Archives for posts with tag: The Occupied Palestinian Territories

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!

Jim

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!

Advertisements

It’s almost three months since he was shot in the back — close to his back bone — at short range — by an Israeli settlement security officer.  And Nadjer Assad Nadjer is recovering slowly.

We met with him, about a week ago, in his home town of ‘Urif.  He was amazingly open about his situation, and in reasonable spirits given what he has been through. 

I share his story, because his experience is not at all unusual.  It is in continuity with so many other stories I keep hearing.

To say it’s been hard for Nadjer, is not just an understatement.  It’s been difficult physically, and psychologically.  He says it has severely strained a marriage that was just a month old when he was shot. 

He showed us his wounds.  When he did this, I was sitting beside him, such that when he yanked-up his T-shirt, I ended up with a closer look than I needed — and this conclusion: He is very, very lucky that major organs were not hit and damaged!

It all began, when settlers trespassed Palestinian land and started fires in the dry wheat and grass of the hills outside the village of ‘Urif.  About 150 dunums were burned, in all. 

Word obviously spread, and when he heard, Nadjer acted instinctively to a call to extinguish a fire in his family field.  He quickly went to the field.  

“My only concern was to stop the fire.  I did not think about who was responsible for the fire.  We were doing it by hand.  Sometimes the fire brigade has trouble reaching the fields,” he recalled.

Many people came out from the village.  The scene escalated with the army present to defend the settlers from the Yizhar settlement near Nablus. 

He worked to put out the fire, until he was accused of carrying a knife.  While he had no knife, or weapon of any kind, he was grabbed and handcuffed and thrown on the ground and beaten. 

“I was handcuffed and lying on the ground.  When things went quiet, I thought everyone had gone.  I looked around as best I could, and I thought it was safe to get up.  I thought they had left.”

When he tried to get up, that’s when he was shot in the back.

“I could see an ambulance, but it wasn’t allowed to come near to help me. After I was shot, I thought I was going to die.  But I came back to life,” said Nadjer.

While the army did not intervene to protect the Palestinains, and got involved in firing tear gas, he does credit one soldier with putting a compress on his wounds.

Since then, he’s had surgery, numerous trips to the hospital, and some physiotherapy.

“I have limited movement, and everything is very difficult,” he said, “I had wanted to build a home, a home with my wife, now everything is destroyed.”

Today he cannot walk without a cane.  He can’t straighten his leg, and he has constant pain.  From the surgery, he now has a steel plate in his back.

Prior to the attack, he worked as a labourer, with his father in a local quarry.  

When I left him, to return to our village, I was sad that his life will never be the same.  I wished him healing and strength.  I privately added him to my prayers.

His exit wound is far more than physical.  Sadly, the settlers who have penetrated the heart of the West Bank have found a sure fire way to alienate their Palestinian neighbours and give common folk good reason to resent their intrusion.

Some people, like Nadjer,  will share the scars of the Occupation all their lives.

Grace and peace,

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate the the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme 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 in this blog.  Thank you!

On Thursday, the 12th, we went to visit the people in Khirbet Tana.  Like every day this week, it was very, very hot, and parched; and very, very dry with very little air moving at mid-day.  It brought to mind bits I’ve learned about Death Valley.

As the sparrow flies, it’s only 3.75 km straight east from Yanoun, where I’m staying, to Khirbet Tana.  We should be neighbouring villages.  We used to be neighbouring villages.  Now, it is, as the Irish say, “You can’t get there from here!”  Between the big hills, and the network of Israeli settlements, we first had to go south to Aqraba, west to Za’tara, north to Huwwarra and then northeast and then south east to Beit Furik, where we met with the mayor of Beit Furik.  Then it was a dirt track road 8 km to Khirbet Tana.

Khirbet Tana actually has much in common with our little village of Yanoun: Both are under threat from settlers and settlements.  It is actually on the other side of the Itamar settlement and outposts which that harass Yanoun from time to time.  And, in Khirbet Tana, the Israeli military plays its part in the transfer of land from long-term residents to “military use” and then quickly on to settlement construction.

Kirbet Tana remains home to a number of families who also summer in Beit Furik.  They summer in Beit Furik because, calling to mind Cole Porter’s song, “it’s too darn hot.”  But not everyone summers in Beit Furik.  There were families and individuals there, “holding the fort,” because if they abandon their land, even for a brief time, the settlers will take it over.  

Many of their homes are caves.  

Seemingly superior structures have been demolished over the last few years since 2005 by the military.  This impacted 35 families.  The rubble is still visible to visitors.

One collection of rubble was all that was left of the home of an 80 year-old woman!  

The school was also demolished, next to the mosque.  

But the mosque, for some reason, maybe because it was 200 years old, was spared.

They have a relatively new school, that already needs repair. They can only repair it in a way that leaves its exterior the same.

The local people told us that lately, with almost nothing left to demolish, the military tried closing-in or burying the ancient cave homes.  They also tried to destroy the ceilings from the caves.

Khirbet Tana enjoys a spring, high up a hill, on the far side of the decentralized village.  It is water for drinking, cooking, and watering their flocks.  Lately settlers and soldiers come and swim in the cistern at the spring, temporarily polluting their prime water source. It appears to be part of the strategy to drive them off their land..

So, why is such a parched piece of paradise so coveted?

The settlers have their eye on the land and on the farmers there all the time — because Khirbet Tana stands in the way of completing a network of settlements and roads for settlers, stretching from Qalqiliya — on the infamous Green Line (the original demarcation line from the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) only 14 km from the Mediterranean Sea — through to Jordan Valley.  

The Jordan Valley is coveted land for israel as it is the fruit basket/bread basket of the West Bank.

This crooked finger of settlements extending deep into the West Bank is one of several such “fingers” penetrating the West bank and heading down into the coveted Jordan valley.  

Right now, many families are being driven from the Jordan valley so it can be military use land or military firing range.  But, that is the prelude to settlemenst, rather than some bona fide military activity.

Our visit to Khirbet Tana further rounds out my education about the issue or question of settlements.  Very, very naively — and I thought I was up to speed — when I first came to Palestine in November 2010, I thought the issue or settlements in the West Bank was largely a thorny border issue to be hammered out in any peaceful negotiations over a two state solution for Isreal and Palestine. Boy was I wrong! It’s way past being a border issue, or a security issue.  There are dozens of settlements and settlement outposts deep, deep into the West Bank.

United Nations color-coded maps have been very helpful in seeing that there are several fingers — more than a handful — of settlement networks reaching far into the West Bank and on to the edge of the Jordan Valley.  

It appears to be a blatant land grab!

The goal is to close the gaps.  Some say it turns Palestine into Swiss cheese.  It’s more like a Dagwood sandwich — with some layers Israel and some layers Palestine!  

The Palestinians we talk with, keep reminding us internationals that the years of the Oslo Peace process was for them “a second occupation.”  There was no halt in settlements, despite official promises to the contrary.  In fact, there was an acceleration.

And to this day, the settlements keep spreading their tentacles from hilltop to hilltop. And God forbid that anyone gets in their way, neither man, woman or nation state.

They are a tenacious lot.  Determined!  They love their ancestral lands and living on the land in this traditional manner.  They have a saying: Existence is resistance.

This is a hot and a thin place.  I have experienced amazing hospitality and seen “water from a rock” — way up the hillside, near the crest of the hill.  It sustains and refreshes flocks, herds, and the people on the land.

Grace and peace to all,

Jim

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!