Bridgend Quakers - Crynwyr Penybont ar Ogwr
Jane and Maryse’s visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories – December 2013
So here we were again. As always this region pulls at your heart strings. In the course of a day one can go from tearful indignation at the injustice of the situation, to overwhelming awe at the resilience of those on both sides working tirelessly for justice and peace, to a great humility at the actions of those who – with practically nothing – will yet open their homes and shower you with hospitality.
This time our visit had two broad aims. The first was to provide protective presence for the village of Yanoun near Nablus whilst the current Ecumenical Accompaniment team were on their mid-term training. The second was to visit some Christian Aid projects working in Israel and the Occupied Territories to get a sense of their work, and tell local churches about it on our return.
So why did we need to spend a week in Yanoun? In some ways this village is a special case. For years now it has suffered harassment and encroachment onto its land by the surrounding illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar. Things got so bad in 2002 that the villagers fled en masse, and some were only encouraged to return due to the support of an Israeli peace group, Ta’ayush, and internationals.
An EAPPI team was established there in 2004, and ever since then the village has continuous international presence – the only thing that keeps the village in existence. As it is the villagers scrape an existence on what is now 15% of their land. The other 85% has been taken by the settlers.
We spent a week there rich in human connection, and were able to talk to the local people in a way that is impossible when serving as an EA, because one is always getting called out to crises – attacks on olive trees, land confiscations, demolitions by the military…. We spent time huddling round stoves, sipping hot sweet tea and eking out our stumbling Arabic. We saw for ourselves the difficulties the villagers suffer in the winter – houses streaming with damp, the need to tend to livestock in the most unforgiving of circumstances. Most of all we experienced the villagers’ ‘sumud’ (resilience and steadfastness) and their wonderful hospitality.
Then a couple of days into our visit came the surprise – snow! ‘There’ll be snow tomorrow’ one of the children told us confidently. We were sceptical, knowing that this would mean a day off school – but he was right. It snowed non-stop for a day a night – resulting in drifts, the collapse of the village’s electricity pylon and us being cut off for 4 days. A sheep pen collapsed, though the villagers managed to get most of the livestock out in time. Rashed’s carefully planted vegetables were killed. And yet, people carried on, as they always do, with their customary ‘sumud’.
Maryse and I are part of a group called YIN (Yanoun Interntional Network), a group of former EAs aiming to help Yanoun to survive and become more sustainable despite the restrictions of the Occupation. If you are interested, please contact me on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Christian Aid projects we visited were B’tselem and Zochrot. B’tselem is like an Israeli version of Amnesty International. It produces well-researched information about the violation of human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Increasingly it also produces video footage of settler violence and infringements on human rights by the military through a programme called ‘Shooting Back’. Worryingly it’s Director, Itamar Barak, told us that there has been an increase in violence in 2013, with an increased readiness on the part of the Israeli military to use deadly fire. Zochrot aims to help Israeli society move towards a more honest and balanced account of its history – in particular the events surrounding the creation of an Israeli state in 1948. They do this by raising awareness of the Palestinian ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe, including 678 destroyed villages, thousands of people driven out (750,00 refugees) and refused the right to return. Zochrot works through art, education and by organising tours to abandoned villages, and conferences. More information about these organisations can be found on their web-sites: www.btselem.org and http://zochrot.org/eng
Another aspect of our visit was catching up with friends and peace groups. We stayed with my friend Hanna near Tel Aviv, and she organised a meeting for us of her friends – all involved in women’s peace groups: New Profile, Machsomwatch, Palestinian Sea Days, Women who Disobey. They described to us how they continuously grapple with the evil of Israeli militarism and the Occupation using a range of means from working with the authorities to civil disobedience.
We also stood with Women in Black during their weekly Friday vigil in West Jerusalem. We stood with signs shaped like large black hands bearing the message ‘Stop the Occupation’ in Arabic, Hebrew and English, and received honks of disapproval from cars and some abuse shouted from car windows. These women represent a brave lone voice, standing for peace with justice in a society that prefers to turn a blind eye.
At the end of our visit we returned as ever enriched, sobered, with full and heavy hearts… and an urge to tell people of our experiences. If you would like a talk by Jane and Maryse, please contact 077200 87132.
For a fuller account of our latest visit, go to Jane’s blog at: http://janeharries.wordpress.com/
For more information on EAPPI, visit