Ghassan Kanafani and Naji al-Ali Meet Again
Children in Jaffa, Majd al-Krum and Nazareth enjoyed a week of camp in July. The Baqa Centers ran the activities in Jaffa and Majd al-Krum, where they have been educating children for years. WAC, a non-profit association supporting workers and their families, operated the camp at its headquarters in Nazareth. The staffs of all three centers coordinated throughout the year, designing an experience that would be both educational and fun. There was an additional feature: dozens of young people who had grown up with the Baqa Centers became camp counselors for the younger children this year, along with the permanent staff.
On the first day at the Jaffa camp, we divided the children into groups according to age, assigning a color to each group but keeping its name a secret. We then sent them on a treasure hunt. Each group had a list of well-known spots to visit. At every spot it found a note in its color, containing a clue. On a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, hidden in olive trees, were "olives" in the colors of the groups. These contained information about Jaffa. The youngest group, ages 6 -7, discovered that the name of the city means jamila, "beautiful". They continued to follow the clues, until they reached the lighthouse in the old harbor, where they finally found the treasure, their name: "Seafarers". The 8 and 9 year-olds discovered another appellation of Jaffa, "Bride of the Sea". As for the oldest group, their name turned out to be "Ghassan Kanafani".
In the schools, whose curricula are determined by Israel's Ministry of Education, Arab children do not learn about their heritage, nor about outstanding figures from their past. Ghassan Kanafani, for instance, was a novelist and dramatist, as well as an important Palestinian revolutionary thinker. "By studying his work," said the group's counselor, Rafat Khattab of the Baqa Center, "the older children learned more about Jaffa's history, as well his part in the national struggle of our people. A person can learn in two ways. One way is from books, which to many of these kids seems dry, and another way is through the combination of art, play, song and conversation. In the treasure hunt, the campers learned that Jaffa wasn't always neglected and poor as it is today. It was a major commercial center in Palestine. Together with the villages around it, it had 120,000 people before the war of 1948. The port is almost deserted today, but then it was very active, with a strong fishing industry. After the expulsions of 1948, only 3000 people remained. The campers asked what happened to all the others. Kanafani was one of them, a refugee. I made a big puzzle using questions about his biography. In filling this in, the kids learned that Kanafani had been driven out of Palestine on his twelfth birthday, in other words, when he was as old as they are now. I think they really identified with that."
(Ghassan Kanafani was murdered in Lebanon in 1972. Many believe that this was one in the series of assassinations that Israel's Mossad was carrying out there at the time.)
In the camp at Majd al-Krum, the figure known as "Hanthala" became the main character in a play that the campers prepared for the festival on the last day, when all three camps met in the Lubia Woods. These neighbor the ruins of a village whose inhabitants were expelled in 1948.
Hanthala is a cartoon figure, the signature, so to speak, which the Palestinian satirist, Naji al-Ali, placed in each of his drawings. This is a Palestinian boy who stands with his back to the viewer, hands clasped behind him. It is said that someone asked Naji al-Ali, "When will we finally get to see the face of Hanthala?" The answer came: "Not till he can go back to Palestine." (See story.)
Naji al-Ali, himself a refugee from Galilee, was never able to return to Palestine. He was murdered in London in July 1987, no one knows by whom. But the children of Majd al-Krum resurrected him in their hearts. In the play they put on, Hanthala comes back to his homeland and asks the children about places in Palestine. They, in turn, ask him about other revolutionaries throughout the world, such as Che Guevara.
The idea of the camps was to start from some person or theme that was close to the children and move from that to the universal. "In Nazareth," says counselor Manal Jabour, "we chose to focus on Tufik Ziad, who became mayor of the city in the 70's and 80's. Ziad was a poet with a strong national bent, one of the first two poets from this country to win acclaim throughout the Arab World. He was a member of the Communist Party. He was a central figure in organizing the general strike of Land Day on March 30, 1976, which woke the Arabs in Israel out of their former passivity and helplessness.
The older campers in Nazareth called their group "Hand in Hand." They presented, in their play, the exploitation under which Arab workers suffer.
Along with the tours, trips to the swimming pool, art projects and drama, we did not forget the importance of science. All three camps paid visits to the Science Museum in Haifa. Jamila Ayyish, 15 years old, a counselor from the youth group of the Baqa Center in Jaffa, talks about the experience:
"On the days of the swimming pool we had to drink a lot and stay in the shade to avoid sunstroke, but on science day we were reminded that sunlight can also be very helpful. At the Science Museum we learned about different kinds of electricity, and we even made an electric circuit. In the darkroom the kids couldn't fathom how the crystal ball could be full of electricity. We learned about static electricity, and how light alone could run an electrical gadget. I didn't know all the answers either, so we kept asking the museum guides. It was fascinating. We pushed all the buttons to see what they would do, and each time we were surprised. When we saw the human skeleton, the kids got scared, but we calmed them down, and afterwards everyone laughed. I think it was important for them to learn how things are made. We also learned to make musical instruments out of sticks and strings."
The measure of a society is its attitude toward its children. In the Baqa camps, one could feel the special relationship to them, both as individuals and as members of a group. "Children have something to say and we want to hear them": this was the motto that guided the counselors. It expresses one of our major principles: to create an environment where children can think, respond and create.
After an intensive week, the group named after Ghassan Kanafani decided to give Jaffa a gift in the name of the entire camp. They added his portrait as a mural to the "Garden of Dreams," which the children of the Baqa Center founded three years ago.