showed to us.
Special thanks go to Ahmad from Witness Centre and Aboud from the Nablus Municipality for helping us with the arrangements.
Direct visits like this, although difficult, are a vital way of ensuring that FONSA has a perspective of events in Nablus and is consequently able to respond to need as identified by those on the ground. I hope the presence of our delegation helped to deepen those links.