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

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.

EA Blog: “Do They Hate Us?”

by Johan, South Hebron Hills Team 

Last week, the Ecumenical Accompaniers were invited to participate in Shabbat celebrations in Jerusalem. We went to the Kehilat Yedidiya synagogue, where we sat in for the evening prayer. Kehilat Yedidiya is a congregation that is used to welcoming visitors from all faiths.

Deborah Weissmann, former Chair of the Council on Jewish-Christian Relations, is a member of the synagogue and welcomed us with a smile:

-It has been a hard week with lots of snow in Jerusalem, and people are tired on a Friday evening. If you fall asleep during the sermon, you won’t be alone!

The prayer consisted of Kabbalat Shabbat – welcoming the day of rest. The entire congregation joined in the singing, and the atmosphere was solemn, yet relaxed. Children were playing in the aisles, and people prayed in their own rhythm.

Inside the synagogue. Photo: Kehilat Yedidiya

Inside the synagogue. Photo: Kehilat Yedidiya

The service was a very nice experience. Still, the highlight of our evening was to be invited to Shabbat dinner after the service. I thus had the privilege of joining a Jewish family in their home in the Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem, along with two other EAs. Our hosts had also invited some other friends and their children to share the evening with us.

Before the dinner we washed our hands in silence, and our hosts blessed the wine and the challah, the bread. They also sang to welcome the Shabbat angels into the house: According to some Jewish rites, two angels accompany every person home from the synagogue on the eve of Shabbat. The dinner itself was a feast consisting of many tasty, home-cooked dishes.

We had already realized that our host and his friend were politically liberal. They were genuinely interested in our experiences as Ecumenical Accompaniers in the West Bank, and they also asked about what we do back home. Since I just graduated from university, the question of where I studied came up.

-The American University in Cairo? Wow! Bruce, one of our host’s friends, said.

-What was it like to study there?

-Well, I learned a lot about the Arab perspective on Israel and Palestine. So, it’s also good for me to come here and hear the other side of the story.

-I’m glad to hear that. Bruce nodded. All of a sudden, his daughter burst out:

-Do they hate us?

That question hit me right in the stomach. She hadn’t said anything until then. She basically wanted to know whether my Lebanese, Palestinian, and Egyptian friends hate her. If they hate her for being Israeli. I wasn’t prepared for such a question, and what do you answer to that? I thought for a second about the word “hate”. A strong, harsh word which didn’t belong in that house, in such pleasant company. The word “hate” left a gloomy atmosphere around the table.

I though it was sad that she, a 21-year old girl with her entire life ahead of her, asked this question first and foremost. I hesitated.

-Tell us the truth, everyone said,

-We probably know it already. And don’t worry, we can handle to hear it from you.

Bruce continued: Do your Arab friends perceive Israel as a Western, colonial power, or as the Jews returning to their home?

-I know students in Cairo who don’t think that Israel fits into the region as things stand today, I finally replied, -To them, Israel ripped apart the common cultural and social fabric that was the Middle East before, and now they don’t know what to think about the country. There are so many painful stories. In Cairo, I met Lebanese who were teenagers during the war in 2006, I met Palestinians who grew up in refugee camps…

– And the hatred exists. Unfortunately, it does.

Our hosts and their friends nodded and understood. We sat in silence for moment.

The rest of the evening we often returned to the topic of the occupation, the settlers, and the clashes we have witnessed between soldiers and Palestinians. Our new Israeli friends appreciated that we told our stories, and they understood the problems the Palestinians face in the West Bank. Our host had even worked on human rights issues in the Occupied Territory before. We had a great night and enjoyed unforgettable hospitality, but I was reminded that politics are never far away when you talk to Palestinians and Israelis.

And on my first Shabbat, I faced some difficult questions. As I make more friends on both sides of the conflict, the tough questions become even more difficult.

The solution must be peace. Hatred is not perpetual; it can and must be changed. If 1948 tore up the Middle East, a just peace can sow it together again, with Israel as a natural part. My host in Jerusalem agreed. His friends agreed. I know that many in Israel and Palestine, and elsewhere in the Middle East, agree. As Israel gears up for elections next week, this message is more important than ever.

Shabbat shalom, and have a nice weekend.

From Acre, Israel (pictured) to Beirut is only about 110 kms. Photo: J. Roko

From Acre, Israel (pictured) to Beirut is only about 110 kms. Photo: J. Roko