With the school year coming up, I wanted to hear more about the tiny school of Nebi Samuel and went to speak to Nawal Barakat, the founder and head of the women’s center in the village. I met an impressive, inspiring woman, who has a lot to teach about resilience.
She explained the situation in Nebi Samuel: it’s people are Palestinians and residents of the occupied territories, but the separation wall was built in such a way that they are on the “Israeli” side of it. This means the fence and numerous obstacles and checkpoints lie between them and the rest of the occupied territories, Ramallah ect. Jerusalem on the other hand, is close by and easily accessible, but it’s illegal for them to be there or work there. By law they must have a special permit to enter Israel or work in Israel. And, says Nawal, since the wall was built, very few such permits are given. So there are very few work opportunities. “Why not allow young people to work?!” she asks. The answer, it seems, is to pressure people to leave. In addition, the village was declared a “National Park” meaning nothing can be built there – not a house, not a pen, not even a fence around a field – economic possibility is cut here too.
Nawal works In the neighboring village Al-Jib, and every day she rides the bus with 50 children to the Al-Jib kindergarten and school. On the way they have to go through the checkpoint, with long waits and searches. Sometimes the checkpoint is simple closed. It’s difficult especially for the young children, explains Nawal, which is why they thought it would be good to have a kindergarten and school in the village. But the building available is tiny, so only 7 children – those for whom it’s most difficult to make the journey – study there.
Nawal’s family comes from Nebi Samuel, but fled during the ’48 war. Their house was demolished in ’71 with many other structures in the village, and she was born and grew up in Jordan. She married someone from Nebi Samuel and returned in the 90’s.
She told me that when she saw the situation of the people in the village she decided she needed to do something to counter the despair. She has been active since, and tries in many ways to make life in the village better and bring happiness and welfare to its people. There were no streetlights, so she got funding for lamps and had the young people put up poles with them. She joint the hard work to get a budget for paving the main streets in the village; organized putting in a playground. She initiated the women’s center and organizes activities for women: small business ventures like cooking for groups, trips that sometimes require getting permits from the army and parties where they can laugh and dance. There is an afternoon study center for weak students and an evening club for the teenagers to play backgammon. Nawal cares deeply about education. Her father put every one of his children through university and she brought this norm with her to the village, where many girls used to leave school at 13 or 14. Now girls as well as boys do that Tawjihi and many go on to University studies.
Nawal is trying to increase the possibilities of making a living in the village. She organized an agricultural festival, where people were given donated plants, and there were games and dancing for the children. They put up a tent for the event, and the army arrived and told them they have two hours to disperse and take down the tent. This initiative didn’t succeed. Though they planted many acres fencing them was forbidden and animals ate the young plants.
Nawal says people come to her for advice and call her “aunty” though she has no blood relatives in the village. She is someone people lean on. It’s clear that she loves children and people. Her eyes shine when she talks about events she organized where people danced and were happy.
Nawal’s eyes fill with tears when she tells us that only two weeks ago the women’s center was demolished, but she says with determination and a mischievous smile “I’m going to rebuild it.”
I ask her how she keeps hope up and she says it’s something she got from her father, who raised her with determination and motivation. Her family in Jordan continues to encourage her in her activism. She tells me before we leave that she’s chosen to wear the Mandil here in Nebi Samuel because it’s something that gives her inner peace and strength to deal with others.
I leave inspired by Nawal’s resilience. She experiences pain and frustration but they don’t lead her to despair and passivity. Instead she is motivated to do what she can to make things better. She sees people’s needs and tries to fill them. Joyful respite, she sees, give people strength to go on and deal with everyday hardship. People need to make a living, and she tries different paths to widen the narrow possibilities, engaging the community. When something doesn’t work, she tries something else. Rather than becoming focused on survival, she looks forwards to the development and advancement of the village, and is busy with increasing welfare and education. She’s proud of the beautiful village and of its community’s openness and warmth.