Nov 17th, 2015 – Mohammad Othman – Melbourne

 

“THROUGHOUT MY CHILDHOOD IN MELBOURNE, PALESTINE WAS ALWAYS THERE.”

I was born in Kuwait in 1988. My parents came here after the Gulf War, in March of 1992, hoping to build a better life in a safer environment. My sister is a bit older than me and she remembers Kuwait. I do not, my first memories are here in Melbourne.

At the time of our arrival, a community of Palestinians started to form in our area. I remember attending hundreds of events with friends and family, all inspired by the Palestinian cause. Our community started the Palestinian Community Association in Melbourne. That was an avenue for holding the community together and keeping it alive. One of the results was an Arabic school founded by my parents. My parents specifically (and the community) were big on learning Arabic and wanted to provide an education in Arabic parallel to the English one.

Growing up surrounded by Palestinian families and friends, going to the same school, learning Arabic together: it made us all proud and remembered us of where we came from, even though we lived at the other side of the world

“OUR PARENTS TOOK US TO PALESTINE ON TWO OCCASIONS BUT I WAS TOO YOUNG TO UNDERSTAND WHAT I SAW.”

One of my earliest memories is visiting Qalunya, a small village near Jerusalem: a cemetery and a few remnants of Palestinian houses. My father’s family spread out across Palestine after the village was destroyed during the 1948 war. My dad especially wanted to teach us about our history there.

I remember meeting so many relatives. At the time it seemed endless. Till today, I love kenafi: they make me relive the experience of eating it for the first time in the streets of Nablus, as a nine year old. I cherish these very vivid first memories of Palestine.

A lot of them made sense only later in life though. Traveling as a young boy to a country where soldiers with big guns set the scene… at the time, I could not understand the implications. My great-grandfather showed us the key to his destroyed house but I did not fully grasp what that meant to him. It was only by growing up, following the news and speaking to more relatives that I finally began to understand what was actually happening in Palestine.

“GOING BACK TO PALESTINE AS AN ADULT WAS A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE.”

Towards the end of university, I applied for a two-week leadership program in Palestine: Know Thy Heritage. It was organised by a Christian foundation even if the program was not religious itself, in fact it was focused on Palestinians in the Diaspora. Together with thirty-nine other youngsters from around the world, we experienced Palestine in a very different way. The itinerary was very intensive and we went from Jerusalem to Ramallah, to Nablus back to Haifa, Nazareth, Bethlehem, just to name a few cities. Each day we went to a different place, connecting with youth groups and building our links to Palestine. After this two-week program my engagement to help the Palestinian cause skyrocketed. Back in Australia, I became a lot more active in the Palestinian community.

“BESIDES SUPPORTING THE PALESTINIAN SOCCER LEAGUE IN MELBOURNE, I CONTRIBUTE TO A CHARITY FOUNDATION CALLED OLIVE KIDS.”

Today we finished our third season of our soccer league affiliated with the Palestinian Association in Melbourne. A couple of friends of mine started this Futsal league to give Palestinian youngsters a chance to play soccer on a competitively basis. It turned out to be a great success.

Each team picks a name based on the town in Palestine where the players are from. Through football, we reconnect with our Palestinian heritage.

This season I was the one responsible to record it on video. Cameras have always been around since I was a child. My dad loves taking pictures and the presence of photography throughout my childhood laid the foundation for my current hobby.

“OLIVE KIDS LINKS SPONSORS HERE IN AUSTRALIA WITH AN ORPHANAGE IN GAZA.”

 

The program of Olive Kids has steadily grown over the years and covers different humanitarian campaigns in the Middle East. I focus on fundraising for an orphanage in Gaza (Al Amal). For every child that we support, we pay for their education at the orphanage. And we build a small trust fund that the orphan collects when he turns 18 and leaves the school. Unfortunately the numbers of orphans in Gaza is always increasing. It is the least we can do to give something back to our homeland. I was never able to visit that school because… well, it is in Gaza. But I would love to meet these kids in person one day.

Through my work with the orphanage I have a pretty good idea of the situation in Gaza though. I find no other words for it but to call it an open air prison. That shows itself in so many ways, besides the violence that everybody is familiar with. For example: we cannot send used clothes to Gaza, everything needs to be brand new, with the tags still on them. Even getting basic humanitarian support is made difficult for the people in Gaza.

“IN MY OPINION THERE IS NO BETTER WAY TO SUPPORT THE PALESTINIAN CAUSE THaN TO BE IN PALESTINE.”

 

Having lived my whole life in this beautiful country of Australia, I feel that the best way to give something back to Palestine is to be there.Today, it seems that everything is set in motion to move the Palestinians out of their homeland, to take away their rights and their citizenship. They have to get a permit to work, to travel, to move… They even face difficulties when they want to marry someone who lives in a different part of the country. All these strategies are just a way to force them to leave. Unfortunately it gets to the point where some do. In the end you can’t really blame them.

But there are plenty of signs of hope. During our visit with the Know Thy Heritage program, we met with business leaders and tech start ups. There are opportunities. I learned that the people of Palestine, despite all their issues, are able to put on a smile and stay welcoming and generous. That is one of the happiest memories I behold of Palestine.

I think it is important to go back as this is the best way to make a difference. If I find an opportunity to do so, I will take it.

Credits: Frank Ostyn and Marlies Van Coillie.

 

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