Rebuilding Home, Rebuilding Hope

“I shall remain eternally grateful that I boarded that plane and took a leap of faith — that I had the opportunity to work alongside such an inspirational group of people and experienced the immense privilege of being a small part of something that really matters.” Cambridge-based writer Sarah Baron travelled to the West Bank in April 2015 on an Amos Trust Home Rebuild trip. Here she tells us her story.

In April 2015, I travelled to Palestine with Amos Trust on their biennial Home Rebuild trip – 32 people from the UK joining forces with local volunteers to rebuild a family's demolished home as an act of creative, non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation.


As a first-timer (as a visitor to Palestine, as part of a large group tour AND as a house builder), it would be an understatement to say my anxiety levels, as we boarded the plane, were off the scale. My inner critic was screaming: What are you doing?! Get off NOW!

I shall remain eternally grateful that I boarded that plane and took a leap of faith – that I had the opportunity to work alongside such an inspirational group of people and experienced the immense privilege of being a small part of something that really matters.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.


It is the light and the love that carries you through this challenging experience… but here are a few other helpful tips for all you budding home rebuilders out there.

A Survival Guide to a Home Rebuild

Enduring the plane journey (especially if you travel with EasyJet!)


The plane will be full of internationals and Israelis – there will be no Palestinians, as they are not permitted to enter, let alone travel through, Tel Aviv airport. This is just one of many restrictions on Palestinians’ right to movement.

You’re effectively trapped for five hours, so plug in your music, read a book, sleep… whatever it takes. Ideally, avoid introducing any lively political or religious debate – bad enough at the best of times, but in an enclosed space at 30,000 feet potentially a disaster!

Getting into the country


Amos will have advised you on what/what not to pack – so all you have to do when you reach Israeli security is look harmless and try your best not to antagonize anyone! It will be hugely tempting but remember, you’ll be no use on the home rebuild if you get deported at the first hurdle!

Under no circumstances should you mention Palestine, the West Bank, home rebuilding or anything remotely indicating that you’re here to uphold the values of international law. The latter is hugely frowned upon here!

Learn some basic Arabic (but don't use it out loud, until you're safely in Palestine)

Spending two weeks in the West Bank, on a building site, you will only really need ten words to get by – along with a medley of mimes!

  • Marhaba Hello (informal)
  • Shukran Thank you
  • Sokkar Sugar
  • Kahoa Coffee
  • Shai Tea
  • Al-wada Goodbye
  • Afwan You're welcome
  • Yallah Come on!/Let's go!/Hurry up!
  • Hanoun Poppy (trust me on this one!)
  • In sha allah God willing 

Choose your travel guide wisely


On most Amos Palestine trips you will have the pleasure of the company of Chris, Nive and Marwan – they are all brilliant, and will do an amazing job at looking after you at all times. Each comes with their own unique ‘bonus features’ – so identify your needs on any given day, and stick with the most suitable person.

If you want factual, well-researched information (rather than made up!) and quick, dry wit – stick with Nive. If you want to over-stimulate on coffee, cake and sarcasm – Chris is your man. If you want pure ‘crazy’ (in a good way) – Marwan will provide it in bucket loads.

Always carry a water bottle


It’s important to stay hydrated – especially on hot days working at the site. You will sweat and you will cry – guaranteed! So, keep a bottle of water with you, partly because the mains supply may upset your stomach but mainly because the supply of water may be scarce.

It’s not that the West Bank is short of water, it’s that the Israeli’s control access to it and regularly cut off supply to Palestinian homes, without notice. Israel’s discriminatory policies have created a manufactured water crisis, used as just one of the tools to drive Palestinians from their land. In contrast, all illegal Israeli settlements have access to water 24 hours a day, seven days a week – water taken directly from Palestine’s natural sources. 

If you want factual, well-researched information (rather than made up!) and quick, dry wit – stick with Nive. If you want to over-stimulate on coffee, cake and sarcasm – Chris is your man. If you want pure ‘crazy’ (in a good way) – Marwan will provide it in bucket loads.

Be prepared for all weathers


Depending on the time of year, the weather can be unpredictable from one hour to the next. To avoid long periods of time being too hot/too cold/too wet/too sunburnt, cram a small backpack full of layers. Essential items include: sun-cream, sunhat, sunglasses, sleeved t-shirt, trousers, fleeces, waterproofs, spare (dry) socks.

If you do suffer from the results of not having the right items with you, remember that you really aren’t the one suffering here, in real terms – so quietly endure and apply the Palestinian speciality of dignified ‘samud’ (steadfastness).

Health & Safety


There is no need to concern yourself with the health and safety legislation for the site – there isn’t any! Quite refreshingly, you actually get to use your own common sense!

For those of you without any common sense, you can relax in the comfort of knowing you have a team of over 30 wonderful people watching your back – when they aren’t accidently knocking you out, wielding a wooden plank or metal rod!

Accept and embrace that it will will be a messy business


Physically you will get filthy with dust, sand, cement – and anything else you can think of that you’d find on a building site. Get over it!

The messier business is the emotional side of things – travelling to and from the site, visiting the refugee camp and exploring the West Bank you will see the full horror of the occupation: soldiers, watchtowers, checkpoints, demolished homes, destroyed olive groves, the Separation Wall and illegal Israeli settlements on every hilltop.

You will experience a range of emotions – some of which you may be unfamiliar with – and it could take many months, after you return, to process them. So, don’t try to do it all when you’re there – instead, allow your trusty teammates to support you and hug it out, as required. If that doesn’t help, there’s always cake (see Chris!).


There is no need to concern yourself with the health and safety legislation for the site – there isn’t any! Quite refreshingly, you actually get to use your own common sense!

It takes more than individual effort – it takes teamwork


For the Palestinians, having international supporters with them during the building process significantly reduces the risk of the Israeli military stepping in to halt progress or to carry out a demolition. So, even if you have no building skills at all, just being there is already helping.

The volunteer team of builders may look very different from those you see on most building sites, but don’t panic! Within hours, they will prove a force to be reckoned with – forming human chains to move (literally) hundreds of thousands of breeze blocks, buckets of sand/gravel/cement, planks of wood and metal rods – building walls, framing windows and securing the roof.

With absolutely no skill, the sheer commitment to a worthwhile purpose, inspired and energized, full of enthusiasm and passion, nothing can stop them. Well, nothing except the cry ‘Anyone for tea?’

Don't under estimate the powers of the tea break


Throughout the day, many people from the refugee camp will come to visit the site and stare in absolute disbelief at the sight of you working – at your age!

What they perhaps don’t realize is that your aching muscles, bruises, cuts and exhaustion are all being eased by a never-ending supply of tea – which is always served with a large dose of good humour. (The tea supply continues off-site too – almost every shop or house you pass in Palestine will invite you in for a cup of tea.)

It’s over these tea breaks that you connect, build relationships, share stories and really begin to gain an understanding of how oppressive and brutal life is, on a daily basis, for Palestinians under the occupation. You also feel how valuable your being there is, to keep their hopes and dreams alive – to know that people still care and are standing with them in solidarity.

Pee whenever you get the opportunity (this also applies to sleep)


Intrinsically linked to the points above on drinking water and tea! When on the site you will have access to a toilet (of sorts!) but away from the site – on the many trips and explorations of the West Bank – toilets can be scarce. So whenever the chance arises, use it and pee!

Sleep in your clothes – if you stay overnight in a refugee camp


Staying with a family in the refugee camp is such a gift – it’s an honour to be welcomed so warmly into their homes. Their hospitality, generosity, delightful humour and open-hearted natures will soon make you feel like part of the family. More tea (obviously!), delicious food, lively conversation and much laughter precede bedtime. 

This part is less fun. Knowing that the IDF can enter Palestinian homes at any time during the night, the family all wear their clothes to bed. The soldiers will get the household up for questioning and searches – and often take children away. Children as young as twelve live in constant fear of these raids and can be held for up to 90 days – without a charge – under Israeli law.

The families have no rights, no security, no defense and no peace. International laws on human rights and the rights of the child are blatantly ignored – and nothing is done about this. You being caught in your pink negligee probably won’t change this!

Knowing that the IDF can enter Palestinian homes at any time during the night, the family all wear their clothes to bed. Children as young as twelve live in constant fear of these raids and can be held for up to 90 days – without a charge – under Israeli law.

'Keep Calm & Build A House'


Try to contain your rage. It will be almost impossible not to feel angry – at the injustice, the violence, the basic lack of human rights – but it’s important to remember that you’re here to support the Palestinian people, and their chosen approach is non-violent resistance.

From meetings with grassroots organisations, working tirelessly to build hope and create change, you will learn that many Israelis don’t know the true extent of the situation across the occupied territories.

Soldiers as young as 18 years old serve a military term in the IDF and often don’t fully understand what they are doing or why. But there is hope. There are some Israelis who are standing up in full support of the Palestinians and are committed to seeking justice and peace. We must work together to raise awareness of the situation and bring about change.

To conclude


This was the best experience I’ve ever had. It was emotional and educational. I’ve made UK and Palestinian friends for life and it has changed me for the better.

For these (and many other) reasons I would, without hesitation, recommend everyone takes on this challenge at some point in their lives – with the possible exception of extreme Zionists! They’d be very welcome, but probably not their cup of tea. Yet…!

Sarah Baron is a writer and editor based in Cambridge.

Below is a short film about Amos Home Rebuilds that we shot in August 2015. Please watch and share.

 




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