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.

A sign of hope in Access to Education

In the midst of bedouin communities facing displacement, one village will receive a school for its children.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

The community of Jab’a is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Today few Bedouins who live in the countryside to the East of Jerusalem are able to continue their semi-nomadic lifestyles, as they have been moved to designated areas not suitable for herding or farming. They are restricted by fences, Israeli settlements, poisonous waste from settlements – not to mention obstacles like busy motorways. This is the story of a small community fighting for their land and for their children’s education, giving a glimpse of hope in the often bleak reality.

The tribe of A Ka’abneh  that EAPPI supports has been separated by these obstacles from the rest of the Jab’a Bedouin community to which they belong, and their smallest children face a journey to school so challenging it can scarcely be imagined.

According to a UNDP Report, education in Palestinian bedouin communities often suffers because of the poor environmental conditions and educational quality, often stemming from restrictions of the Israeli occupation.  This results in a high percentage of school dropouts and a correspondingly high rate of illiteracy, especially among females.

The small community of Ka’abneh is to be found squeezed in between fences, the Israeli settlement of Adam and a motorway intersection. As guests, we are made welcome amidst the poor houses, ruins of demolished houses and tent constructions. While we are seated under a dusty olive tree drinking a never-ending supply of sugary mint tea, it is impossible to ignore the roar of the cars speeding by. The contrast between the traditional garments of the mukhtar – the village leader – and the hypermodern surroundings that suffocate the village highlights the tensions they live with. This is far from the traditional picture of Bedouin life that most of us have.

An EA listening as Mohamed Ka’abneh outlines his plans. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

An EA listening as Mohamed Ka’abneh outlines his plans. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

After meeting with the village leader Mohamed Ka’abneh we are shown the pipe. Yes, that is correct, the pipe, that children crawl through to cross under one of the busy main roads that surround the village. The alternative is to dodge through the speeding traffic. Each day they pick their way through garbage, scorpions and mud to get to school. So far “only” one child has been bitten by a snake. The children willingly show us their difficult way to school through the pipe, and as we wander back towards the site of what will become their new school, they burst with excitement.

Daod (12) and Ahmad (8) emerge from the pipe under the busy road. Photo EAPPI/ML. Kjellstrom.

Daod (12) and Ahmad (8) emerge from the pipe under the busy road. Photo EAPPI/ML. Kjellstrom.

For years Mohamed has worked to raise funds for a school bus but without success. He later realized that it would be better to get a school for the community. Finally, with the support of the European Commission through an international NGO, a school has been promised. As they had already waited to get a school bus for such a long time the community joined forces to speed things up and each family gave a couple of hundred shekels to level the ground for the new school.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Most of the houses in the village have demolition orders pending and they fear the school may be demolished or dismantled, even before it has started to operate. So they have asked EAPPI to provide a protective presence and they want as many internationals as possible to be present in the coming weeks to deter any demolition. EAs encounter many communities and people who are in a demoralizing downward spiral of demolitions and evictions, that any sign of progress provides a welcome relief. And currently the situation in the Ka’abneh village offers a ray of hope, in a very challenging time.

The school will enroll 50 children from the age of six to twelve, and teachers from outside the community will start teaching as soon as the classrooms are ready.

The children, the community and EAPPI await with excitement the first day of classes in the new school. This time there will be no pipes and no mud to crawl through.

* Read more about the struggles of the bedouin in the E1/Jerusalem Periphery.