If we shout loud enough, we can make a difference

Hanna was an EA from Norway in 2013.  Our EAPPI staff had the opportunity to sit down with her and hear some of her memories, her advice on becoming an EA, and the victories she sees on the ground and abroad.

photo of beoduin girl

A little girl at a bedouin community outside Jerusalem. Photo taken by Hanna as an EA. Spring 2013.

What was it like to be an EA?

It’s interesting, because you learn a lot everyday. It’s challenging, in the sense that it forces you to rethink your own viewpoints.  You hear many different stories and these challenge your perspective.  It’s frustrating, because you see so many horrible things happening to people that you can’t do a lot about. But it’s also fun. You learn to work well in a team. You meet great people from around the world with many different backgrounds and experiences.

What’s your most significant memory from your time as an EA?

Before I was an EA, I had studied the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for 10 years. I wrote my Master’s thesis about Israeli settler violence, which meant I read about every attack that occurred for years.  I knew what the conflict was about and what was happening.  But I didn’t really get it or feel the impact on the lives of humans until I stood in the living room of a family with 5 children whose house was just torched by Israeli settlers. At this moment, I was actually hearing from the family and seeing what had happened with my own eyes. Then when I started thinking about the numbers of settler attacks I knew from my thesis and realizing how many people were affected just like this family, it really hit me.  I specifically remember the hospitality of Palestinians, which never ceased to amaze me!  Even in that moment, when the family was sharing their experience, the mother suddenly stopped and realized that she had forgotten to offer us something to drink and proceeded to bring us beverages. I couldn’t believe she was so concerned about us after everything they had been through.

Why did you choose to join EAPPI as opposed to another group working in Israel and Palestine?

After studying Israeli politics and settler violence for my thesis, I realized I was just sitting and tallying statistics.  I had forgotten about the people and I knew I had to get on the ground, meet the people, and get back in touch with what is actually happening. This led me to look into different monitoring programs in the area and when I chose to apply for EAPPI.

In Norway, EAPPI has a very good reputation.  I new it was a respectable and serious program, as opposed to other monitoring programs that are less structured.  Even the application process in Norway is difficult and not many are chosen to be EAs.  We are carefully selected based on our ability to work productively in a team and in a stressful environment.  I knew that EAPPI had a clear vision and this made me feel like I was going to be a part of something where I can actually make a difference.

What’s the biggest change you see that EAPPI has?

Right now, Norway is going in the wrong direction.  Just recently Shimon Peres visited and renewed ties with Norway for research and academic cooperation.  Before this, there wasn’t really a public audience for advocacy that highlighted the Palestinian side of the conflict, because Norway, by default, was primarily pro-Palestinian. This was the mainstream.  Now with the current government, there is more of an arena for sharing stories about the human side of the conflict.  Before, although people in Norway were pro-Palestinian, they didn’t actually know what is going on.  Now, EAPPI actually has an opening to share their eyewitness stories and shed light on what is really happening on the ground.

I also think that we do see victories on the ground.  As an EA, I knew that merely my presence deterred violence from happening to civilians.  We didn’t stop violence everywhere, but it did help.  I knew that we wouldn’t end the occupation in 3 months, but at least we could make someone’s day better.

Why do you think it is important that internationals come to Israel and Palestine?

Speaking as a European, like in any conflict, we are very euro-centric.  We don’t really care what is happening around the world unless someone in our community is involved.  People care more about people they know.  In this way, being here, we can bring more media attention and attention from those in our communities and ultimately areas in conflict will benefit.  This is the same for Israel and Palestine.

How can internationals influence the solution to the conflict?

With enough people shouting loud enough, you can force governments and companies to act, and eventually they will change their behavior.  But you have to be smart about it, and share what they want to hear. It’s about small steps, but it can happen.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an EA?

It’s great! But it’s also challenging and you should be prepared for this.  You need to understand that it will be demanding, both physically and mentally.  You will have to get up early in the morning and freeze while monitoring the checkpoints in cold weather.  You will have no privacy living together in a team.  It is mentally challenging and you basically work 24 hours a day.  It’s a developing country and things won’t always work in the way you are used to.  You must be sure you can handle this.  But if you can, it will be a really meaningful experience. You will learn a lot about the conflict and also a lot about yourself.

*Read more about life as an EA.

EAPPI around the world: Austria

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.

Today, Simone, an EA in 2013 from Austria shares 4 Reasons why she became an EA.

EAs enjoy a break during a long day of harvesting olives.  These everyday encounters are what EAs often remember most. Photo EAPPI/M. Schaffluetzel, 2012.

EAs enjoy a break during a long day of harvesting olives. These everyday encounters are what EAs often remember most. Photo EAPPI/M. Schaffluetzel, 2012.

The thought of leaving a familiar environment and saying ‘good-bye’ to family and friends for a long time probably does not seem attractive to many people. And if – even to this fact – the journey ends up in a country that is usually only known by less positive headlines from the news, the idea of staying there seems almost lunatic.

On the other hand there are people whose faces light up thinking of such a journey, who feel the zest for action and who spare no effort to set out and leave their familiar environment for a certain time.

I belong to the latter group and the decision being an EA and going to Palestine and Israel was decided quickly. Here are 4 reasons I decided to join:

1. Knowledge is not to be equated with understanding.

I studied the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I read many books and articles and attended many lectures. But it’s hard to understand how everyday life in the Holy Land is like. Living in Palestine, to accompany people on their way to work, and listening to them over a cup of tea brings reality a significant step closer. My conclusion after 3 months as an EA: I do not only know more, but I understand a lot more than before. Yet, I still do not comprehend everything.

2. Unique encounters.

In Jerusalem or at the Dead Sea it’s almost impossible not to collide with a group of pilgrims. Huge crowds running back and forth behind a guide with an umbrella or any symbol of recognition from the Western Wall to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to Al Aqsa Mosque. Of course I too visited all these sights and enjoyed the atmosphere of the Souq (Arabic for market) in the old city of Jerusalem. But the very special, unique and unforgettable moments I experienced far off the beaten paths. Drinking tea with Bedouins in the desert, sharing bread and cheese under an olive tree after a hard day picking olives, baking bread with a Palestinian housewife, experiencing the endless hospitality of the Palestinian people and being a small part of their everyday life for a short time.

3. Being part of a change!

The aim of EAPPI is not to offer an exciting time in Israel and Palestine to foreign volunteers, but to accompany locals on greater mission: to support the Palestinians and Israelis in their effort to end the Israeli military occupation, to document human rights violation, to support nonviolent resistance and provide partner-organizations with reliable data concerning the occupation and its effects for the people. All this efforts target one big thing: To achieve a change in a long-lasting, deadlocked situation and to contribute a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

4. Giving people hope who gave up hope!

Some changes can happen overnight. Some changes take time. I witnessed how quickly it can happen that buildings are destroyed, olive trees are uprooted and with it the livelihoods of many families may be at risk. I also have seen how long the procedure takes for Palestinians to obtain a work- or building permit and how long cases can take in Israeli courts. Even if I’m not in the position to have a direct influence in the ad hoc situation, I noticed that our presence as EAs gives people hope. We listen to them, we tell their stories at home and bring the situation to the attention of people in our home country. Many people opened their door for us and gave us their confidence in the hope that their stories are heard and ultimately lead to change.

These are some of the reasons why I committed myself as an EA in Palestine and Israel. 3 months away from home – separated from family and friends – I found a new home, a new family and new friends. I experienced situations that brought me to my limits and let my personality grow. I had wonderful and unique moments that made my life richer. The memories I have from this three months as an EA give me motivation again and again: Be the change you wish to see in the world!

Do you want to know what EAPPI is doing around the world? Read more from SwedenAustralia, the UK & Ireland, and Canada.

A trip down memory lane

Anna was an EA from Sweden in 2004.  Even 10 years later, the stories and encounters she witnessed here have stuck with her. Our EAPPI staff had the opportunity to sit down with her and hear some of these stories and here her wise advice for those who want to join EAPPI today.

A trip down memory laneWhat was it like to be an EA?

I remember feeling like work was a double challenge.  On the one hand, the situation in 2004 was extremely intense.  It was during the Second Intifada.  We lived in Ramallah, but witnessed the separation wall being built in Qalandiya. There were many incursions at night by the Israeli army into the towns that we worked in. Yet, at the same time, our work was very slow.  Some days were intense, but many we visited with people, heard their stories, drank tea. It was a challenge to have a slow job in an extremely tense situation.

Tell me about some of the people that you met

One of the best parts of our job was meeting people.  We had a lot of fun talking to neighbors in the evening and living closely with the community.  I remember one man we met.  He was a pharmacist.  He was always very afraid of germs. He washed his hands many times a day and was always tell us to be careful of germs.  One day he told us about his experience with an Israeli military incursion.  Right after telling us the story, he went right back to washing his hands and talking about germs.  He epitomized to me the fact that living under occupation became normal, as normal as talking about germs. I also felt that his fear of germs may have been a diversion. He chose to fear germs, something he could control, rather than the Israeli military.

As part of our work, we frequently visited the women and children’s center Amari Refugee camp near Ramallah.  This was the most rewarding experience.  We felt really appreciated. Even though we had a hard time talking because of our Arabic skills and we simply drank tea and played with the kids, we felt that the women appreciated us, because we had took the time to come see and share in their lives.

Amari Refugee camp was also a tough place. It was really hard to see life there. I had previously traveled to Eastern Africa and seen people who suffered from extreme poverty. But life in Amari camp was hard to see, because the people there were not only vulnerable economically, but also politically. It was tough to see this doubly vulnerability.

Even 10 years later, I remember the people, not the activities I did.  I was struck by their constant enthusiasm to change their reality, despite its difficulty.

What memory sticks out most for you from your time as an EA?

I remember the absurdity of life in Ramallah. There’s one night in particular that I remember.  In our apartment in Ramallah we had a clear view of the Israeli settlement on the other hill.  Usually at night we would watch TV, mostly The King’s News from Jordan. One night, my colleague made popcorn.  We sat down at the TV, but then thought that popcorn doesn’t really go with The King’s News.  So we went outside on the balcony. We immediately noticed that something was happening near the settlement across the valley.  The Israeli army was shoot flare grenades to give themselves light and a better view of what was happening. We didn’t know what was going on, but I just remember the absurdity of daily life in such a crazy political situation. We were eating popcorn on the balcony as we watched the Israeli army shoot flare grenades. This always comes back to me, the double life of occupation and eating popcorn.

Why did you specifically choose to join EAPPI as opposed to another group working in Israel and Palestine?

For me it was the church aspect of the program.  I had come to Israel and Palestine and 2000.  Growing up in the church, I was very interested in Palestinian Christians and wanted to come back with a program that had this aspect.

What’s the biggest change you think EAPPI has made?

Since I’m Swedish, most of the change I have seen has been in Sweden.  There, I can see that EAPPI has had a big impact in raising awareness about the situation in Israel and Palestine.  It has become a very well-known program and has sent many EAs.  These EAs have given lectures in schools, churches, and other organizations. Since I came in 2004, I’ve seen how over the years, EAPPI has had a slow, but steady impact in keeping Israel and Palestine in the minds of those in Sweden.

Why do you think it is important that internationals come to Israel and Palestine?

When things are far away from us, it’s easy to say that the situation is not bad. It’s easy to rationalize that things are not actually as bad as we hear. But when you’ve been here, in Israel and Palestine, you can’t keep things away.  You can’t ignore or forget.  We must go so that we don’t become complacent to situations of injustice.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an EA?

Do it. Absolutely do it! You won’t regret it.  But don’t do it if you expect to change the world, but if you expect to change yourself.  The solution to the Israel and Palestine won’t come from just you, but you will have the chance to be part of something, contributing to a small bit of change. Everyone who even thinks about it should just do it.