By EA Paula, Yanoun team.
In Latin America, we have a special word to describe the earth, land and sea. The bounty it produces and all of our connection to it. The word is: “Pachamama”. Separate from the English term Mother Nature, the word is derived from the ancient languages of Aymara and Quechua that are native to Latin America. With “Pacha” meaning cosmos, universe, time, space and earth and “mama’ meaning mother – Pachamama represents the full embodiment of the planet and how all of us, and our survival, are inextricably linked to it.
When I first arrived to the Village of Yanoun, ready to begin my work as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA), I was deeply struck by the immeasurable connection the people of the village have with their land, with the Pachamama. Young and old, male and female, the land and its use was their primary concern, both their labour and their passion. I couldn’t help but think of the similar communities back home in Latin America.
The next day began at 06.15 and I, along with a fellow EA, embarked on our first morning walk. The aim of this walk is to ensure our presence is visible to the Israeli settlements – both illegal under Israeli civil and under international law – that now encircle the Palestinian village of Yanoun.
As we descended from our placement house, down the steep hill, we saw a friendly face standing on the corner beckoning us to come towards her. It was Wafa, one of the great women of the village. She was waiting for us with home baked bread to welcome us and show the village’s appreciation for our presence there. Wafa was the first person I met in Yanoun and I was immediately taken by her seemingly eternal gentleness. In that first conversation I had with her, nothing more than a combination of gestures scattered with the odd English or Arabic word, I fully understood the spirit in which we as a team were being welcomed by her. And now, not more than a day later, I realized that the spirit was not just a first day welcome – the spirit was a way of life.
Wafa is the wife of Rasheed, the mayor of Yanoun, and both have their land close to the village. During the planting season and harvest seasons, EA’s provide a protective presence  to the families, as repeatedly, those in Yanoun – as well as many other areas in the Occupied West Bank – suffer attacks by settlers, harassment from soldiers, assault, or destruction of the crops that have been sown.
Wafa is, of course, in good company. Another great woman of the village, Nahija lives next to us, and each Saturday I take Arabic classes with her. On one of my visits, we got lost in conversation, Najiha asked about my life, my family and my parents. I told her that my parents are farmers too and that a few years ago they had to move to a small town and how they desperately missed working in the fields. This was a feeling Najiha could well understand.
In 2002, when settlers invaded Yanoun and forced the families to leave, Najiha along with her children and her husband were displaced to the town of Aqraba. She lived there, as well as all the other residents that were forced out of the village, until, with the help of Israeli NGOs, there was a permanent international presence established in the village – allowing them to return. We spoke of the pain this had caused her and the entire village.
Today I was providing that protective presence. Helping with the planting and tilling the soil. It was the first time I’d put my hands into the ground to work since I arrived. Najihas words echoed in my mind:
“I can’t imagine life without my olive trees, my sheep, without my daily work. Without this land.”
I felt as though I was beginning to understand. For the men and women of Yanoun, the land is everything. The land wants to be used but it craves co-existence, as do the people of Yanoun. The native people from Latin America celebrate and worship the Pachamama by dancing, asking for forgiveness for any damage done to it. This is the oldest faith of the Americas. I believe it is the oldest faith of humanity. Today, I see this faith here in Yanoun.
1: Protective Presence – makes the costs of human rights abuses more apparent to the perpetrators, persuades them to act differently, and deters attacks on civilians.