BLOG about Musa in Shelter City Maastricht

What day is it today? It’s TODAY. Ah that’s my favourite

BLOG by Eline van Drongelen – Mondiaal Centrum Maastricht

During 16 years Musa, as a Palestinian, worked for an Israeli human rights organisation, never taking holidays. He always hoped for better times, but now, since September last year (2015), the violence had become worse than ever and he no longer knew how to go on. That’s why he came to Maastricht, from the occupied Palestinian West Bank. For a shelter.

In the morning, going from his apartment to the university, he walked along the river Maas and then he remembered that in his country 80% of the scarce water goes to the settlers. He continued his way through the City Park. Along the ancient city walls and the small Jeker river, in the shade of the trees he started thinking that this park was bigger than the Ayda refugee camp near Bethlehem, where 10,000 of his Palestinian fellow citizens sit crammed together. He felt guilty. When leaving the university towards the Vrijthof square, he passed by  a statue of a donkey… in his eyes, the most undervalued and outcast animal on earth. How to understand this society and culture that erect a statue of a donkey??

In the evening he worked on a novel in which he writes about the impossible situation of young Palestinian widows. How do the Dutch people manage their finances, inheritance, and what is the position of women in this? Who are these Dutchmen, how do they live, what are they thinking?

His first surprise was when he met the people of Landbouwbelang, an enclave of squatters near the city centre. Working only 10-15 hours a week, voluntary living on a minimum, but in freedom! So authentic and then not at all politically active? Musa became a regular visitor, for a meal or a meeting with pro-Palestinian groups in the place, and there he saw a circus, for the first time in his life.

But the park continued being a place he loved to go to. There he learned to ride a bike again. He saw a ‘Duck race’ with plastic ducks in the river Jeker, he photographed young people balancing on a slackline between two trees.

He went on his bike to a barrier that marks the borders between the Netherlands and Belgium. He was stunned. At the Three-Country Point he walked in circles ‘Germany-Belgium-Netherlands-Germany-…’ and he enjoyed the Belgian beer. Musa was living without time limits, without planning, just free.

When having a conversation with Musa, he is  usually interested to know who you are and what you think. Musa was a good story teller, his stories combine both harsh reality and symbolism. That time when he was stuck with an orthodox Jew in an elevator, both terrified from each other, not able to speak. ‘That’s how we are stuck, Palestinians and Jews, someone had to restart the elevator and to free us’, he said. Or that strong Palestinian bus driver who was forced by Israeli soldiers to beat the passengers to the ground. “There was no one, they had all the power.” He had done it, but he was so ashamed that he did not dare to leave his house, because of what  he did.

We shared many of these stories on the Facebook page of Mondiaal Centrum. Stories from a society of fear, sadness and hatred, but when you know Musa you can see in his character that this society he talks about does not reflect him.

On the 5th of May, at the El Dunya festival organised by Mondiaal Centrum, Palestinian flags waved and Syrian refugee’s  youth danced the Dabke dance , that stretches far back to centuries in the Middle East. Musa was moved, and the refugees too. ‘The city of Maastricht gave shelter to a Palestinian human rights defender!’ The dance went on till the end of the festival, right through several hundreds of dancing visitors.

Musa was a much appreciated guest at Mondiaal Centrum. He regularly joined us for lunch, inspired and entertained us with his stories, and he sometimes caused panic when he forgot an appointment, which made us laugh later on.

Musa is back home now, back to work. His Israeli organisation is spied on and threatened by the Israeli government. The new Defence Minister, Lieberman, is known as a hawk and he hates the Palestinians. Recently, 2 Palestinian boys killed 4 Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv… Musa’s shelter is over, he is back to work.


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