On Saturday, July 11, Lajee Center welcomed over 800 people to its football field as it was transformed to an amphitheater to remember the life of Salah Ajarma (11/11/1972-4/14/2021), a founder and the director of Lajee Center who passed away from complications from cancer. The crowd included everyone from the youngest children to Aida Camp elders, and people from Aida Camp, Dheisheh, Nablus, the Galilee, and beyond. Others tuned in to a livecast from around the world. Guests were greeted by a photography exhibition of Salah’s life and accomplishments and by pastries made by his widow Rasha Al-Azza.
As people settled down into the evening air, former Minister of Prisoners, Issa Qaraqe’ welcomed people and remembered his dear friend with poetry: “This is Salah Ajarma: His smile that crosses all the borders, his blazing kites, his body that was shattered between will, illness, and revolutionary breath. This is Lajee Center: a small place that is wide enough for all of our voices. This is Salah, our son, our brother, our comrade, and our remaining wishes.” Recalling the work that Salah still had ahead of him, he concluded, “We distribute his dreams to all of you.”
The Director of the Lajee Center Environment Unit, Shatha Al-Azza, spoke of how Salah remains present in Aida and beyond today: “The departed Salah Ajarma is in the streets, and the streets are part of Salah, in the rugged alleys and at the demonstrations. He is in the house of the prisoner and the house of the martyr; he is in Jerusalem at Bab Al-‘Amoud and in Sheikh Jarrah. He is on Mount Sbeh sparking resistance. Salah is in Manger Square keeping the tree alight.”
Lajee board member and former prisoner Khaled Al-Azraq delivered a message on behalf of Lajee Center: “Salah always said, ‘Lajee Center is not the walls. Lajee, we are the people, young and old, young women and young men.’ Yes, dearbrother, friend, and comrade. Lajee is not the walls, it is the people, it is the project of liberation, a spring of life, a step toward return to Ajur, Beit Natiff, Deir Aban, Ras Abu Ammar, Malha, and Beit Jibreen, and all of the villages and cities from which the Palestinians were expelled.” He continued speaking to his departed friend, “Our presence here today, the presence of this great crowd of loved ones and friends and partners is the best evidence of the success of your project and of your personal success.”
Then Lajee showed a film produced by Mohammad Al-Azza featuring remembrances from his mother, his friends, his sisters, his widow, and each of his four children. In the video, friends remembered his escapades during the first Intifada as a young man painting the Palestinian flag in public places to defy the army. They remembered his dedicated activism throughout his life. They spoke of his recent earning of a college degree and a Master’s degree in Law to serve his country in a new way. And they spoke of how they had always been sure Salah would be a lifelong friend. The film showed Salah’s struggles with the army over many years. It showed him joyfully carrying a birthday cake lit with sparklers and flying a Palestinian flag just last year near the sea.
As Nidal Al-Azza, director of Badil and a co-founder of Lajee Center, said in the video, “Salah was able to build a generation of young people. He did not just build the football fields and the garden and the walls. He built a whole generation in this camp and in the region in general.” This generation, he said, is able to contribute to society in so many ways. Indeed, the video included words from that younger generation, like Amani Asad who started in the Dabka dance troupe as a child and is now the president of Lajee’s Board of Directors. Another young woman, Haneen Al-‘Araj, spoke of the support Salah gave her at a critical time as she started college. Lajee Center staff remembered his leadership and care. Said his friend Samir Awais,“There were people who thought of him as a leader, the director of Lajee Center, a lawyer, a father, but I miss the child inside him. Salah was in the middle of the pain and suffering. He would give me a call and raise my spirit.” His widow, Rasha, spoke as though to Salah: “The loss is very difficult. It is enough that you left me the sweetest three daughters and a son. I see in each one of them a distinct part of you.” His children expressed their pride in being his daughters and son and how much they love him.
Then, Lajee’s music ensemble came on stage to perform music of Le Trio Joubran that gave people the chance to feel their grief together as the sun set and the sky turned a darker blue.
Colleagues and friends from other organizations like Badil, Yaffa Center in Balata, the Mennonite Central Committee, and Palestine News Network (PNN) remembered his dedication and vision. As Lubna Shomali of Badil recalled, “His humanity and kindness toward the people were so big. His heart was so big. We will feel his loss tremendously.” The director of Ibda’a Center in Dheisheh, Khalid Al Safi, said, “I consider Salah to be a clear answer to the question: how can someone serve the Palestinian people in a deep and rooted way.”
The Lajee Center Dabka troupe that has traveled so many times with Salah to so many different countries came together for a somber and spirited performance.
The last words of the night were from Salah’s oldest daughter, Raghd, who spoke as though to her father: “I don’t know what to say or where to begin. I know that you are now in a place that is better than this impossible world, full of tragedies, disasters, oppression, and injustice…You are always in our hearts, and I want to take advantage of this moment to say do not worry, father. We are strong because of your memory, and because of the good life you lived. We feel your spirit around us, protecting us.” Going home into the night, attendees recalled memories with Salah and saw all around them parts of his legacy.