Music is perhaps one of the most important forms of human expression, and Lajee Center wants to give more opportunities to the children of Aida to explore this art. In 2017, the music unit will expand from 7 to 19members, mostly students between the age of 8 and 12. They will receive a total of four lessons per week, which means one lesson with a teacher or lessons in pairs. In addition, the restart of the choral troupe will be a big goal. This was made difficult in the past by the ongoing Israeli military occupation, right at the door of Lajee, but it will not stop our right to make music.
This right will be shown multiple times during the year. Five big performances will be held in the West Bank during Mother’s Day and Day of the Palestinian Child for example. Beyond Lajee Center and Aida Camp, it is important to show ourselves to the world. In 2017, we remember the 100th year since the Balfour declaration, and a cultural tour to the United Kingdom would be very fitting. Last year, 3 members already went to several cities in England, Ireland and Scotland to play their music in front of the local people.
Raghad Ajarma, a thirteen year old oud player, was very happy with that trip: “Our last performance in Aberdeen was wonderful. People were very interactive and greeted us at the end of the performance with a huge round of applause. We could not be more grateful. After our performance, we were given a new oud as a gift.”
Growing of the unit
The expansion and plans are no surprise if you look how the Music Unit has grown since its foundation. As of last year, there are 8 committed musicians who attended the unit since the first year, including 2 oud players, 2 violin players and 2 qanun players. With the expansion, there will now be 3 violin players and 5 qanun ones – while oud stays the same number. This shows that traditional Palestinian instruments are an important objective for Lajee Center as to preserve the culture of Palestinian and Middle Eastern music genres.
Batoul Hammad, 14 years old, tells why the Music unit is so important: “I am so glad that I can continue to take music lessons at Lajee center. I can play music with other children and practice playing national songs that I could only hear in the past. Now, I can feel that music. I can play it in front of large audiences as well. It makes me feel happy and special.”
Lajee Center on Sunday afternoon hosted around 1000 locals and internationals in Aida camp in a National Festival to revive The Palestinian Prisoner's Day, to remind Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails that they are not forgotten and honor their families.
Every year on 17 April, Palestinians hold a national day to honor thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Currently, there are about 6,500 political prisoners in Israeli jails: 500 of them serving administrative detentions, in addition to 300 children and 61 females.
Israeli Occupation currently imprisons 77 people from Aida refugee camp; including 22 children aged 12- 18 years. This festival aims to remember the children in particular and lift their spirits, especially since the children are deprived from their simplest rights of freedom and childhood, and are sent to military courts, subjected to ill-treatment, beating and investigation, against all international laws and without a lawyer. Since 2014 and till this day, Israeli occupation has been carrying out flagrant violations of children’s rights on a rising trend.
The festival not only commemorates prisoners, but also those who were deported or banned from their own homeland, in addition to nine Palestinian martyrs who are detained in Israeli refrigerators since the start of the third uprising in October 2015.
The festival hosted families of Palestinian prisoners, including the mother of longest serving prisoner from Aida, Nasser Abu Srour, who is charged with a life sentence. One of the speakers as well was the sister of martyr Abdul Hamid Abu Srour. Israeli authorities have been detaining his body in refrigerators for one year now.
The ceremony was revived by singer Qassem Al-Najjar, who is known for his popular patriotic songs, while the audience chanted along to his music. The Lajee music unit also played patriotic music to the crowd, which contained children and also elders, hoping to free all of the Palestinian prisoners from Israeli detention.
The next day following the ceremony, around 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have started a collective hunger strike lead by imprisoned MP and leader, Marwan Barghouthi, protesting the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) policies and oppression, especially regarding family visits, medical care, prisoner’s needs, moving prisoners arbitrarily, and other reasons.
“Stop the war on our children’s minds”
The conference took place in the Grand Park Hotel on the 15th and 16th of March. For two days Palestinian and international speakers made an assessment of the problem and ex-detainee children told their story. The goal was to join forces in formulating a national and international strategy to end the demolition of our youth’s childhoods.
“It is our responsibility to end the war on our children. The international community must stand as one human rights council and hold Israel accountable.” This is how Prime Minister Dr. Rami Al Hamdallah opened the conference. It was basically the message of the conference in a nutshell.
The Israeli occupation detained and interrogated 1300 Palestinian minors last year alone. 300 children are in prison right now (35 of them from Aida Camp) and subjected to torture, unfair trials by illegal military courts and sentencing based on ‘secret evidence’. The number of arrests has almost doubled the last two years, and the interrogation methods got harsher. The need for such a conference was urgent, but not as urgent as the need for action and support from the international community.
A deliberate tactic
Speakers described the Israeli detention policies and their international law violations. A panel of psychiatrists explained the effects on the mental health of the children. A group of liberated children even told about their horrible experiences: stories about scare tactics using dogs, severe beatings and refusal to administer insulin to a diabetic to make him confess.
The conclusion was that the systematic arrests of children, the abusive interrogation methods and the harsh sentences for very minor offences are part of a very deliberate strategy. Not a strategy to improve security or obtain information, but to break the spirit of a generation.
At the end of the conference a national strategy and an international campaign was launched:
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Mr. AkramAlayasa, from the Commission of Detainees & Ex-Detainees Affairs, had this message for the children of Aida Camp, who face imprisonment and violence from the occupation every day:
“We try to keep your child spirit alive, and I’m sorry if we didn’t do what we were supposed to do…”