Civil Peace Service / Special Initiative on displacement: Preventing violence through cultural and sports activities in refugee camps
Title: Civil Peace Service / Special Initiative on Displacement: Social cohesion and violence prevention by culture and sport activities in Palestinian refugee camps
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Palestinian territories
Overall term: 2014 to 2021
The Palestinian refugee crisis is one of the longest-running crises the world has known. Displacement began immediately after the Partition Resolution of the United Nations (1947) and the ensuing outbreaks of violence. It continued with the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948, the Six Days War of 1967 and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian society is fragmented. The West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip are not connected geographically and also remain separated both politically and institutionally. Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, while parts of the West Bank are administered by Fatah. East Jerusalem and Area C, comprising up to 62% of the West Bank, are controlled and administered by Israel. The overarching Israeli-Palestinian conflict reinforces this partition. The lines of conflict transect various groups, including Palestinian refugees versus local Palestinians, urban and rural populations, Bedouins, religious groups and others. Those living in the refugee camps represent the Palestinian underclass.
Today most refugees live either in camps set up by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) or in occupied territories. As stateless persons, they have no civil rights and are subject to systematic discrimination. Despite their difficult living conditions, the population of the refugee camps and occupied territories continues to grow: around 40% of inhabitants are under the age of 15. Given the high level of unemployment, poverty and often daily violence, these young people are growing up without prospects. As a consequence, young men in particular often resort to violence and are susceptible to extremist views.
Palestinian youth from various backgrounds, towns and regions plan and implement joint activities inside and outside refugee camps. They implement strategies for non-violent conflict resolution in their surroundings and pass on their experiences as role models to other young people.
The Civil Peace Service (CPS) helps various partners in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and in the refugee camps at Balata and Shuafat to implement alternative, creative forms of expression in the field of art, culture and sport. In addition, it promotes measures geared to peace education and public relations work, and in so doing helps to dismantle stereotypes, prejudice and xenophobia. For example, the partner organisations involved have all worked together to produce a music video.
Psychosocial support is offered to people, predominantly young adults, children and women, to help them realise the prospect of a life free from violence. The CPS works with actors in the Gaza Strip, rural areas and the refugee camps and helps to establish and improve links between them.
The project is part of the BMZ Special Initiative entitled ‘Tackling the Root Causes of Displacement – Reintegrating Refugees’.
The organisation of joint activities enabled participants to get to know each other, improve their understanding of the situation of others, dismantle prejudices and develop contacts. By playing traditional games together, young people were able to discover a shared identity. This has helped them develop a sense of community and overcome emotional barriers. In this way, the activities provide a counterweight to the schism within Palestinian society.
Aikido coaching has given youngsters inside and outside the refugee camps a means of dealing with their often extreme experience of violence. Young people apply the strategies for non-violent conflict resolution that they have learned in violence prevention measures in their own environment. In so doing, they are seen by their peers as role models for non-violent action.
Creative writing and the production of a music video have helped young people to become more aware of their emotions and to express these in artistic form. The youngsters also gained a better geographical understanding of their respective regions through visits and organised hikes. Contacts established during the activities gave rise to friendships that have continued to this day.