It is the summer break from school here in the West Bank.  The children play freely and easily.   In our little Palestinian village, the children come and go, and they chat freely with one another.  

They appear happy and adjusted as they interact with siblings, friends and cousins.  They also seem to all have their age appropriate chores and responsibilities, which are a vital part of a family eking out a meager living on this rough terrain.

We see boys taking turns tending and watering the sheep.  They share in the wheat harvest, including the moving and storing of straw bales for winter.  Young trees get watered, and girls help their mothers in a number of ways, mostly inside the home.  

The boys who live below us, are nurturing a hutch of newborn rabbits across the alleyway, in addition to their other chores.

When we are on our evening “protective presence” walks down to lower Yanoun, children often come out to meet and greet us.  They want to play and interact.  With only a few words of English at their disposal, they want to learn our names and exchange a few words. 

Early on in our placement in Yanoun, we learned that the children like to play in front of the international house, because it is a safe place in case the settlers from nearby settlements and outposts randomly blow  into town to intimidate and reek havoc. (Sometimes they just come to town and do not create any trouble.  They just drive around.)

July 2, one of my team mates and I sat with Malake El-Turk, in Nablus.  She is the Field Coordinator for Medecins Du Monde — France.   (Doctors of the World)

Medecins Du Monde monitor settler violence, from a health perspective, including the ability of people to receive basic emergency care following violent settler attacks.  

The organization has trained local people in villages as first responders, with basic first aid and equipment, as the army commonly prevents ambulances from accessing the villages after an attack .

They have also been involved in the delivery of mental health programs and the monitoring mental health since 2008.

“Children are suffereing mentally from the Occupation,” says .  Malake, “It’s a catastrophe!”  

She says there is little statistical information, but much anecdotal information from teachers, social workers and health professionals.

“For the youngest, it’s quite difficult for them.  They are all touched by this problem,” she says.

“Some times there is a big depression disorder.”  

Malake notes that in the Spring there was an spike in settler violence.

“Some of the children will not go out of the house.  Some children are violent or aggressive with each other and with their parents.  And some have become super-violent.”

“There are a lot of cases of eight and nine year olds bed wetting, Some children are unable to focus in school. ” 

She explains that some schools have been attacked directly by settlers and now the children are reluctant to go out and use the playground.  In one school, she notes that tear gas canisters were thrown into the school by soldiers.

The children and adults alike often do not know how to express the range of feelings generated by this chronic situation. 

She says many of the adults exhibit high blood pressure and depression as a result of the situation of the Occupation (of the West Bank).   

Having heard her synopsis, sometimes all this hits close to home.

As I was first writing this blog, on the afternoon of the 7th of July, we received news that there was a settler attack in lower Yanoun — about 3 km down the valley from upper Yanoun and east toward the Jordan Valley.

Settlers armed with rifles and knives attacked and killed three sheep, and attacked six  Palestinians harvesting wheat and grazing their sheep.  The Israeli military supported the settlers in the exchange.  In the end, six Palestinians were injured, five of which required hospitalization, wheat fields and olive groves were burned, and tear gas was fired by the military.   The scene attracted dozens of young men from nearby villages.

Needless to say, news of all this spills over in both upper and lower Yanoun.  It becomes the topic of much conversation.  Directly, or indirectly, the children are well aware of what transpired.  And for the young boys of lower Yanoun,  it all took place near where some of them take their turn grazing their sheep.

It’s no surprise that the settler violence and the many signs of the Occupation become — at the very least — a disturbing sub-text of the life of the children growing-up here.

Ironically, though, I have seen none of them playing shooting games.  

God bless the children!  

But the settler violence, and the signs of the Occupation are so all-pervasive that it’s hard to pray, “God protect them…” 

Then may there be many who influence their healing and an end to the insanity of it all! 

In a hot and thin place,

Grace and peace,

Jim 

P.S. Tonight, Chris and I and one of visiting EA’s did the evening walk down to lower Yanoun.  Some of the kids were out playing and they spotted us long before we arrived.  The boys quickly called the other boys, and in a few seconds one of the young guys had us divided-up into two reasonably balanced teams for a game of football (soccer).  It was a most wonderful time, and they were disappointed when we eventually had to return up the road to upper Yanoun.

 

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post, or to publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct requests, via the comments section in this blog. Thank you! 


Advertisements