Informed by the commitment to critical questioning and social justice fostered at Earlham, Lilly Lerner ’13 is headed to Palestine, where she will live and work in a refugee camp in the West Bank.
Lerner — an Honors graduate, with a double major in Peace and Global Studies and Comparative Languages and Linguistics — is returning to Al-Jalazone Camp, where she worked during the summer of 2012 for her Peace and Global Studies internship.
“I taught English classes, I worked a lot with young kids, playing games, doing art, math, reading and sports,” says Lerner, all while speaking and learning Arabic.
Throughout her experience, which she readily acknowledges was very difficult; she witnessed firsthand just how challenging life under occupation in a refugee camp is.
“There is a lot of structural violence that becomes part of daily life. The fact that people at the camp only have access to water one day a week is a problem. Another issue is that al-Jalazone camp is right next to the Beit El settlement in the West Bank. That means that the Israeli army is constantly patrolling the camp. There are a lot of issues within the camp, in terms of the ways the youth lives. Eighty percent of the camp is youth and a lot of them do not see any sense of future. ... Everything is rooted under the same principle that they are living the life of occupation in a refugee camp; they know that they do not belong in that camp,” says Lerner.
The people forced to live in Al-Jalazone camp “struggle on a regular basis to survive the physical, structural systemic and psychological violence they experience on a daily basis,” Lerner explains. The study of violence, and its many forms and manifestations, was a consistent thread running throughout her academic work at Earlham, especially within the PAGS program. Lerner finds this theoretical background invaluable to understanding life in Al-Jalazone camp, and the wider context in which it exists.
She has returned to the camp with the help of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization that promotes peace and social justice and has close ties with Earlham College.
“I am so grateful for the PAGS Department program’s connections with AFSC, I got a travel grant to go back,” said Lerner.
Lerner’s dream is to reconnect with the friends she made in Palestine in 2012, and to join them in social justice organizing, as well as work with them on developing networks between refugee camps.
Lerner says she found a lot of inspiration through engaging in student activism. Throughout her time at Earlham, she was actively involved with Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine, a student organization working towards highlighting the suffering of Palestinian people and the violation of their rights. In addition, Lerner became one of the conveners of BDS Earlham (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), a campaign that calls for placing economic and political pressure on Israel to end the occupation, to respect the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and to promote equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Support from Her Adviser
Lerner says she is especially grateful to her adviser, Associate Professor Joanna Swanger. The experience she had with the director of the Peace and Global Studies program was transformational.
“She has been my adviser since sophomore year and her guidance and honesty has pushed me to continue striving to reach my fullest potential. She has been one of my greatest advocates and supporters for my return to Palestine as well as being supportive of my feeling of loss, confusion and openness to everything I will experience there,” says Lerner.
Lerner hopes to stay in Palestine for as long as she can. She has already applied for some jobs there, and hopes to use her knowledge of English and Spanish as a tutor.
As Lerner prepares for her trip, she reflects on her experience at Earlham. Her interest in grassroots organizing and social justice movements has tremendously evolved as a result of time spent at Earlham and traveling to Palestine. Lerner feels that commitment to activism and social justice has not just become a part of her life, rather, “it is my life,” she says. “Now that I have experienced it, I do not see a separation from myself. I feel I want to live and breath this every single day of my life, I want it to be a part of my being.”