Sunday, October 27, 2013

Campus in Camps

Campus in Camps:


Campus in Camps explores and produces new forms of representation of camps and refugees beyond the static and traditional symbols of victimization, passivity and poverty – Sandi Hilal, UNRWA Camp Improvement Programme

It is the place where everything around us has new meanings and dimensions which are connected to the reality of our lives – Ahmad Lahham, participant

Campus in Camps aims at transgressing, without eliminating, the distinction between camp and city, refugee and citizen, center and periphery, theory and practice, teacher and student – Alessandro Petti, Campus in Camps director

It is the only place where the doors of creativity are open – Nedaa Hamouz, participant

A place where we meet to learn to unlearn and become co-authors of what we say and define– Isshaq Al Barbary, participant

It’s a new narration, a different view of the past, and a new future.
 It is the place I was searching for… where I feel the strength to represent my opinion about camps and refugees – Aysar Dawoud, participant

It is a place for reclaiming the capacity and the freedom to learn – Munir Fasheh, mentor

It is a trip into reality, where we can work on ourselves without outside influences. It is where I found the spirit I had been searching for – Ayat Al Turshan, participant

Campus in Camps is to look at the present, toward the future both theoretically and practically, with a sense of the ideal but grounded in the real. It’s the bridge that we build with our hands between the past, the present and the future – Murad Owdah, participant

We meet here to discuss what refugees should do with their potential – Qussay Abu Aker, participant

Campus in Camps is a collective process that generates reflections, approaches and tools adaptable to anyone through communal learning – Diego Segatto, team member

The context

This initiative stems from the recognition that refugee camps in the West Bank are in a process of a historical political, social and spatial transformation. Despite adverse political and social conditions Palestinian refugee camps have developed a relatively autonomous and independent social and political space: no longer a simple recipient of humanitarian intervention but rather as an active political subject. The camp becomes a site of social invention and suggests new political and spatial configurations.

In recent years the refugee camp have been transformed from a marginalized urban area to a center of social and political life. More notable is that such radical transformations have not normalized the political condition of being exiled. For decades, the effects of the political discourse around the right of return, such as the rise of a resolute imperative to stagnate living circumstances in refugee camps in order to reaffirm the temporariness of the camps, forced many refugees to live in terrible conditions. What emerges today is a reconsideration of this imperative where refugees are re-inventing social and political practices that improve their everyday life without normalizing the political exceptional condition of the camp itself. The Camp Improvement Program, direct by Sandi Hilal, accompanied such trasformations in particular in five refugee camps: Fawaar, Arroub, Dheisheh, Aida and Beit Jibrin. What have emerged in years of community-based projects is the desire to produce new forms of representation of camps and refugees beyond the static and traditional symbols of victimization, passivity and poverty. Campus in Camps aims at providing a protected context in which to accompany and reinforce such complex and crucial changes in social practices and representations.

The Program

Campus in Camps is a program by Al Quds University (al Quds/Bard Partnership) and hosted by the Phoenix Center in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. It is implemented with the support of the German Government through the GIZ Regional Social and Cultural Fund for Palestinian Refugees and Gaza Population, in cooperation with UNRWA Camp Improvement Program and in coordination with the Popular Committees of Southern West Bank Refugee Camps

*The content of this website does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the institutions mentioned above.

The initiative, begun in January 2012, engages young participants in a two-year program dealing with new forms of visual and cultural representation of refugee camps after more than 60 years of displacement. The aim is to provide young motivated Palestinian refugees who are interested in engaging their community the intellectual space and necessary infrastructure to facilitate these debates and translate them into practical community-driven projects that will incarnate representational practices and make them visible in the camps. What is at stake in this program is the possibility for the participants to realize interventions in camps without normalizing their conditions or simply blending the camp with the rest of the city. We believe that the future of the refugee camps and their associated spatial, social and political regime force us to re-think the very idea of the city as a space of political representation through the consideration of the camp as a counter-laboratory for new spatial and social practices.

Communal Learning*The following text is based on the on-going dialog between Participants, Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Munir Fashi and many others.

Though Al jame3ah translates in English as “university”, its literal meaning is “a public space, a place for assembly”. It is through this spirit that we understand Campus in Camps: a gathering place, a space for communal learning, where knowledge emerges as a group effort rather than from external sources. Hence, the structure, constantly reshaped, allows for the accommodation of interests and subjects born from the interaction between the participants and the social context at large.

For many, knowledge is based on information and skills; in Campus in Camps we place a strong emphasis on the process of learning based on shifts in perception, critical approaches, visions and governing principles. We aim at reclaiming plurality in education, diversity in ways of learning. The participants are invited to seek out original paths of learning, creating knowledge, investigating meanings, as well as deciding actions. Campus in Camps brings people together in a pluralistic environment where they can learn freely, honestly and enthusiastically. Our goal is to reconcile knowledge with actions. Too often the conceptual dimension is relegated to pure theory; in Campus in Camps, participants are involved in an active formation of knowledge based on their daily lived experience. We use the Arabic wordmujaawara to express how our actions are connected to the community. Mujaawara could be translated into English as “neighbouring”, but its real meaning is closer to “forming or being part of a community”.

Thus, Campus in Camps reasserts what is fundamental and profound in the lives of the participants, forming an active group that chooses words, constructs meanings, produces visions and creates useful knowledge through actions within their communities.

Campus in Camps does not follow or propose itself as a model. Rather it cuts across conventional disciplines of knowledge, moving along a different vision, one which integrates aspects of lives, dialogs with the larger community and is not confined within the walls of academia. It welcomes forms of knowledge that remain undetected by the radar of traditional academic knowledge.

A clear example of this knowledge production is the Collective Dictionary: a series of publications containing definitions of concepts. The terms proposed are those considered fundamental for the understanding of the contemporary condition of Palestinian refugee camps. These words have emerged as a result of actions and active dialogs with the camp community. Written reflections on personal experiences, interviews, excursions and photographic investigations constitute the starting point for the formulation of more structured thoughts. The Collective Dictionary is both the reference and conceptual framework for all Campus in Camps projects and interventions. Participants of Campus in Camps are co-authors of meanings. They give names to the reality that surrounds them in order to provide a deeper sense to what they see and experience. The Collective Dictionary is an exploration of camp terminology and life, a way of leaning from the camp. Each definition starts with a story, introducing an original point of view based on the participants’ lived experience. Group discussions mature the terms in a broader conceptual dimension. The participants claim that the Collective Dictionary is their constantly amended “constitution”; it is their theoretical and practical reference, the guide for their actions within the camps. Following a year of communal learning and dictionary building, they have also decided which words they no longer want to use and which words they feel carry more significant meaning for their lives and aims.

from help to engagement
from outcomes to principles
from goals to visions
from needs to abilities
from development to reuse
from rights to dignity
from services to politics

Programme DirectorAlessandro Petti

In collaboration with

Sandi Hilal (UNRWA Camp Improvement Programme)


Marwa Allaham, Qussay Abu Aker, Alaa Al Homouz, Saleh Khannah, Shadi Ramadan, Ahmad Lahham, Aysar Dawoud, Bisan Al Jaffarri, Nedaa Hamouz, Naba Al Assi, Mohammed Abu Alia, Ibrahim Jawabreh, Isshaq Al Barbary, Ayat Al Turshan, Murad Owdah.


Munir Fashi, Ayman Khalifah, Ruba Saleh, Tareq Hamam, Mohammed Jabali, Khaldun Bishara, Ilana Feldman, Michel Agier, Sari Hanafi.

Team ProjectYasser Hemadan, Ala Juma, Tamara Abulaban, Diego Segatto.

Project Activators

Brave New Alps, Giuliana Racco, Matteo Guidi, Sara Pellegrini.

English and Arabic Tutors

Daniel McKenzie, Ayman Khalifah, Samih Faraj.

the right of not being who we are

but the right to becoming who we want

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Former Israeli Soldiers "Flipping Out"

Flipping Out - Israel's Drug Generation.
After being discharged with a bonus of 15,000 shekels (about $4,300) after three years of compulsory military service, an estimated 20,000 former Israeli soldiers travel to India. About 90 percent take drugs and 2000 of the Israeli ex-soldiers living in India 'flip out' each year. This documentary's introductory scenes of soldiers breaking into Palestinian homes land and non-directive interviews with these soldiers and professionals trying to help them suggest that the military service has damaged them resulting in post-traumatic stress disorders. Yet as distinct from the fate of U.S. soldiers coming back form Afghanistan and Iraqi with similar mental problems and cannot get adequate help from official agencies. Israeli public and private organizations take responsibility for the problems the army service created.

In India the ex-soldiers live in small communal settings and hotels segregated from the Indian population, in locations, they identify as Kasol sin or crime city. The winter months are spend in Himalayan mountain areas and for the summer months the Israelis migrate to Goa to continue enjoying a lifestyle of large parties, use of virtually all drugs, including to marihuana, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and other hard drugs. Relations between Indians and Israelis are pragmatic but not friendly. As one Israeli points out, the Indians are like Arabs. Conversely Indians consider the Israelis to be noisy, drug addicted and out of control. Yet with an average income of $500 per year they depend on the funds provided by the Israeli expatriates.

From the perspective of one former soldiers who has been living in India for more than six years and served as a commander of an Israeli elite unit there is a fine line between sanity and madness, a borderline condition that can be discerned in the portraits of this documentary. There is a frenzied look of people, incoherent statements suspending the reality context and rapid motion activities. Yet at the same time others seem to be in a state of drug induced bliss, totally cooled out, and regressed to childlike states The former commander suggests that, military service destroyed the identity and meaning of life, and that staying on drugs rehabilitates former soldiers by getting 'the crap' out of their system. In the army he faced disgraceful things and his hand caused death and destruction. Yoav Shamir presents none of the female ex-soldiers who live in Israeli communities in India and also take drugs and seems to imply that females adapt better to the stress of military service.

The documentary shows the response of Israeli agencies to the growing problem of settlements in India with ex-soldiers involved in drug use. The Israeli government has funded through its anti-drug authority Warm House drop in centers, a sort of community place run by a former Israeli officer which welcomes all Israelis living there. An Israeli fundamentalist group has established Chabad Houses trying to recuperate drug using and addicted ex soldiers while also running a search and rescue mission for Israelis freaking out on drugs. This work is carried out by former army officer, Hilik Magnus whose task is to bring back to Israel those soldiers who have suffered from psychotic and other violent breakdowns. He suggests that many of the ex soldiers living there have no center, are dislocated, and alienated and that drugs provide only a temporary respite.

One telling encounter in FLIPPING OUT is the meeting between the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Eli Ishay and former soldiers. One female soldier tells him that she is on her second trip to India and that " one can feel normal again .no bombings, no corruption, none of that pressure [faced] back in Israel.... one comes here and feels normal again". Another soldier hopes not to return Israel soon; he does not belong to that country any more and considers having an Israeli passport to be a problem since he feels more at home in India.

Isahy considers these as sad stories but emphasizes that Israeli has to fund efforts such as the Warm House, since "...these former soldiers are our children, our boys and girls... thousands come here and come home mentally devastated" thus placing the onus on the experience in India rather than on the military service.

On the plane going back to Israel the deputy prime minister is in the company of Magus and one flipped out former soldier who belies that he can save humanity since he is a friend to the US president. While the plan disappears on the Horizon, images of a gigantic techno beach party with several hundred ex-soldiers high on drugs provide the coda to this disturbing yet superb documentary.