When I open the green wooden doors to the AIC in the morning a wave of cool air pulls me into the building. The smell of Arabic coffee offered to guests the day before lingers in the hallway that is plastered with flyers. It mixes with the mist of cigarettes smoked over editing stories, with a side note of dust that has settled on the old bricks. In the quiet moments you can hear the fan swishing around in its eternal circles along to the tunes of birds outside and the arrhythmic strokes on computer keyboards. But most of the time its sound is drowned out by one of us talking loudly on the phone trying to bridge a shaky connection or someone coming in to chat with us.
‘Marhaba!’ ‘Sabah al kheir!’ ‘Salam!’ When I introduce myself to someone for the first time I am met with a broad smile and often rewarded with a stream of Palestinian dialect directed my way since Mona is a widespread Arabic name. But Arabic is not the only language spoken in the office. A mix of Hebrew, English, Italian, Spanish, German, and French makes this office the most international one I have ever worked in. The next step is to brew thick, dark Arabic coffee and offer it to any guest that comes in to meet with AIC staff, to browse the extensive library of publications and videos, to ask for help or just to chat.
“You work at the AIC? So you know everyone then!’ It is true, sometimes it seems as if the AIC is connected to everyone. “Do you know someone who lives in Bethlehem, and speaks French and Arabic, and has time to produce subtitles for a video?” – “What about an international who can interview with Palestinian TV in an hour?” – “We need someone to cover a house demolition in the South Hebron Hills.” Of course! The AIC acts as a platform, a connector, a hub for people from different organizations and backgrounds that otherwise might never have met.
The AIC is so well connected not only because it has been around for almost thirty years, but also because it is very unique as being a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization. With one office in Jerusalem and one in Beit Sahour, AIC knows activists, grassroots movements, and organizations both in Palestinian and Israeli society. It uses this network to bring different communities together in unique ways such as at the AICafe – biweekly events with lectures, movies, art exhibitions, book signings, or excursions into the surrounding areas.
However, being a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization also presents challenges to the people working here. Although the offices are less than 10 kilometers away from each other it can take hours to commute between the two locations because of the separation wall. Arrival time can be hard to predict since it depends on your mode of transportation, which checkpoint you take, and the mood of the soldiers at those checkpoints. Additionally, it is very difficult for Palestinians to obtain a permit to go to Jerusalem and Israelis are prohibited by military rule to enter Area A in which Beit Sahour is situated. Nevertheless, the Jerusalem team comes to the Beit Sahour office for weekly meetings. On those days, the office is even busier and one meeting follows another. Since there is rarely enough time to discuss everything that can’t be coordinated over Skype and email, I usually go to Jerusalem at least once a week to talk through upcoming stories and work with colleagues.
Despite all the complications, working for the AIC makes lengthy commuting, waiting at a checkpoint, and skype discussions interrupted by a weak connection worth it since you become part of the AIC family. From the first day, AIC has helped me find my footing here – from finding an apartment to teaching me the public transportation system. It is no surprise to me that people who worked for AIC years ago still come back regularly. They are more than contacts in a network, they have become friends of the AIC.
Posted By Mona Niebuhr
Posted Jul 11th, 2013