Ecumenical accompaniers share observations with EU

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EAs escort schoolchildren to Cordoba school on Shuhada street in Hebron

“Walking children to school was anything but humdrum…” Photo: M. Knoblauch/WCC-EAPPI

As an “ecumenical accompanier,” Prokop’s role description might include: “walks children to school,” and “shares what he sees.”

In many communities, these tasks are daily – even mundane – parts of life. But for Prokop, who has served with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI), walking children to school was anything but humdrum.

In fact, Prokop came to think of the walk to school as “a repetitive roulette.” Serving in Hebron and Bethlehem, he walked children of all ages to school. “One day everything went fine, another day they were searched by soldiers, their teachers were stopped, settlers harassed them or school was simply closed by the military,” Prokop said. “I saw children frightened to go to school and afraid of what would happen that day while they were in school.”

Violence, tear gas and riots near the schools are an everyday occurrence, he said. “Not one of us would sympathize with the policy of occupation if this were our children going to these schools,” he said.

Prokop and other ecumenical accompaniers – or EAs – shared their first-hand observations with representatives in the European Union during an advocacy week in Brussels held 22-25 January. Nine EAs from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK met with members of the European Parliament and other government officials to report what they have seen “on the ground” and present recommendations.

The EAs relayed how the lack of peace in Palestine and Israel reduced children’s access to education.

One EA, Lottie, said she saw children from the settlements being escorted in and out of their homes by security guards. “It broke my heart to see these two communities living side by side, but with a total lack of harmony,” she said.

One of the goals of WCC-EAPPI is to ensure safe access to schools under occupation, explained Rev. Dr Owe Boersma, WCC-EAPPI international program coordinator. “In occupied Palestine, the obstacles to receiving an education are numerous. Large numbers of Palestinian children living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem experience serious harassment and hurdles on their way to and from school, as well as in school yards and classrooms.”

Since April 2012, EAPPI – in cooperation with UNICEF – has monitored access to education for children in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, said Boersma. “In 2018, Ecumenical Accompaniers are providing a protective presence to some 4,400 students and 300 teachers by monitoring nine schools, as well as six checkpoints that children pass through on a daily basis,” he said. “The presence of EAs deters soldiers and settlers from harassing children on their way to and from school.”

Children walking to school have reported they feel afraid of settlers and scared of soldiers who are pointing guns at them, stamping their feet, or driving very fast.

The EAs spoke to EU officials about how they worked to create conditions for a just peace.

“As I spoke of the experience in Brussels I felt grateful and humbled to be able to share the stories and to play my part in ensuring that this conflict will not be ignored or forgotten while EAPPI stands as a protective presence for those who continue to ask for it,” said EA Lesley, who added that the EAs support the work of both Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers.

Another EA, Lise, said she hopes that EU leaders understand that they should play a bigger role in the peace process.

“At least, I hope that more people understood the degree of suffering and in general how bad the situation actually is in Israel and Palestine,” she said.

Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace

WCC-EAPPI

Leaving the Holy Land with unforgettable experiences

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Photo: Sean Hawkey/WCC

© Sean Hawkey/WCC

The Ecumenical Accompaniment group 63 gathered in Jerusalem last week to wrap up their three-month stay in the Holy land with a debriefing and handover ceremony to the incoming team, group 64.

An experience of a lifetime came to an end and now the advocacy work back home for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine begins. WCC Weekly asked five departing EA’s to briefly share:

  1. What made you sign up for the programme?
  2. In three words, how was it?
  3. The most important experience you bring back home?

Edna from Sao Paulo, Brazil:edna-furuizi

  1. I wanted to learn more by being closer to the Palestinian people, rather than just reading about them.
  2. Challenging, a turning point in my life and that there are multiple truths in this conflict.
  3. The Palestinians’ resistance and their belief in a peaceful future.

Margriet from The Hague in the Netherlands:

ea-margriet-quarks-van-ufford

  1. To pursue peace in a different setting than my church at home.
  2. Confusing, impressive and hope versus despair.
  3. Meeting children and gaining their trust.

 

Malin from Gothenburg, Sweden: 

  1. malin-o%cc%88sterbergI am a human rights worker who believe in international presence, and I wanted field experience.
  2. Educational, engaging and frustrating.
  3. To meet people with different backgrounds and to feel that you are in the middle of a rich history.

Dave from Skipton, Yorkshire, UK

dave-stannard

  1. Came two years ago, and learned a lot about the situation. So, I wanted to come back for a longer stay this time and try to contribute to make things better.
  2. Humbling, moving and anger-inducing.
  3. The humility, generosity, kindness and dignity that the Palestinian people show.

 

 

Lanny from Minnesota, USA

lanny-kuester

  1. Have dealt with conflict resolution for the past 20 years, especially within churches. Trying to understand why this conflict isn’t solved.
  2. Intense, challenging and hopeful.
  3. The resilience of the human spirit and dignity.

Through a woman’s eyes: life under military occupation

By EA Carolina, Bethlehem team.

I arrived in Duheisha Refugee Camp, in Bethlehem, at dawn and I knocked an unknown door. I was looking for Samira*, all I knew about her was that she is a well known and respected member of the Duheisha community and that she would be able to tell me her story in reasonably good English.

“All the words on the dictionary couldn’t explain about our feelings, our suffering.” Said Samira, when we eventually settled down to talk.

08-11-2016 Ad-Duheisha Camp, Bethlehem. Inside the camp, the walls tell us stories. The graffiti in the left shows Handala's family, a well known Palestinian character. EAPPI Elina.jpg

08-11-2016 Ad-Duheisha Camp, Bethlehem. 08-11-2016 Ad-Duheisha Camp, Bethlehem. Inside the camp, the graffiti on the walls tell their stories. EAPPI/Elina.

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A school route lined with soldiers

 by EA Josefin, Yanoun team,

It is just before 8 AM. Large groups of children rush past us (Ecumenical Accompaniers), on their way to school. Colourful school bags bob up and down on the children’s backs. For some of the smallest students, the bags look almost bigger than the children themselves. Some students giggle and look away shyly when we greet them good morning. Others happily shout out our names; which they have learned off by now. All give us a smile in acknowledgement. Then they look almost unconsciously at the the shrubs further up the path. Their fears are confirmed, in the shade stand two soldiers with weapons pointed in their direction.

EAs monitor soldiers that are following schoolchildren from As Sawiya Al Lubban school on their way home. Photo EAPPI/J. Lamas. 08.04.16.

EAs monitor soldiers that are following schoolchildren from As Sawiya Al Lubban school on their way home. Photo EAPPI/Josefin. 08.04.16.

I try to imagine my village when I was twelve and think back to what my journey to school was like. I remember I was terrified of the older students, especially those in high school. How would I have felt if instead of high school students the route to school was lined with fully armed soldiers that stood around in groups or lurked in the bushes? How would I have felt knowing that I could be stopped at anytime to have my schoolbag searched?

At the end of May this year the Israeli military intensified its presence at two of the schools in Nablus that we (EAs) regularly visit to monitor access to education. An Israeli officer informed us that they would patrol the route to school as long as they (the Israeli army) considers it necessary.

The schools are located along a major road so hundreds of students pass along the busy road side every day. The Israeli military patrols along the same road every morning and afternoon when the children are walking to and from school. The soldiers sometimes walk in the midst of the student or stand next to us. Other times, we have observed them hiding in the bushes along the road side or standing on the hill behind the houses across the road. The children seem to have a built-in radar for locating the soldiers. By following the children’s eyes, it is easy to see where the soldiers are.

Palestinian schoolchildren on their way home from As Sawiya Al Lubban school. A boy looks over the railing to see four Israeli soldiers further down the road. Photo EAPPI/P. Lämås

Palestinian schoolchildren on their way home from As Sawiya Al Lubban school. A boy looks over the railing to see four Israeli soldiers further down the road. Photo EAPPI/Josefin

While accompanying children to schools in Nablus we saw Israeli soldiers take children aside to search their school bags on a number of occasions. One afternoon we saw a soldier chase a group of schoolchildren whenever they stopped too long by the road side. He ran towards them with his arms raised and shouted at them until they moved on. I asked him why he did so. “I have to scare them. They must not stop, they have to move on,” he says, pointing with his gun toward the house where a group of soldiers are posted.

In the last week in May, the Israeli military set up a tent on the roof of a house where a Palestinian family lives. The family’s house is strategically located next to the intersection where school children have to pass every day to get to school. On several occasions we talked to the soldiers, they said that the reason they are patrolling the school route was to deter the children from throwing stones at Israeli cars. I asked one morning if they had ever seen the schoolchildren throw stones. The answer was no, but they said that they had “seen it on film”.

Another day I asked the children in one of the middle classes what they think of us “in the vests”, (meaning EAs) who monitor the route to school throughout the year. “You save us from the soldiers!”, exclaimed one of the boys. “I feel less afraid when I see you,” said another. “We wish you could be here every day, always!” they shouted finally running.

My heart melted when these brown, eager and curious eyes expressed it so clearly. And with that, I felt quite clear that our presence makes a difference. We can not make the soldiers leave, but we can stand for something else. By accompanying these children to school we deter soldiers and settlers from harassing them and make the children feel safer. In addition our team’s presence – giving a “high five”, a handshake or a smile – acts as a counterbalance to the stress that these children face on daily, living under military occupation. We hope that our presence allows the kids to focus on us more than on the rifle butts.

But it is unlikely that when I go home to Sweden that I will be called a hero who saved the children from the soldiers. Being an accompanier is no hero tale. It is to witness the harsh realities of daily life under military occupation. We offer protective presence to vulnerable communities and monitor and report human rights abuses; we hope that someone hears. To wear the vest is not an easy task because you wear the vest knowing that international presence is needed to deter attacks on other civilians. It is a tragedy that children need to zigzag between soldiers, accompanied by human rights monitors, just to get to school.

EA monitors children's access to As Sawiya Al Lubban school which is often patrolled by the Israeli military. Photo EAPPI/M. Andrén. 30.04.16.

EA monitors children’s access to As Sawiya Al Lubban school which is patrolled by the Israeli army. Photo EAPPI/M. Andrén. 30.04.16.

We wish you could be here every day, they told us. Yes, I wish that we could be here every day also, but for completely different reasons than why we are currently here. I wear the vest with pride because I want to believe that it stands for something else.  I hope that the day comes when we are no longer needed and that we can eventually put away our vests. When that day comes just peace will not only a be dream but a reality.


International law says the occupying power should be protecting children and schools. The right to education is protected under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social And Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (1979), and the Convention On The Rights of The Child (1989).

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 Please take action today to demand that Palestinian schoolchildren have immediate, unhindered and safe access to education

  • Share this story and update media agencies in your country about the systematic restrictions imposed by the Government of Israel on Palestinian schoolchildren’s access to education.
  • Inform your representative in parliament and media agencies about the implications of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine on Palestinian schoolchildren’s right to education.
  • Write to your elected representative using our advocacy resources here. (You can use our SAMPLE LETTER to contact your elected representative or draft your own.)

*Originally posted on EAPPI Sweden: http://foljeslagarprogrammet.se/reserapport/en-skolvag-kantad-av-soldater/

More information:

UNICEF/EAPPI Education Under Occupation

UNRWA Schools in the Front Line; the impact of armed conflict and violence on UNRWA schools and education services

UNOCHA: Protection issues affecting access to education in the West Bank

UNICEF: Bedouin schools fighting for survival in Area C

UNICEF 2015: Education Under Fire: How conflict in the Middle East is depriving children of their schooling

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Bedouins: the human face of the two-state solution

By EAs Emily and Johanna, 

“We didn’t have time to pack everything; lots of our things were destroyed that day in front of my eyes…along with the house”. Maryam, a bright young bedouin woman, animatedly recalled the stormy February day in 1997 when her home was demolished and entire community uprooted by the Israeli forces [1]That was when she and her eight siblings were forcibly transported, along with a small container full of their possessions, to al-Jabal, where they were left homeless. She has lived there ever since, in what has now evolved into a township.

11.06.16 Jerusalem-District Mother plays with child in Khan-Al-Ahmar Bedouin Community EAPPI/Emily

11.06.16 Jerusalem district Mother plays with child in Khan Al Ahmar Bedouin Community Photo EAPPI/Emily

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The Rubber Tyre School fears demolition

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By the Yanoun team. 

We have all heard about what is going on in Susiya lately. Demolitions, demolitions and demolitions. But we have not heard from Khan al Ahmar. In Khan Al Ahmar, a small mixed primary school made out of used rubber tyres is being threatened with demolition by the Israeli Civil Administration.

 Khan Al Ahmar. Thirteen year old Nasreen a student from the school and wants to be a teacher.Photo EAPPI 11.08.16

Khan Al Ahmar. Thirteen year old Nasreen a student from the school that wants to be a teacher. Photo EAPPI 11.08.16

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Visualising Access to Education under military occupation

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School is in recess for the summer months. For many children living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, this break from school means more than just a break from school work and exams.

Paths to schools and obstacles to education. Continue reading