EAPPI is a world-wide network. Our EAPPI national coordination offices in 26 countries work hard to recruit EAPPI human rights monitors and coordinate their advocacy when they return home. Today, we continue our series in which we get to hear from these dedicated supporters of EAPPI all over the world.
EAPPI UK and Ireland shares about a new initiative whereby Israeli families and EAs get to meet together on a human level.
What is the Haifa Initiative?
EAPPI UK and Ireland has set up a pilot initiative whereby EAs and members of a synagogue in Haifa spend a weekend together. 28 EAs have taken part so far. They stay with an Israeli host family connected to a synagogue in Haifa. The aim is to meet on a human level and hear about each other’s lives and experiences.
The Israeli host families get a briefing paper in advance that explains that the programme works nonviolently to end the occupation and is underpinned by principles of international law and human rights law. The EAs get a briefing paper on the synagogue, the educational centre it’s part of, and the motivations of the families involved. Here the UK/Ireland National Coordinator reflects on the initiative, which will be evaluated at the end of 2014.
Israeli families and EAs gain a deeper understanding
“When I see the look in an EA’s eyes, I have to believe what they tell me…..even if I don’t want to,” commented one Israeli Jewish woman who hosted an EA for a weekend in Haifa in 2013.
She was expressing her dilemma: should she believe what an EA was telling her about what they had seen in the West Bank? It just didn’t fit with what she thought she knew.
Many Israelis find it hard to understand why some in the international community are critical of their government’s policies. Many Israelis have never been to the West Bank and are prevented from visiting by laws and the separation barrier. But when EAs become house guests for a weekend the Israeli hosts graciously put themselves out of their comfort zone to hear some of the realities of an EAs’ work.
EAs also say that meeting Israelis in Haifa on a human level has helped their understanding – of the pride Israelis have in their country; of the fear they experience in a way that is real to them; of the dilemmas facing parents as their children do their military service. Of course EAs also meet Israelis in the West Bank, but these are more commonly in agreement with EAPPI work, because they are likely to be members of Israeli peace and human rights organisations.
The power of meeting on a human level
In EAPPI UK and Ireland we have always been interested in finding ways for people to take seriously what EAs have experienced. Our particular question to the Jewish community in the UK and Ireland has been “What helps you hear what we have to say?” and we have had some very helpful discussions. Our starting point, of course, is to give attention to listening to others, even when we don’t necessarily agree with them. EAs report that telling UK Jewish audiences that they have spent time listening to ordinary families in Haifa makes it more likely that they will be given space to tell their stories about what’s happening in the West Bank.
It is no surprise that there is a huge range of views about the occupation in Israel. EAs are clear about the damage that it does to Palestinian society and they suggest that it damages Israeli society too. This is not easy for the hosts to hear, but both the families and the EAs each commit to hearing the perspective of the other. This is demanding work. It is rare for each to agree with the perspective of the other, but mostly the synagogue members and the EAs agree that is it worthwhile to talk and meet on a human level.
EAs are learning that they can talk frankly and although they might be met with dismay, and sometimes disbelief, it seems that mostly their hosts prefer their speaking to their silence. Some of the most interesting feedback has come from young people about to join the Israeli army, who are very interested to hear about life in the West Bank.
The experience could be summed up in the words of one EA after her time in Haifa:
“We are all just people who have an interest in what is happening in Israel and Palestine – from whatever perspective. We need to talk to each other. What’s the worst that can happen?!”
Read the 1st post in this series: EAPPI around the world: Australia