Artistic initiative that made a difference in Palestine

October 8, 2021 – Defence Stories

Written by Lieutenant Colonel Len Matiowsky, Op PROTEUS, Roto 21

Maj Mark Noel and his team

On July 11th, 2021 Maj Mark Noel and his team presented a cheque of 37,000 Israel Shekel (Approx. 14,000$ CND) to charity named “Not to Forget” at the Jenin Refugee Camp. The proceeds will provide the children of the Jenin Camp with a playground structure.

Ask any Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member if they had any significant memories from any of their deployments around the world, recent or long past, and invariably they will give you a resounding, “Yes!” No matter how well trained we are, no matter how disciplined we are, it is impossible for us to lose our humanity.

My colleague and good friend, Major Mark Noel, the Operations Officer on Roto 21 of Operation PROTEUS, had such an experience that significantly impacted his time here but that will also provide a lasting legacy for many who had the opportunity to encounter him. But before I go too far ahead, a little about Op PROTEUS. This mission is Canada’s contribution to the Office of the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) in Israel. Canadian Armed Forces members serve with the USSC team as part of Canada’s military task force in Jerusalem focus on providing the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) with training advice and support, help them better their logistics systems, and improve the professionalism of the Force.

Old City of Jerusalem

Acrylic Painting inspired by Mark Noel visit of the Dome of the Rock located at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Members of Op PROTEUS work from one end of the West Bank to the other engaging with members of the PASF but also meeting people from all walks of life: vendors, artists, politicians, restaurateurs, and even the displaced and less fortunate. Palestinian refugees and their descendants, for example, are citizens of Mandatory Palestine, a geopolitical entity established between 1920 and 1948 in the region of Palestine under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. They fled or were expelled from their country over the course of the 1947–49 Palestine War and the Six-Day War. Most Palestinian refugees live in or near 68 Palestinian refugee camps across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Inside our mandate at the USSC, the mission took a step further inside the West Bank and we had the opportunity to see up close the reality of the Refugee Camps. Along with Task Force Jerusalem’s (TFJ) Commander, Brigadier General Jeannot Boucher, we visited the Jenin Refugee Camp, also known as the Jenin Camp. Located north of the West Bank in the city of Jenin, it was established in 1953 on less than half a square kilometre of land. Jenin Camp was also severely affected by the second intifada, when the Israeli Defense Forces occupied the camp in 2002 after the Battle of Jenin. 400 homes or more were destroyed, with hundreds more being severely damaged. More than a quarter of the population was rendered homeless. The United Nations Relief and Works (UNRWA) Agency was established to provide direct relief and works programs for 750,000 Palestinian refugees. Now, there are 5.6 million.

10 artworks created by Major Mark Noel

On June 12, 2021, the silent auction took place in East Jerusalem at the Canada House, featured 10 artworks created by Canadian Task Force member, Major Mark Noel.

Camp Jenin is supported by a charity named Not to Forget Women Society which was established by educated and social activist refugee women, after the events of April 2002 in Jenin camp, in response to the tragic situation caused by the Israeli occupation in Jenin Camp in that period. The mission of Not to Forget is to strengthen and give support to Camp women, to develop their skills and abilities to be able to participate in the social, political, and economic life in their community, and to improve their psychological, social and health conditions. It focuses on the social, psychosocial, health, and educational well-being of Camp children and youth lives and tries to provide them with a safe and a healthy environment in which to live. In addition, the organization tends to enhance the educational level of the Camp's women on both the academic and vocational level, and to provide relief to its most vulnerable.

Maj Mark Noel

Maj Mark Noel showcasing his acrylic painting inspired by his visit of Bethlehem’s wall on June 8, 2021.

Early on in our tour, as a budding artist, Mark began painting significant landmarks and scenes from his travel through Israel and the West Bank. This not only served as a creative outlet, but also helped him relax and make sense of this part of the world from a foreigner’s eyes. When Task Force Jerusalem visited the Jenin Camp, it was obvious to MArk that his paintings represented an opportunity to support the Camp that had so gripped his sense of humanity. Mark decided to find a way to sell his paintings and donate the proceeds to the Jenin Camp. It wasn’t clear at the time how he would do this but what was clear is, no matter how insignificant, selling his paintings was his way of making a difference.

Mark had almost had eight paintings completed when he decided that 10 paintings would be his goal for the silent auction. Mark proposed a plan to the Proteus team to solicit support in hosting the event at Canada House. Our international partners that we work with were invited to attend. Meanwhile, he was able to locate a shop to create prints on canvas enabling him to offer additional printed copies at the Auction.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that many people could not cross the border between the West Bank and Israel to come to East Jerusalem to participate in the Silent Auction. His solution was to include a virtual component to simultaneously feature the Silent Auction live on location in a private social media platform. Colleagues, friends, and family from all around the world could participate and order printed copies to bring back or to have transported home.

The day of the event, Mark and his team were able to convert Canada House into an art studio where he was able to display his creations and guests would be able to view and bid on each art piece. The team was honoured to host two guest speakers from Not to Forget who traveled from Jenin to give opening remarks and to explain the hard reality of the situation in the Camps. Over 60 people attended the Silent Auction in person and a further 100 attended virtually. To say that the event was a success would be an understatement. The Silent Auction generated 27,750 ILS or approximately $10,500 CDN for the original paintings alone – five times his goal for the event! An additional 10,000 ILS was generated from prints of the original paintings sold afterwards. The representatives of Not to Forget where overwhelmed by this generous outpouring of support which totaled 37,000 ILS (14 000 CAD).

Mark and the team had a chance to go present a cheque to the Not to Forget in Jenin. They were received with arms wide open by all the children who were participating in a summer camp. The proceeds of the Silent Auction will provide the children of the Jenin Camp with a playground structure where they can laugh and play safely like all children should. The impact of this initiative, however, will leave permanent marks on the hearts of all who participated in the event. Their art pieces will forever remind them of the significance of Camp Jenin and the plight of the refugees throughout the West Bank but also of the beauty within this area of the world and the potential that hope brings.

For Mark, he’s pleased that he was able to lend his talent for the greater good. His reward is the smiles of the people who enjoy his art and those of the children who will play because of it. Kudos!

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