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.
What 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.