Khan Al Ahmar Bedouin community strives for justice amid grave daily challenges

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Khan Al Ahmar-2018 Photo by:EA

Ecumenical Accompaniers from the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI) report that residents, international non-governmental organizations, media, politicians have joined local Palestinian and Israeli peace activists in nonviolence resistance, protesting demolition actions by Israeli forces in the Khan al Ahmar Bedouin community.

Khan al Ahmar is a Bedouin community located in East Jerusalem, in the E1 area. It is home to 32 families, 173 people, including 92 children and youths. The community has a mosque and a school, which was built in 2009 and serves more than 150 children between the ages of six and fifteen, from Khan al Ahmar and other nearby communities. On 24 May the Israel High Court approved the Israeli Defense Minister’s order to demolish Khan Al-Ahmar village.

The High Court has now issued a temporary restraining order freezing the demolition and ordered the state to respond to the Palestinians’ claims by 11 July. After the state submits its response, the High Court will either decide to reject the petition and allow the state to resume the demolition process, or conduct deliberations that could delay or prevent the demolitions.

The Khan Al Ahmar community has a history of being forced from their homes. The Bedouin village is home to a few dozen families from the Jahalin tribe, which was expelled from its home in the Negev to the West Bank in the 1950s.

A spokesperson from Khan Al Ahmar community, Abu Khamis, believes there is a hidden agenda behind demolition orders. “Now it starts with us; later it will effect all Bedouin communities in West Bank in favor of illegal Israeli settlement expansion”, said Khamis.

Abu Khamis expressed his hope saying” I hope that the international community understands the responsibility they hold here, knowing that these actions and threats jeopardize the achievement of a just peace in occupied Palestinian territories”.

 A large majority of its population is Palestinian refugees from 1948, who have very few sources of income left; they suffer a serious lack of health and welfare services. They live without basic infrastructure such as an electricity network, a sewage system or proper roads. Demolishing their homes and school would deprive them of all they have left.”

EAPPI was created in 2002 by the WCC based on a letter and an appeal from local church leaders to create an international presence in the country.

Read the statement by the WCC general secretary 13 July, 2018

 

Time for fresh water and prayer – ‘Ilhamdilla’

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By EA Lesley, Southern West Bank.

Each day, while watering his flock after grazing, Abu Ahmed repeats his thanks to God as he pulls a bucket out of the well. Giving thanks for another day of grazing for his sheep and goats. Giving thanks that today there was no incident with the settlers who overlook the grazing pasture. Giving thanks for the presence of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), who have answered his request for protective presence.

Abu Ahmed is the first person we accompany as we take over as rookie EAs in the South Hebron Hills (in the south of the occupied West Bank). On our first night he called to ask us to be present as he grazed his sheep on the common pasture in the valley. The other shepherds have stopped grazing there for fear of harassment. Abu Ahmed does not proclaim fear. He just wants to shepherd his flock on the land that he and his forefathers have shepherded for generations. He understands the value of having “internationals” as witnesses to the circumstances in which he now lives.

Time for fresh water and prayer – ‘Ilhamdilla’. © EAPPI/Lesley

He greets us as we approach his home, just before sunrise. His trust and welcome are part of his culture. A stranger will be welcomed and given hospitality for three nights before being asked why they have come. But we are not strangers. EAPPI is well known to Abu Ahmed and previous EAs have walked this land with him. As the sun rises we sit and share taboon bread, hot from the oven, made by his daughter Hadeel. We wash it down with black tea infused with sage and sugar.

Now it is time for work. We follow Abu Ahmed and his flock as they walk down the pasture towards the valley. Walking silently behind I watch the master shepherd with wonder and delight. He interacts with his flock in an elegant and organic way. I am reminded of Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.

At pasture under a settlement outpost. © EAPPI/Lesley

Abu Ahmed is also watchful. But not for the predators that kept his father alert. He looks continuously to the ridge of the valley, conscious of the possibility of anger or demand.

This morning that possibility became a reality. A settler – one of 380,000 Israelis living in the occupied West Bank, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – called down the valley to Abu Ahmed. Within five minutes an armed Israeli soldier had arrived. Abu Ahmed continued to graze his flock. An Israeli military vehicle arrived and five more armed soldiers emerged. Three made their way towards Abu Ahmed and ordered him to leave the pasture. Under protest, Abu Ahmed moved his flock back down the valley and began to water his animals from the cistern. The soldiers ran forward again and insisted that he stop watering the animals and leave straight away.

An EA standing in protective presence as soldiers order a shepherd from land. © EAPPI/Lesley

As I walked back up the valley behind Abu Ahmed I wondered how he was feeling. What is it like to be ordered off the land that you have worked on all of your life? I wondered how the young armed men in uniforms were feeling about giving orders to a clearly unarmed elderly civilian. I wondered about the possibility of creating hope in this Holy Land.

The dusty way home. © EAPPI/Lesley

As an EA my role is not to make sense of it all. I am here to be an impartial presence. I am here to give witness and report incidents of injustice. I am here to listen and notice and look for hope.

One word which says it all

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EAs visiting Khan Al Ahmar

Ecumenical Accompaniers visiting local communities in Palestine and Israel, April 2017- © L.Ranarison/WCC-EAPPI

After spending several weeks with local communities, our Ecumenical Accompaniers go back home with many memories and feelings. We have asked four of them to choose one word to describe their experience.

Chris from England

Photo of Chris, WCC Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel“Haunting”
So many experiences, images and encounters that stay with me and keep coming back to me. Such as children playing, shepards and sheep on the move, and all the people I’ve met. The joy they show and the deep sadness behind it, which is the reason why we are here.

Geoff from Ireland

Photo of Geoff, WCC Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel“Challenging”
Both on a personal and professional level.
On a personal level, it has been challenging since it made me reflect on why I was here and what I wanted to achieve.
On a professional level, it has been challenging to be in a conflict situation, dealing with security forces and trying to calm down tense situations, where mediating at agricultural gates is one example. All in all, being an EA has been a very meaningful experience.

Gilvan from Brazil

Photo of Gilvan, WCC Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel”Self-knowledge”
Dealing with the daily struggles of the Palestinian community helped me to better reconnect my inner self with my daily life in general. I feel I know more about myself now. Before the experience, I did not realise exactly what I could do there, but I felt quite comfortable in being present, in giving and receiving. It’s a kind of a plenitude sensation.

Natasha from the United States of America (USA)

”Emotionally rewarding”
Being an Ecumenical Accompanier allowed me to understand a really complex situation. I have learnt a lot about myself in this difficult environment. This work was part of a healing process, and these emotions were very beneficial.

 

How to become an Ecumenical Accompanier?
If you are a passionate and caring individual dedicated to human rights, justice and peace, we are looking for you.

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.

Shepherding under occupation

By the Jordan Valley team,

We arrived early, just after sunrise. We met with Abu Sami* and his family along with members of Ta’yush, an joint Israeli and Palestinian organisation. Abu Sami lives close to a settlement in the North of Jordan Valley and his family looked very afraid of the consequences of the land action that was about to take place. Abu Sami and his family were preparing to graze their sheep on land that the settlers have taken control of in Khirbet Tell el Himma. The land is privately owned by a Palestinian family and Abu Sami rents it from them to graze his sheep, however, because of frequent harassment from settlers, the family are no longer able to use it. Today was going to be different… Continue reading

How was the checkpoint today?

By EA Elina, Bethlehem team,

“I don’t call it a separation wall. It doesn’t separate our land from their lands, it goes deep inside the land which belongs to us,” says a young Palestinian man in his 20s, a student from the Bethlehem University.

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Bethlehem Checkpoint 300, men queue during morning rush hour, Photo EAPPI/Elina 25-09-16

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Dismantling Barriers

by returned EA John.

“God has broken the dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14)”

The reading from Ephesians 2:11-22 is concerned with building a new community where Jews and Gentiles are united in peace. There are no longer insiders and outsiders, rather God’s grace extends to all. Christ is the cornerstone of a new temple (or community) marked by unity and reconciliation.

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Northern West Bank. 2016 Photo EAPPI

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