Written by Sandy Zumbi
As I started my journey with NVI, I realized how little I knew about the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel. For decades Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has created systemic human rights violations against Palestinians, resulting in the displacement of communities, restrictions on freedom of movement, home demolitions, and unequal rights issues, to name a few (Amir, 2021). For someone who is always looking for ways to stay hopeful in the midst of chaos, I was met with disbelief. Yet, I could not stop there. I started looking into organizations and volunteerism that went towards providing aid to Palestinian communities.
It was quite a relief to see the amount of organizations that partner with local communities to alleviate the stress and despair that the occupation causes Palestinian communities. They also help raise awareness of the horrors these communities face, including the daily impact of life under occupation.
For several years now, NVI has worked with Hebron International Resource Network (HIRN) to reunite families by giving them a home and by working on renovation projects to keep families on their lands. HIRN has recognized the importance of building and preserving communities and has tirelessly been aiding communities to become self-sufficient in collaboration with neighborhoods and other organizations. NVI, currently being the U.S fiscal sponsor of HIRN, works to ensure that the organization's projects run smoothly. Another organization that helps HIRN in its fight to preserve Palestinian communities is Amos Trust.
Amos Trust is a nonprofit organization in London, United Kingdom that works with grassroots partners in Palestine, South Africa, Nicaragua, Burundi, India, and Tanzania to promote and build sustainable rural communities. In addition, Amos Trust works toward finding creative ways to equip and support people and organizations to push for change through nonviolence, reconciliation, and peace. Among the various projects the organization undertakes is Amos Travel. Each year, the project organizes guided eleven-day trips through Nablus, Nazareth, and Galilee for people to meet different partners in Palestine.
As I reflect on this nonprofit’s work, I could not have asked for a better person to speak to than Nive Hall. Nive, a social activist and the community engagement partner at Amos Trust from the UK, gave me a perspective as he recounted the program’s course.
Amos Travel program started 20 years ago as the organization wanted to offer an alternative to Christian pilgrimages to the holy land/sites from the bible. The pilgrimages were mainly organized by Israeli travel companies with Israeli tour guides, drivers, etc.., which according to Nive did not include the narrative of Palestinians. What they were offering was aimed at the same market, but to the more socially liberal, socially justice centered churches who wanted to go and explore some of the politics of the region as well as meet and hear the stories of the Palestinians. But after four years of going on these trips, Amos travel decided to diversify itself some more into what it is today.
The program started offering trips with various aims. First, it attracted people who wanted to travel to that part of the world for other reasons and who wanted to have that experience of seeing the political situation for themselves. Second, they organize an annual trip called “Taste of Palestine'' which explores Jerusalem and the West Bank with the overall heading of food. Not only do they get to interact with farmers and providers on these trips, but they also help promote palestinians’ artistic culture. Third, it served as a resource for those who were engaged in the struggle for equal rights and those who wanted to show their solidarity on the ground practically. As a result, Amos Travel added a home rebuilding program to their trips to the West Bank. So far, they have organized six home rebuilding trips in the past 10-12 years by partnering with other organizations on the West Bank on homes demolished by Israeli occupation authorities. The project would, however, not be possible without fundraising and devoted teams of volunteers. These incredible human beings step outside their comfort zones every other year to help families and the community actually rebuild demolished homes. I was thrilled to find out that NVI is actively one of the many supporters that stand and advocate to make sure the homes being rebuilt are not demolished again. Nive notes, “That’s the kind of real boots on the ground activism thing which is really great.”
Nive also mentioned how rewarding these trips are to them but mainly to their local partners. Local partners are given a platform to tell their stories and a platform to meet individuals from other places. This is important to their partners because their opportunities for travel or communication are restricted due to the Isreali occupation. They also really appreciate people coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with them on the ground offering solidarity. “We always receive a vast amount more than we give in terms of hospitality, welcome, and more. There is something intangibly magical about it that is hard to describe in words. Actually, standing alongside a family putting the concrete blocks for their rebuilt house can’t say in words how much that means on both sides.” This is shared joy for the volunteers because these experiences are life-changing and for the families receiving a new home. “Solidarity is the key word here”.
Nive also shared that creativity is something they talk about a lot at Amos Trust. The organization strives to find creative ways to engage local communities and the people they reach. One of the phrases they use is “When words fail, art speaks.” They believe that art speaks to the heart and words speak to the head. And you can see a reflection of that throughout the different projects they undertake. This drew me to examine the song “Keep Your Head Up'' by Ben Howard on Amos Trust’s “HOPE'' Spotify playlist. The playlist was created alongside the organization’s second published book of poetry, prose, and creative writing. The book has contributions from a team of talented individuals Zena Kazeme, Arundhati Roy, Ben Okri, Cornel West, Angela Davis, Robert Cohen, Maya Angelou and one of their partners Abdelfattah Abusrour.
“Keep Your Head Up” is a favorite because it resonated deeply with me. Although the song could be interpreted in many different ways, I see this song as a lesson. It reminds listeners to stand firm and be true to themselves and their beliefs.
"Now walking back, down this mountain,
The strength of a turnin' tide.
Oh the wind so soft, and my skin,
Yeah the sun is so hot upon my side.
Oh lookin' out at this happiness
I searched for between the sheets,
Oh feelin' blind, I realize,
All I was searchin' for, was me.
Oh oh-oh, all I was searchin' for was me."
Here, he is talking about how he opened his eyes to see all the essential things in his life that he could not see before, almost like the failed relationship he was in taught him how to rediscover himself and see clearly again. Most often, happiness or good things do not look perfect. We may carry scars from past experiences, but those only make us stronger. We search for perfection but miss the point that what we are looking for is right under our nose, right in front of us, right in us the whole time. As lost as one may find themselves in the middle of whatever circumstance or situation you may be dealing with, it is crucial to keep your head up. There is always hope. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. All you need to do is look within you, and then you will find what you’ve been searching for all along.
It is hard to imagine the horrors that many communities in Palestine endure under the Israeli occupation. Yet many open their homes and welcome anyone willing to learn about their culture and hear their stories. Their stories are so powerful but yet too often ignored or misconstrued. But despite it all, I find it highly profound how these trips bring people together. The cultures of those who participate are so different from one another but point out that we are all human beings who, as citizens of this world, have the right to equal human rights. We all have a right to have a place called home and the right to feel safe within the walls of our homes. As Nelson Mandela said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
On an ending note, I can only leave us with Nive’s remarks that left me inspired and reminded me of the power of storytelling.
“Hope is an interesting word. We talk about it a lot at Amos Trust. We have one of our little phrases we use all the time which is “We do hope”. I think it’s a hard time to be a human rights activist. There is a lot of threat to our human rights, like across the board. And to advocate for the rights in Israel/Palestine is a complex area to work in. And it is easy to be hopeless. Am I hopeful? Yes! We think hope is kind of a bit like love. It is something that you do. Hope is a verb for us. Hope is something we do, we must believe that there is a better world coming, otherwise we might as well stop. It is almost an imperative for us to hope.“
Credit: Amos Trust
Amir, M. (2021, August 6). Post-occupation Gaza: Israel’s war on Palestinian futures. Taylor and Francis Online. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/04353684.2021.1958357
AMOS TRUST Home. (n.d.). Retrieved, from https://www.amostrust.org/