In August 2015, Ahel for Community Organizing conducted a four day “Mujawarah” Learning Retreat in Jordan, which was in fact a manifestation of Ahel’s vision of learning and relationship-building among activists. The retreat was attended by 13 activists from the Levant region.
We tried to document as much knowledge as we could, but the valuable relationships built during the retreat were beyond documentation.
You can find the “Mujawarah” overview/executive summary here.
Two years ago, Ahel for Community Organizing has trained young women & men, who are interested in the human rights from Jordan, Palestine & Lebanon, on the community organizing approach. Those participants in turn have led political and social movements & campaigns in their countries throughout the past two years.
“Mujawara” in Arabic means “neighboring”, and we in Ahel prefer to name our learning retreat a “Mujawara” for it implies the meanings of learning at intimate atmosphere. And it is a neighborhood-like gathering where everyone can share her/his experiences and enjoy learning from all the other “neighbors”.
This year, Ahel invited them to gather in Jordan & participate in “Mujawara” Retreat to celebrate their efforts in making the change their societies wish for, and to distribute the fruits of their experiences from, and to each other, including Ahel.
On August 6th 2015, 13 activists from among the young leaders of change gathered at Jelaad\ Al- Salt in Jordan, they came from 3 countries to present their campaigns & movements’ experiences during the “Mujawara” Retreat that lasted for 4 days, where they found an open space for learning, experience exchange & for sharing the valuable expertise they gained from the field action of their campaigns. It was also a chance for Ahel to assess its campaign-companionship (The assistance & guidance provided by Ahel throughout campaign lifetime), and to consider future improvements regarding this issue.
The first issue discussed was The Political Context in Jordan. Jordan has always been influenced by the surrounding political crises and wars in the region. A brief study about the political context in Jordan, prepared by one of the organizers of BDS, was presented. After that, the Jordan BDS movement organizers talked about their experience, as a part of the global Movement BDS*, and how they could do so by applying the practices of the Community Organizing Approach. They shared stories, challenges, and successes of the campaigns that have been launched by their movement so far. In Chapter One you will find further details about Jordan BDS campaigns, the following will provide a brief about each one:
The Jordanian National Campaign against the Gas Deal with the Zionist Entity; “The Enemy’s Gas is Occupation” campaign was launched to oppose the government’s proposed agreement to import natural gas from “Israel”. For the first time, all factions of the Jordanian street were recruited and mobilized to participate in a protest together against the gas deal which was named the “Demonstration of Rage”. The campaign succeeded in recruiting 76 parliamentarians, in addition to political and popular forces. United, they exerted pressure on the Jordanian government. The deal was later put on hold because of Israeli concerns.
“What’s the Origin?” Campaign succeeded in creating tangible evidences that exposed the presence of Israeli products in the Jordanian Central Market, right after the government denied that. The campaign succeeded in influencing the public opinion in Jordan to boycott the Zionist entity “Israel”. The campaign managed to win credibility among the Jordanian people.
Jordan BDS Divestment Team, which targets the companies that are complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and in the violation of human rights in Palestine, has recently launched “Stop G4S” Campaign in Jordan, as an integrated part of the global movement “Stop G4S”, for this company continues to supply and maintain equipment used at Israeli military checkpoints in Palestine and along the apartheid wall, which is considered a daily involvement in the violation of human rights in Palestine.
In the time assigned for the Jordanian participants, there had been a quite interesting presentation about the social movement context in Jabal Al-Natheef (a marginalized urban area located in eastern Amman, and home to the Mohammad Amin Camp, an informal Palestinian refugee site with an estimated population of 54,000). An activist from Jabal Al-Natheef presented 3 community empowerment campaigns:
6 Minutes Campaign for the joy of reading, which succeeded in promoting the habit of reading for fun among children and mothers, in addition to the joint school activities. The campaign gathered 5,042 pledges to commit to reading six minutes a day for pleasure. The campaign had a significant positive impact on the reading & writing skills among children in addition to the personal empowerment of both mothers and children.
Safe Homes Campaign aimed to secure the homes of Jabal Al-Natheef from domestic violence through empowering the folks with effective educational practices that do not involve violence in all its forms, and by convincing them to condemn violent practices, and at a later stage involving the empowered parents in the process of securing other houses by following practices of the community organizing approach. It is worth mentioning that the need for launching this campaign emerged during the celebration & assessment of 6 Minutes campaign.
And finally, & currently happening, in Jabal Al-Natheef; For Your Sake Campaign. This campaign seeks a safer & violence free school environment in Jabal Al-Natheef; whether it was verbal or physical violence. The need for this campaign emerged due to the parents’ demands for a safer school environment for their kids, and for a more integrated home-school relationship, specially after the success of Safe Homes Campaign.
Structure and Expansion Model of the social movement in Jabal Al-Natheef was inspiring for the participants, and hence a special session was allocated, during the “Mujawara” Retreat, to discuss it. You can find the documentation of this session in Chapter 2 of this report.
The Palestinian Context was presented from two perspectives: The movement in the occupied Palestinian lands in 1948, which is called “Israel”, and The Context from the perspective of the activists in the occupied Palestinian lands in 1967 “West Bank”.
From the Palestinian occupied lands in 1948, two Organizers from the founding team of “Refuse, Your People Will Protect You”, (Orfud) campaign, attended the “Mujawara” Retreat to share their experience in this movement that was created 2 years ago, to refuse the compulsory military service imposed on the Palestinian Druze community, and to create a supportive line for the individuals who refuse to serve in the Israeli occupation army. The mandatory service imposed on male Druze youth is totally incompatible with their historic role in the Palestinian national struggle against Israel. Israel claims that Druze community is an ethnic minority where in fact they are a Palestinian religious minority.
From the Palestinian occupied lands in 1967, an organizer and a founding team member from “Love in the Time of Apartheid” attended the “Mujawara” Retreat to tell the story of a campaign that tried to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, and to claim their basic human rights of life, love, marriage, free mobility and for families to live in peace in their homes without being torn apart by the apartheid wall and the racist regulations imposed by the Zionist occupation. “Love in the Time of Apartheid” campaign was launched by activists from all over historic Palestine, to expose and challenge Israeli laws and policies preventing the reunification of Palestinian families when one partner holds Israeli citizenship (or a Jerusalem ID) while the other is a resident of the occupied Palestinian territories in 1967, and thus depriving these families of their civil, economic, social, health and other rights.
The Context of Lebanon was presented by a Lebanese activist who could no longer stand the rampant sectarianism that is poisoning Lebanese political life. That activist was also a core team member from the Lebanese independent youth political movement “Take Back the parliament”. She shared the story of their movement, the challenges they faced and the achievements of their movement that was looking forward for a democratic secular nonsectarian government, and for having qualified honest parliamentarians who truly represent the Lebanese people.
The experience of “Take Back the parliament” was inspiring for the other participants, specially their Structure and expansion Model, and so a special session was allocated to discuss it. You can find it in Chapter 2 of this report.
The participants gathered for a special evening session to learn more from the experience of “Take Back the parliament” in Mobilizing Public Opinion, where the discussions focused on the importance of Door-to-door technique, 1:1 meetings, the precautions and risks of big public meetings and how to utilize certain tactics to ensure the best effectiveness of such meetings. The session also included participations and discussions about the field experience of other campaigns.
Organizers from “Implement Your Laws” Campaign, from the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, also attended the “Mujawara” Retreat to share their experience about their campaign that demands improving living conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps and other Palestinian residential gatherings in Lebanon, through implementing the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) bylaws in organizing elections to choose the refugee camp committees, and later through activating the role of the camps’ popular committees elected by the residents of the camps instead of the current committees that are ineffective and have always been formed and appointed by the Palestinian political factions without elections. The campaign also seeks that the qualifications of the committees’ leaders and members are compatible with the internal regulations of the popular committees that have been set by PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) more than 60 years ago, which are not currently applied on the ground. “Implement Your Laws” campaign believes that each human being should be an effective element of his/her society wherever they live; in homeland or in exile. “We want to have a more beautiful reality until we return home”. “We are working on this campaign so that people won’t be forced to ride death boats running away from a reality that can be changed through implementing the laws”. ***
During the “Mujawara” Retreat, the participants reached key conclusions and recommendations about a number of Organizational Issues that were discussed in the “Mujawara” sessions. The Public Narrative Session included different experiences form all participating campaigns and also included public narrative rehearsals to improve storytelling skills in different contexts and for variant audiences. The participants agreed on the importance of providing sufficient coaching on public narrative and storytelling and the need to reframe public narrative according to the audience type and the surrounding context. And they came up with a set of recommendations.
During the Motivation and Enthusiasm Session the participants had frankly & clearly expressed what lifted them up and what brought them down, as individual and as teams, throughout the campaigns’ lifetime. They came up with a set of ideas and recommendations which they decided to take back home so they can maintain their enthusiasm and motivation on both personal and team levels.
Leadership Coaching is a part of the essence of the community organizing approach; and hence, a session was allocated to discuss the campaigns’ experiences in Building Leadership Collectively in different contexts and surrounding circumstances.
The Participants came from 3 countries with multiple contexts, and that’s why their Allies & Opposition experiences were diverse, and hence it was important to discuss it in detail including: the Spectrum of Allies, Opposition Tactics and how to deal with it, and real-life Stories and Experiences from the participating campaigns.
The Traditional Media & Social Media session discussed the role of media in the campaigns and movements. The participating campaign organizers shared their expertise in Alternative Means of Media, which included digital & field techniques. And they shared their stories and experiences regarding traditional and social media in a rich session that was concluded with many media tactics and technical recommendations. They also covered a controversial issue that many of them needed to discuss; Building Media Teams.
“Campaign Culture” was defined by the participants as: “Our collective behavior as a campaign which reflects our values and principles regarding our internal interaction with each other, and our interaction with the outside world that surrounds the campaign” This definition was a result of discussions that narrated real-life stories about the campaigns’ values, principles and culture. The participants shared their stories transparently during the Culture Session.
The Essence of Community Organizing Approach was the last topic discussed in the “Mujawara” Retreat, where the questions were about the practices of the approach: “When is it possible to say that I am committed to the approach?” “When I am not?” “Is the approach inflexible and difficult or can we shape it according to our time and to the context of our movements?” This session formed the summary of the participants’ perceptions about the community organizing approach and its practices.
As part of the “Mujawara” the participants also provided suggestions to Improve Ahel’s campaign-companionship and their Personal Evaluations for “Mujawara” Retreat, described in their own words, where some participants expressed the need for further clarification of Ahel’s role, their relationship with Ahel as campaigns and the campaign-companionship Exit Strategy. At the same time, other participants demanded the innovation of a new technique that will, on the one hand, connect the campaigns at the same country together, and on the other hand connect all campaigns with Ahel. And so it was suggested that each campaign will be expected to send Ahel a brief report, every three months, about the challenges they face and the accomplishments they achieve.
*BDS: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Is a global campaign that aims to increase economic and political pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. Read more here: http://www.bdsmovement.net/
** Ruwwad for Development: A non-profit community empowerment organization that helps disadvantaged communities overcome marginalization through youth activism, civic engagement and education. Founded in 2005 by a group of entrepreneurs in Jordan.
***Implement Your Law Campaign. Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon.