Visit by group of Young Palestinians to Cardiff: 29 February, 2024 

A common room in the Urdd Centre, Cardiff Bay.  A group of young people gather round a pool table; others sit in groups on their mobile phones or just chatting.  Nothing out of the ordinary – just a group of ‘normal’ young people…..Normal, that is, until the young people start to share their stories.  When this happens they talk about the road in and out of their village being blocked; about not being able to walk on the main street on the way to school for fear of being attacked; of army incursions into their areas and house demolitions.   

For this isn’t just any group of young people.  These are a group of young Palestinians (13 – 14 yrs old) from across the occupied West Bank.  Their visit to Cardiff is part of a wider UK visit coordinated by the Camden – Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA) with the aim of giving these young people a voice, putting them in contact with young people in the UK who are passionate about peace and human rights, and spreading awareness of the reality of their everyday lives to a wider audience, including those in power. The visit is also an opportunity for the youngsters to experience some of the ‘normal’ things that young people perhaps take for granted in the UK – just hanging out in a safe space and having fun with their peers. 

The programme for the day was put together by Urdd Gobaith Cymru with the support of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA).  It included a visit to the Senedd, meeting with young refugees from Afghanistan who live in Wales, a boat trip and 10-pin bowling.  After lunch the group engaged in a session with some of the young people who have put together this year’s Message of Peace and Goodwill.  They learnt about the history and significance of the Message and about this year’s theme, which focuses on the Women’s Peace Petition of 1923 – 24.  Following the presentation they took part in a workshop where they created visuals in response to the question: ‘What does peace mean for you?’  Their answers reflected both their current reality and what they feel are the necessary ingredients to create peace.  To them peace means ‘living without threats’, ‘freedom’, ‘sitting in my own place – sea and olive trees’.  So how to create peace?  ‘When people come together’ one young person said ‘walls come down’. ‘We need a variety of colours’ said another.  Images included the dove – significant because it can move and fly unhindered, without obstacles.  

During their visit the group had opportunities to meet with politicians – Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, and the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.  Both listened carefully to the young people’s accounts of the obstacles they face.  Although we hear practically nothing about the West Bank in the UK media, the region (with a population of more than 2 million Palestinians and around 450,000 Israeli settlers) has been under military occupation since 1967.  The reality of life for the Palestinians is one of checkpoints, walls and barbed wire, settler attacks and house demolitions.  This small territory (more or less the size of Powys) is riddled with Israeli settlements (illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention) which make life more or less impossible for the indigenous population.   

There has been a marked deterioration in the situation since 7th October last year.  According to the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, there have been 242 violent incidents since 7th October, with 10 Palestinians killed, dozens of homes and cars torched and olive trees damaged or destroyed.  B’tselem, another Israeli human rights organisation, has reported that only 50% of Palestinian farmers were able to harvest their olives in 2023 – a major source of income.   The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reports that more than 820 Palestinians have been forcibly displaced from their homes since the Hamas attack on 7th October. This is the reality of everyday life for these young people.  The Ministers listened politely and empathised – but in reality there is very little they can do.   

Faced with the realities of the political situation, it is easy to feel hopeless.  Yet this is precisely what isn’t needed.  By just organising visits such as these we can all play a role in uncovering the truth, putting pressure on politicians and giving voice to the aspirations of ‘ordinary’ people like this group of young people from the West Bank who dare to voice a vision for a peaceful and prosperous future, where their dreams have room to blossom and become reality. 

Many thanks to Taith for supporting the visit of this youth group to Wales.