A significant piece of what we do as Ecumenical Accompaniers is to provide a “protective presence” and accompany people in times of vulnerability.
Yes, we fill out incident reports when some threat, or action against persons or property has occurred; and those reports are shared with a number agencies, including the I.C.R.C. (Red Cross-Red Crescent) and the United Nations. But much of our ministry is simply being with people and offering “a protective presence.”
In Yanoun, where I am based (for less that one more week), our team of four maintains one person here at all times as a protective presence. Saturdays we all try to be in residence, as that is the day when area Israeli settlers are most likely to attack or harass folk in this village or its outlying fields.
The theory is that our presence either reduces the incidents of violence, or the severity of those incidents. If there is any violence, we are independent witnesses with cameras, video, pens and computers. (Though the settlers act rather lawless — and with impunity — despite all the reporting that goes on.)
In this blog, I want to share a couple of experiences of providing protective presence.
A couple weeks ago, I visited for two days with our team in the South Hebron Hills. I got to Susiya.
Two of us were invited to spent the night with one of the farmers who lives on the edge of the decentrailized Susiya village. His family was away for a few days, and he wanted some other people there for his security.
We also planned to go shepherding with him the next morning.
We were wakened before 6 a.m. and greeted by the news that the night before the Israeli army had demolished a settlement vineyard that was on disputed land (There are some ongoing court cases), or in the “no man’s land” buffer area between a settlement and a village.
For the army to do this is rather rare, but not unheard of. There are occasional — rare — moments of justice for the Palestinians.
But the problem is that such moments have most often resulted in push back or “price tag” actions against Palestinian property or persons, by disgruntled settlers.
We started shepherding with our host for the night, but later switched, given the situation, to accompany a grandmother and granddaughter shepherding team.
We joined them for three hours. It was a glorious morning!
It was fun to watch the grandmother have some fiesty exchanges with an army officer, when she took her sheep to graze too close to the military outpost. (Sheep are such a threat!)
Afterwards, we were blessed with a wonderful Palestinian breakfast on our return to the village!
Then, because of the vineyard incident, we provided protective presence at the village well, a short distance from Susiya. The village cistern was dry, and that meant over 20 tanker trips to refill the cistern.
We did this because there was concern about a little “pay back” happening at the well. So, we did this for several hours. Other Ecumenical Accompaniers relieved us for the second half of the water runs. Nothing happened untoward.
Then, about a week ago, we were with a family near Al Lubban ash Sharqiya, who are desperately trying to hold onto their land and a building on the land, against aggressive and persistent settlers who come from three area settlements.
While most days something happens on their property, the Sabbath evening is when the most number of settlers and army arrive.
Parts of the exchange was like a 1960’s American style sit-in, with guitar playing and some Israeli men stripping to their boxer shorts to wade in the cistern next to the spring.
It was very surreal “dance” or movement of parties with the guitar playing, singing, periodic attempts to get into the family home, and the army, settlers, police and Palestinians all milling around with no one able to intervene unless the Palestinians crossed a line in terms of violence.
One stettler was clearly armed.
My team-mate did document an army officer taking pictures, inside the family home, on behalf of the settlers. That’s no surprise, as some of the army live in the settlements.
Eventually, everyone went home. And we had a traditional Palestinian meal with the family. They were most grateful for how we had spent our afternoon and evening.
I like to think that the Incarnation — God coming in Jesus the Christ — was a divine act of accompaniment with humanity.
Further, Jesus of Nazareth was not just witness to God’s grace and mercy and love, but he was also a witness to the ugly side of a previous occupation of Palestine — the Roman occupation of Palestine.
He was a witness — a vulnerable One — a friend to victims of that Occupation.
He was himself a victim of that occupation — the Shepherd who was Love Incarnate!
Grace and peace!
I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Should you wish to re-post or publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct request, via the comments section of this blog. Thank you!