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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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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