Introduction

In a country like Palestine where childhood and exposure to violence cannot be de-linked, Abdelfattah offers children an open arena where they can practice their God given and Geneva Convention granted childhood rights. He also introduces them to non-violent cultural resistance through which they can vent and express their mind, hopes, and dreams through sports of self-expression in its wider definition, such as acting, dancing, and painting.

Abdelfattah’s idea aims to combat the phenomenon of violence among children and to transform them into promoters of non-violent and cultural resistance. His aim is to safeguard the childhood rights of Palestinian children in refugee camps, to empower Palestinian children and to introduce them to a new form of non–violent resistance through a wider definition of self-expressive sports that includes different forms of expressive art. Abdelfattah’s aim is to combat the child soldiers’ phenomenon with the creation of vocal, empowered, and brave promoters of non-violent resistance and peace. To have a greater and long lasting impact, Abdelfattah involves parents and schools in the activities to insure an atmosphere that promotes childhood rights and peace beyond his center’s borders.

The main focus of Abdelfattah’s idea is not art but it is about creating alternative means for children to express themselves, away from violence and political intolerance internally and externally. The alternatives Al Rowwad offer to Aida Camp children materialize their childhood rights, just like other children anywhere in the world, affecting their life choices in the future. On another hand, Palestinian children expressing themselves in a different way than throwing stones will give the whole world a new perception of their childhood rights.

The political instability and the continuous violence of the occupation in the West Bank, has affected children the most. Children have dealt with the tragic political situations in a number of ways; An increasing number of children have psychological problems, drop out of school, perform badly academically, commit acts of violence against their peers and family, become part of radical political movements and feel a profound sense of hopelessness and despair. Children also have less faith in themselves, their families, their country and little sense of belonging.

 

Starting with the first intifada in 1987, many children skipped school on regular basis to participate in the struggle against the Israeli occupying forces either by demonstrating against Israeli aggression or by throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. This resulted in bad academic performance and/or dropping out of school, the result of which is a generation of ignorant youth. With the second intifada in 2000, the continuous destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and the frequent curfews and obstacles that make it impossible for children to reach their schools; children’s rights to education along with their other basic childhood rights have been gravely affected.

 

Additionally, daily survival for Palestinian children’s parents is a desperate struggle. Travel restrictions have caused over 50% unemployment, with higher peaks in certain areas in refugee camps. Families are left impoverished and granting their children the right for childhood is not on their priority list. According to the Islamic relief, two thirds of the Palestinian population live below poverty line.

 

The result of the above-mentioned facts is a generation of Palestinian children who do not know what childhood means, this applies to Palestinian children in general and Palestinian children of the camps in specific. According to the UNRWA, there are 19 refugee camps in the West Bank with a population of 181,241, and 8 refugee camps in the Gaza with a population of 471,555. There are 10 refugee camps in Jordan with a population of 283,182, there are 12 refugee camps in Lebanon with a population of 210,952 and there are 10 refugee camps in Syria with a population of 112,882.  CSO activists in the West Bank state that the above figures are very conservative.

 

UNRWA states that 40% of all camps’ population are children. Children who have witnessed nothing but violence, aggression discrimination and deprivation since birth, and therefore the only outlet through which they can prove that they exist and make the world hear their agonizing pain and see their ongoing loss is violence whether towards their peers, their family, their community or a much more advanced army of adults. According to the Defense for Children International, since September 2000 to May 2nd 2006, the number of children killed is 745, the number of children in detention is 435 and the number of children injured is 6631 (53 children prisoners are from Aida camp and are under 18 years old).

 

Once past the childhood phase and into youth years, it is very normal that those children who have seen nothing but violence and felt nothing but pain and a sense of loss would be easily sucked into political groups for suicide bombing activities. As we have all witnessed throughout the long years of the Palestinian struggle, the majority of suicide bombers’ ages ranged between 17 and 21. Since violence is the only language they were left to learn, violence is the only way they know to express themselves and their cause.

 

Unfortunately, culture and education are not the priority of a lot of donor countries who approach the Palestinian problem from a humanitarian perspective rather than one based on justice and rights.

 

Abdelfattah was the first Palestinian to pin point the problem and attempt to save the future generation of Palestine youth through full empowerment and through introducing a new method of self-expression and non-violent beautiful resistance, which is cultural resistance. Abdelfattah believes that his work increases the spirit of collaboration between children as well as the feeling of belonging to the community in which they live. It also stimulates their creativity and gives them hope in a better future. According to Abdelfattah, children who are given a chance to be creative and who learn to set their own priorities can provide a bridge for a democratic and an independent society.

 

Otherwise, if the situation is left as it is, we will see nothing but generations of lost, violent and most probably ignorant people who have a low self-esteem and no care for their communities at all.

 

Abdelfattah aims at changing the world’s perception of Palestinian children from stone-throwers to normal children entitled to rights like their peers elsewhere.

 

Recognizing that the continuous violence of the occupation in Palestine has gravely affected children, Adelfattah’s idea focuses on encouraging children in refugee camps, where he himself grew up, to live a normal life away from politically engaged organizations. His life in the camps has made him well aware of the fact that children are sensitive and vulnerable and therefore, it is essential to promote their self-expression rather than leave them to become an easy prey for exploitation and to grow to become merely echoes or tools of pre-planned political agendas.

 

In a country where road blocks and barriers  narrow down their closure on refugee camps on regular basis, Abdelfattah has created Al–Rowwad community centre to provide children with the space they desperately need to live a normal childhood. Through partaking in activities such as (theatre, sports and dance, and painting), culture, and education, Abdelfattah has safeguarded the rights of children to childhood and also created and promoted the concept of non-violent cultural resistance. All of Abdelfattah’s services and activities are free.

It is important to note that the phenomenon  of child soldiers and a violent environment that prevents children from a normal life is growing in the region as we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Chad and many other countries in the world such as Cambodia and other African countries. In that sense, Abed’s approach to beautiful and non-violent resistance among children can go beyond the borders of Palestinian refugee camps in the Arab region and to all conflict zones.

Abdelfattah started his work with the population of Aida refugee camp, which consists of 4500 refugees. He specifically targeted children from the ages of 6 to 18 who make up to 47% of the population of the camp (2115 children). The population of the camp originates out of 35 different villages from which they fled in 1948 and 1967. The fact that he himself was born and grew up in this camp, and the location of the camp at a “border point” where there is continuous friction between the children of the camp and the soldiers of the Israeli occupying army, made it imperative for Abdelfattah to intervene to reduce the tension among those young and tortured children, and thus save their futures by allowing them first to live and second to choose their life style.

 

To replace violence and aggression, Abdelfattah’s idea introduces, through Al Rowwad centre an array of activities pertaining to art, skills enhancement and expressive sports. The diversified activities though targets children in the first place, extend to reach parents and youth ensuring a profound social impact on the community level. The activities represents a combination of self-expression arts, education, skill enhancement and awareness raising, in all variable fields such as theatre, dance (traditional Palestinian Dabbka), video filming, animation, puppetries, novel and script writing, embroidery, photography, memorials, painting, nutrition and health awareness, psychological support for children and families, language courses, computer courses and  educational support classes. These activities are Abdellfattah’s efficient mean of safeguarding children’s rights to childhood and of non-violent cultural expression and resistance. He is teaching them tolerance and acceptance of the other as a fellow human, and he is showing the children alternative means to communicate with this other away from violence. These different services have reached and benefited thousands of children in the camp, and some of them have come back as teachers and volunteers in the centre.

To date, Abdelfattah has conducted 30 training workshops for children in six communities of the 19 refugee camps in the West Bank.  To guarantee the sustainability of his idea, Abdelfattah also conducts a TOT training for youth natural leaders in the camps on theatre production, and dancing as well as coordination between CSOs, schools and official bodies. To date he has conducted trainings for more than 35 leaders in the six communities he worked with. The integrated services and approach to non-violent resistance that Abdelfattah is introducing is not limited to the core groups he forms, but reach all the children who have visited and benefit on a daily basis from his centre and also from the other networks that he formed in the other camps.

 

Abdelfattah is not seeking to influence children only, his mission is to spread the notion of non-violent beautiful resistance to the whole community regardless of age, sex or religion. He teaches the children the value of accepting the other, with no prejudice, as a fellow human being. He aims at spreading the culture of non-violent resistance, as alternative for political aggression and bias, to children, parents, youth and elderly reaching out for the different groups of the community at different levels. On a higher level, he aims at changing how the world sees the Palestinian children as stone-throwers, instead look upon them with a different eye, where these children express themselves, their dreams, their culture and their heritage

 

To maximize the social impact and make it long lasting, Abdelfattah also involves the parents and the community at large in the program activities that he develops in each camp and in his centre at Aida camp. Parents are involved and participate in creative activities workshops as well as language, computer training and psychological guidance. Based on the request of the residents of the camp and some of the children, literacy classes and vocational skill courses were also offered to the mothers of these children. Parents also meet with other families, the children, Abdelfattah and his dedicated staff. To also extend his outreach of the family units, Abdelfattah works in close collaboration with schools in the camp. To date Abdelfattah offers creativity, services and a new perspective on life to 600 children and 400 adults on annual basis.

His educational support classes, based on a field survey conducted, proved to reach 90% of the students in the camp, while the girls school, one of only two schools in the camp, reach 10% of the students only. Through Al Rowwad, Abdelfattah was able to offer tuition fees to 70 of the camp youth to go to different Universities expediting new horizons of their future. His aim is to offer hope and confidence instead of despair. He reaches the whole family and consistently promotes his philosophy of non-violent culturally based beautiful resistance in all his programs.

 

Through performances, networking and active partnerships, Abdelfattah’s idea is vastly expanding at the local level. In the short and medium term, through conferences, video-projections, TOT training, networking, partnerships and tours, Abdelfattah plans that the 19 refugee camps existing in the West Bank and the eight refugee camps existing in Gaza (after the political situation improves since it is impossible to enter Gaza since the beginning of the second Intifiada) would adopt his interactive cultural model that grants Palestinian children the right to childhood, the right to express themselves and the right to choose their lives’ paths. Following the same methodology, Abdelfattah plans to also extend his activities to neighbouring countries where there are refugee camps. He is currently coordinating with some natural leaders in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan in order to open dialogue to launch his idea through a theatre performance, which would open doors for networking with CSOs and official bodies to implement and sustain his idea there. In seven years, Abdelfattah plans to reach all of the 59 refugee camps in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

 

Through ToT, exchange programme visits, theatre and dance tours, updating the centre’s website and video productions that explains his idea, model and philosophy, his idea is expanding on the international level to set a model of children’s protection in conflict zones that can be easily replicable.

 

Abdelfattah’s Al-Rowwad group has already performed in Sweden, Denmark, Egypt, France and USA. They will be performing this summer in France and Belgium as well. These performances, along with other activities such as paintings, animation and writing demonstrate to the world the fact that the Palestinian child, away from occupation and aggression, is a child with dreams, skills and talents entitled to lead a peaceful childhood through which he can express himself.

 

His tours in Europe and USA gained him a wide reputation and wide range of supporters. In 2002, and after their visit to Al Rowwad, number of American playwrights, some of them are Jews, wrote an article in the “American Theatre Magazine” talking about their experience and general reflections on the visit especially about Al Rowwad where they expressed their surprise by the children’s maturity and generous welcome.

 

The “Theatre Against War” institution organized a fundraising event for Al Rowwad Center, which was coordinated by Sally Eberdhart and Henry Chalfant, who are two prominent names in the show business in the USA. In addition, Mohamed Ali Clay institute supported a tour for Al Rowwad center in the theatre of Louisville, Kentucky.

 

Abdel Fattah’s  innovative model of childhood rights in conflict areas and non violent culture resistance (referred to as Beautiful Resistance) can be easily replicable in any conflict area to combat the deprivation of children of all their childhood rights and  their coerced absorption into the political conflict as in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abdelfattah grew up in Aida camp. Between 12 and 14, Abdelfattah used to write short scenes with his friends and then they would go to the surrounding hills to act out the scenes they have written.

 

As a child in a refugee camp and as an adolescent in a refugee camp too, his only mean to express himself and his pain resulting from the inhuman treatment of the Israeli forces, was like thousands others who led the same life, demonstrations and throwing stones at the Israeli forces. Both acts entailed that he would skip school. This negatively affected his academic record along with thousands of his peers. Yet Abdelfattah realized this negative impact and was determined to complete his education along with performing his duty, as he perceived it to be. He always wished that there would be an alternative method to make his case and that of his country heard.  He strongly believes in the following statements:

 

“All those who work with culture, work against war” – in a correspondence between Freud and Einstein,

“If we want to make war against war, we have to start with children”- Mahatma Ghandi

 

After he received his BSC of Biology from BethlehemUniversity, he was offered a scholarship by the French Government to do his MSC and PHD in Biological and Medical Engineering at ParisNordUniversity in France. There, along with his academic studies he also pursued his passion for theatre and painting through training and practice. This was when he came up with the concept of non-violent cultural beautiful resistance realizing its therapeutic effect on him. Participating in numerous painting exhibitions, acting, and co-writing a number of plays, made him realize that cultural resistance is not only as important and as effective as other forms of resistance, but also has an advantage over any other form of resistance; it encourages creativity and promotes non-violence, peace and respect of the other.

 

When Abdelfattah returned to Palestine in 1994, children in Aida camps had only the streets to express themselves and to play. Many found it easiest to continue to express their rage throw throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who never hesitate to fire back to kill. The result was either death or a life long of disability.

 

Abdelfattah became more convinced of the fundamental need for creating a space for children to vent and to learn how to express themselves in a non-violent way. This is why he created Al-Rowwad Centre where he works to expand the imagination of children and stretch out their capacities and creativities in order to help them lead a healthy childhood and allow them to have a future.

 

Abdelfattah is the General Director of the centre and the Chairman of the board of administration, which consists of six other people. To earn a living, he works in a private pharmaceutical company as director of the microbiology lab. On daily basis, after working hours, he goes to Al-Rowwad centre where he pursues his real life purpose of creating an empowered generation of Palestinian children.  In August 2005, Abdelfattah quit his job when his employer company refused to give him a non-paid 6 months vacation to focus on his creative work with children.

 

Thus the Ashoka fellowship will not only  be a great opportunity for him due to the stipend which will provide him with the time and space to spread his idea but also will help promote the concept of non violent resistance in the region with the hope of reaching peace in all conflict areas.

 

Abed has been nominated to us more than a year ago by the current Field manager of “Save the children” in Jordan, Amy Mina. He comes also highly recommended by Samia Meherez a professor of literature at AUC.

 

Abdelfattah made his choice of “beautiful resistance” since he was a child as he never participated in any demonstrations or uprisings, instead he focused on his artistic hobbies as painting and theatre. As a teenager and a young man, Abdelfattah was never seduced into joining any of the different political groups, as he believed that any form of aggression, bias or intolerance would eventually harm his country, Palestine more than benefiting it. In addition, his dream was more peaceful environment for children to grow up, away from violence, accordingly he chose to promote peace and not violence.

 

Abdelfattah is a hardworking and dedicated social entrepreneur who has already launched his idea and is currently extending his outreach. His work is well reputable on the national, regional and international. In partnership with Ashoka, Abdelfattah’s idea can reach its optimal goal, which could pave the way for real peace in the Middle East.

kfi�bN ��M that can be easily replicable.

 

 

Abdelfattah’s Al-Rowwad group has already performed in Sweden, Denmark, Egypt, France and USA. They will be performing this summer in France and Belgium as well. These performances, along with other activities such as paintings, animation and writing demonstrate to the world the fact that the Palestinian child, away from occupation and aggression, is a child with dreams, skills and talents entitled to lead a peaceful childhood through which he can express himself.

 

His tours in Europe and USA gained him a wide reputation and wide range of supporters. In 2002, and after their visit to Al Rowwad, number of American playwrights, some of them are Jews, wrote an article in the “American Theatre Magazine” talking about their experience and general reflections on the visit especially about Al Rowwad where they expressed their surprise by the children’s maturity and generous welcome.

 

The “Theatre Against War” institution organized a fundraising event for Al Rowwad Center, which was coordinated by Sally Eberdhart and Henry Chalfant, who are two prominent names in the show business in the USA. In addition, Mohamed Ali Clay institute supported a tour for Al Rowwad center in the theatre of Louisville, Kentucky.

 

Abdel Fattah’s  innovative model of childhood rights in conflict areas and non violent culture resistance (referred to as Beautiful Resistance) can be easily replicable in any conflict area to combat the deprivation of children of all their childhood rights and  their coerced absorption into the political conflict as in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan.