EAPPI around the world: UK and Ireland

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.

EAPPI UK and Ireland shares about a new initiative whereby Israeli families and EAs get to meet together on a human level.

EAs and Israeli families enjoy a picnic together, as part of the Haifa initiative. March 2014. Photo EAPPI/K. Hodgson.

EAs and Israeli families enjoy a picnic together, as part of the Haifa initiative. March 2014. Photo EAPPI/K. Hodgson.

What is the Haifa Initiative?

EAPPI UK and Ireland has set up a pilot initiative whereby EAs and members of a synagogue in Haifa spend a weekend together. 28 EAs have taken part so far. They stay with an Israeli host family connected to a synagogue in Haifa. The aim is to meet on a human level and hear about each other’s lives and experiences.

The Israeli host families get a briefing paper in advance that explains that the programme works nonviolently to end the occupation and is underpinned by principles of international law and human rights law. The EAs get a briefing paper on the synagogue, the educational centre it’s part of, and the motivations of the families involved.  Here the UK/Ireland National Coordinator reflects on the initiative, which will be evaluated at the end of 2014.

Israeli families and EAs gain a deeper understanding

“When I see the look in an EA’s eyes, I have to believe what they tell me…..even if I don’t want to,” commented one Israeli Jewish woman who hosted an EA for a weekend in Haifa in 2013.

She was expressing her dilemma: should she believe what an EA was telling her about what they had seen in the West Bank?  It just didn’t fit with what she thought she knew.

Many Israelis find it hard to understand why some in the international community are critical of their government’s policies. Many Israelis have never been to the West Bank and are prevented from visiting by laws and the separation barrier. But when EAs become house guests for a weekend the Israeli hosts graciously put themselves out of their comfort zone to hear some of the realities of an EAs’ work.

EAs also say that meeting Israelis in Haifa on a human level has helped their understanding – of the pride Israelis have in their country; of the fear they experience in a way that is real to them; of the dilemmas facing parents as their children do their military service. Of course EAs also meet Israelis in the West Bank, but these are more commonly in agreement with EAPPI work, because they are likely to be members of Israeli peace and human rights organisations.

The power of meeting on a human level

In EAPPI UK and Ireland we have always been interested in finding ways for people to take seriously what EAs have experienced.  Our particular question to the Jewish community in the UK and Ireland has been “What helps you hear what we have to say?” and we have had some very helpful discussions. Our starting point, of course, is to give attention to listening to others, even when we don’t necessarily agree with them.  EAs report that telling UK Jewish audiences that they have spent time listening to ordinary families in Haifa makes it more likely that they will be given space to tell their stories about what’s happening in the West Bank.

It is no surprise that there is a huge range of views about the occupation in Israel. EAs are clear about the damage that it does to Palestinian society and they suggest that it damages Israeli society too. This is not easy for the hosts to hear, but both the families and the EAs each commit to hearing the perspective of the other.  This is demanding work. It is rare for each to agree with the perspective of the other, but mostly the synagogue members and the EAs agree that is it worthwhile to talk and meet on a human level.

EAs are learning that they can talk frankly and although they might be met with dismay, and sometimes disbelief, it seems that mostly their hosts prefer their speaking to their silence. Some of the most interesting feedback has come from young people about to join the Israeli army, who are very interested to hear about life in the West Bank.

The experience could be summed up in the words of one EA after her time in Haifa:

“We are all just people who have an interest in what is happening in Israel and Palestine – from whatever perspective. We need to talk to each other. What’s the worst that can happen?!”

Read the 1st post in this series: EAPPI around the world: Australia

Maybe they don’t want to see

by Melanie, Hebron team

“I think people don’t want to see what is going on.”

An Israeli soldier searches a 15 year old boy in Hebron.  One of the many incidents that takes place in Hebron that many Israelis don't know about. Photo EAPPI, August 2012.

An Israeli soldier searches a 15 year old boy in Hebron. One of the many incidents that takes place in Hebron that many Israelis don’t know about. Photo EAPPI, August 2012.

I am in Haifa, Israel talking to a group of 16 year old Israeli students about life in the West Bank, when one of the girls makes the above statement.  I just summarized what takes place in Hebron – Israeli soldiers, Israeli settlers, life for Palestinians. I struggle to hold it together when speaking, both because of the reality of life in Hebron, but also because I am acutely aware that these young people are the next generation of Israeli soldiers. Any of them may serve in Hebron in a couple of years: protecting violent settlers living in illegal settlements and doing the things I have observed, like searching Palestinian children’s schoolbags, harassing ordinary people going about their business and detaining children.

Some of the students tell me they have never heard of Hebron and had no idea about what goes on there, or about the situation with checkpoints and other problems that my EAPPI colleagues based throughout the West Bank describe. A lively discussion between the students arises as to why this might be. A few blame the media. We point out that these issues are in the press on a daily basis, including the Israeli press, and there is a vast amount of information on the internet. After all, none of us EAs come from the region, and we managed to find out about what is going on.

The conversation changes when a girl suggests that many Israelis don’t want to see what is going on, they don’t want to know.

Certainly, it is possible to live a fairly normal life in Israel, while mostly ignoring what goes on just a few miles away on the other side of the wall that separates it from much of the West Bank. Ruth, another Israeli who kindly hosted me with her family in Haifa for a weekend, told me that in the last five years there were just three days when the conflict with the Palestinians touched her life in some way. The rest of the time, if she had chosen to, she could have completely ignored that it was happening. This is despite the fact that, if things carry on as they are, her two sons will be conscripted into the army in a few years.

This girls’ observations are similar to what many Israeli organizations are saying. Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers says,

“Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years… While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny what is done in its name.”

During our meeting with the young people at their college in Haifa, they showed us a memorial room which has photographs of 20 Israeli students or former students who were killed in the conflict. Although significantly fewer in number overall, the examples of tragic loss seem to be everywhere you turn in Israel, as in Palestine. But still, those young people were entirely ignorant of Hebron – one of the most notorious examples of this conflict.

I find this deeply troubling. In a previous blog, I mentioned that a 20 year old Israeli soldier was shot and killed recently at checkpoint 209 in Hebron, apparently by a Palestinian. His name was Gavriel Kovi and, as it happens he came from Haifa, the city where I spent the weekend staying with an Israeli family – Ruth, Sarah and their two sons. I have seen no outcry in Israel about why he was there in the first place and this is puzzling. He was there to protect a group of Israeli settlers who use violence to further their views, which I have both witnessed and experienced. Such acts of violence would normally be subject to the force of the law but instead, the Israeli government sends its army to protect them. This army is made of young people who are sometimes tragically killed, as with Gavriel Kovi. I fail to understand both how it is in Israel’s own interests for this to be happening or why people don’t want to see this.

*Read the full article on Melanie’s personal blog.

New perspectives: EAs react on twitter

Last week, all our EAs got a break from their difficult work as humanitarian observers and had the chance to hear new perspectives on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Here are a few tweet updates and reflections from the week:

Meeting with Nomika Zion of The Other Voice:

Touring Sderot:

Meeting with Ruth Hiller of New Profile:

A chance to relax in Haifa:

Experiencing Shabbat Worship and Dinner:

Follow these and other current EAs HERE.