November 5th, Day #4

Ibrahim Issa, Director, Hope Flowers School (abridged transcript by Joel Berman and Helen Fitzgerald)

Ibrahim Issa, director of Hope Flowers School in Al Khadr, West Bank.

Ibrahim Issa, director of Hope Flowers School in Al Khadr, West Bank.

It has been a very unpredicted day here with our students – about half of them came this morning – but because of clashes, we decided to send them home. When we saw that the youths were starting to throw stones and soldiers were coming, we knew it was not safe to wait until things got worse. When you have 350 children, you don’t want to take any kind of risk.

How I ended up at Hope Flowers School: My plan was to continue my PhD in mechanical engineering in the Netherlands. Then my father, the founder of this school, died in 2000. I was in conflict: whether to continue my PhD or to return home to do this work. Then one day I met Leah Green [the founder of the Compassionate Listening Project]. I asked her – should I continue my PhD in mechanical engineering or should I return to do this work? And she told me something that keeps hitting me up to this moment. The world has many engineers but has very few people to work for peace. I said to her – I am not an educator. I don’t know anything about peace education. And she said, to do this work, you just need a good heart. And that’s true.

I can tell you many stories about Hope Flowers School. Children have had one of their parents killed, or even both. Children’s parents do not have jobs or were shot and injured by the army. The majority of the children are traumatized. Many of them have severe learning disabilities.

Hope Flowers has been building our experience with learning disabilities since 2004. I’m proud to say that we are now the best in the West Bank in providing services for children with disabilities and special needs.

Our trauma support program came after a painful personal experience. In 2002, I was awakened at 2 am with loudspeakers around my home and many Israeli soldiers asking someone to give himself up. I was so scared I didn’t even look from the window. Our neighbor was working for security, so I thought the army was coming to arrest my neighbor. After an hour of this, the neighbors start to call me and say, ‘Ibrahim, give yourself up, otherwise they will demolish the homes.’ And I was like, I’ve never been involved in violence.

So I opened the door and gave myself up. Immediately soldiers grabbed me and put me on the ground and arrested me. One of the commanders said, ‘Where are the explosives?’ I said, ‘apparently you have made a mistake. I’m the director of a school. I am working for peace education.’ He said to me, ‘Bullshit! Tell me where are the explosives?’ I said, ‘I don’t have. Apparently there is a mistake here.’ He said to me, ‘If you don’t tell me where are the explosives, I will demolish the homes. You have ten seconds to tell me where are the explosives.’ He started to count. When he reached zero, he said, ‘You are stupid. Your home will be flattened.’ They started to demolish my home. I was arrested and taken to jail for a week. They tortured me badly. Trying to get to know where are the explosives. After one week, they released me. ‘It was a mistaken arrest’, they said.

When I got back, some worker friends from Holland and a psychologist friend came to help me and my family overcome my trauma. It’s not that you ever forget it, but you learn how to live with it.

I returned to the school and started to look for children who had trauma experiences. I found out that there were many, and they don’t speak about their wounds. I knew it before in theory that every act of violence is the result of unhealed wounds. But to live the trauma yourself was something very different. You don’t see how bad it is until you are in this.

I asked one psychologist, a friend of mine, let’s do some volunteer work with people who need your services. She agreed. The first year we had 14 families. We had to convince them to meet with her because, you know, if you are a hero, you should not speak about your wound. The second year, we had more families, and the third year we had 56 families, and we couldn’t do it volunteer anymore. So we started to look for support. We called our program Listen to My Voice because I and my friend agreed that the victim has an inner voice that warns you. You should listen to that voice, which says a lot.

We’re now doing it at 100 schools. We train over 200 teachers in the West Bank on how to support their children. The program is successful because it has been born from a wound. You feel why this program is here and you connect again; for myself, to meet again with that same wound, every time. I see it in a child or in families. It is a really beautiful program for me, and I’m committed – one of the things that gives my work meaning in Hope Flowers School.

Here’s a story that gives an idea how bad and difficult the situation is for children. Khamees is now 11 years old. He’s a child from the Jenin refugee camp. His father was involved in the Palestinian military resistance and was wanted by the Israelis. He escaped from one place to another. One day he came to visit his family and the Israelis attacked the home. The Israelis killed the father in front of the children. The Palestinian resistance thought, there must be a collaborator who informed the Israelis of the father’s presence. They suspected that the mother was the collaborator, so they attacked the home and killed the mother of Khamees in front of the children. It’s a very sad story.

Khamees was very violent and he didn’t speak. He attacked strangers. He couldn’t sit in a classroom. He was a danger to himself and others. His school finally decided they couldn’t keep him. So they consulted with us. Because I’m not an educator, it’s always easy to say yes. That was one of the blessings of being a mechanical engineer. So Khamees came here. The first few weeks he was very violent. He would go to the top of this five-story building and try to throw himself off. One day I heard our special needs education counselor discussing Khamees’ case. The conclusion was that we cannot help him. He shouldn’t be in Hope Flowers School. And that really hit me very hard. I said, listen, if we can’t help children like Khamees, it’s better for us all to go home. We have to find a solution for him. It took us a while to find a child psychiatrist. We helped Khamees. He spent two years here and then had to be transferred to another school because that’s all we could do here with our classes. But we managed to help him. For me, if we failed in that case, one of the most difficult ones, it’s better for us all to go home.

Leah Baugh and Joel Berman with children at Hope Flowers School in al-Khadr, West Bank

Leah Baugh and Joel Berman with children at Hope Flowers School in al-Khadr, West Bank













Eilda Zaghmout, Founder, Beit Ashams (House of the Sun), Bethlehem

Eilda (right), founder of Beit asShams (House of the Sun), Bethlehem and Andrea Cohen Kiener (left), lead facilitator for the Journey.

Eilda Zaghm0ut (right), founder of Beit Ashams, Bethlehem and Andrea Cohen Kiener (left), lead facilitator for the Journey.

Today we visited Beit Ashams (House of the Sun). Beit Ashams is run by two young Palestinian women as a place of healing. They offer yoga, meditation, aikido, sound healing, and other practices to individuals for the purpose of healing and bringing light and hope into their lives. Their watch words are “love and happiness are found inside us, not outside”. Eilda met with us in the Horizons Room which has a small library of books on the practices that are taught here. The name of the room is all about its intent to allow people to increase the horizons of what they consider possible. Another room is called Being and is where yoga, meditation, etc. are taught. While we were there, a mixed group of Muslim and Christian women were doing yoga. The final room is called Creative Exploration and is a kitchen that, when completed, children will create both edible and inedible items. It will contrast with their usual focus of being lost in the worlds of iPads and smart phones and will ground them in earthy connections. Eilda’s parents live on the second floor and have generously given her the opportunity to fulfill a dream of welcoming people to “come with an open heart, tell your stories and carry the light and love home.” In spite of the darkness that envelopes so many after decades of Occupation, she is totally focused on the healing that Palestinians need and can achieve.

There are 3 areas in the West Bank: Area A is under Palestinian control and Israel forbids Israeli citizens from entering; Area B is under join jurisdiction, and area C is under full Israeli control.

There are 3 designated areas in the West Bank: Area A is under Palestinian control and Israel forbids Israeli citizens from entering (see sign above); Area B is under joint jurisdiction, and area C is under full Israeli control.

Dr. Ali Qleibo

Painting by Ali Qleibo

Painting by Ali Qleibo

This evening our guest was Dr. Ali Qleibo, artist, author and Professor of Anthropology at Al-Quds University. He provided us with a depthful analysis of the current situation from the viewpoint of a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem with deep roots here. We visited his home and saw his most recent paintings.

Ali reports that the Palestinian Authority is a mafia-like organization benefitting from the occupation economically in cahoots with Israel. I have been looking for who is benefitting economically from the occupation as I understand economics to usually be at the baseline of injustice. So there’s collusion here. Until the Israeli government recognizes the humanity of the Palestinians the oppression will continue.   ~Yehudah Winter

Participants with Dr. Ali Qleibo, Anthropologist, Writer, Painter

Participants with Dr. Ali Qleibo, Anthropologist, Writer, Painter











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