Archives for posts with tag: Yanoun

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!

Yesterday morning was one absolutely glorious morning for Yanoun!

We had the great joy of hosting the Ministry of Education of the Palestinian Authority, and representatives of the Japanese government and UNICEF in Palestine, for the official launch of a new school year in Palestine.

As well, Yanoun received a long-awaited — and desperately needed — new  school bus to transport its senior students to Aqraba.  This new bus is thanks to the generosity of the people of Japan and UNICEF.

The bus is a very big deal in this rather poor village, where maybe half the families of the village have old, beat-up small cars.  It’s a nicer bus than I ever rode to school.  And it has seat belts.  Yahoo!

I admire the generosity of Japan, given the mess it has to clean-up in its own backyard following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

For what may be Palestine’s smallest surviving village, this event was awesome.  Our mayor, Rasjhid Marrar was in fine form.  And one bonus in all this, is that such a high profile international event helps keep Yanoun on the map of Palestine.  (It came close to being wiped-out by Israeli settler attacks 10 years ago.)

It is also somewhat political (Isn’t everything in Israel and Palestine?!) for the P.A. to hold the event here.  Because upper Yanoun sits in “Area C” — which is a military controlled area — surrounded by settlement outposts (and a military post) which still would like to see Yanoun fully in their control, with all the villagers long gone.

We hope there are no reprisals for this.  But that would not be unusual!

Girl and boy scouts were out in full force from Aqraba, providing color party, drums, and leading the national anthem.  Yanoun students were all looking their very best, rolling with all the media attention and UNICEF photographers.  Their tiny four room school was “under the microscope.”

The men and women of Yanoun had slaughtered a few sheep and prepared an abundance of traditional Palestinian food for the occasion.

We welcomed Jean Gough, Special Representative of UNICEF in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; Hideaki Yamamoto, deputy representative of Japan’s Representative Office to the P.A., Lamis Alami, Minister of Education for the P.A., and our own Pauline Nunu, Director of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

The theme for the event was “My Right To Education — My right to safe access to school and to a child-friendly learning environment.”  One of the posters for the event had a large picture of four children with backpacks going through a military-security check-point. 

Below the same photo, on the cover of the press kit., was printed, “Many Palestinian children encounter access restrictions on their way to school in the West Bank.”  How very true!

I am delighted to share with my readers this good news story. In the midst of the Occupation, there are still many moments of celebration and delight.

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!

“I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”                      – Psalm 121:1.

In Palestine, you can’t help but look at the hills.  They are all around!  They define so much of Palestine.

Even in these arid months, when everything is various shades of brown, they have their own beauty and grandeur, with one hill majestically rolling-on — after — and into another. 

Despite being rock, with shallow patches of soil, sometimes these hills are dotted with olive trees.  They are also pasture to shepherds and their flocks, creating some idyllic pastoral scenes.  Often they have been tamed over the centuries with terraces.

The hills are alive! They are the life of local peasant Palestinian farmers, and Bedouins living off the land in the Jordan Valley.  

In reality, the West Bank is all about hills — both geologically and politically.   It’s about who’s on top of any given hill: Pasture for farmers, a Palestinian village, or an Isreali outpost, settlement, or an army post?  You quickly learn to spot, who is on top.

The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is largely about who will have most hills at the end of the day.  

In Yanoun, where I serve for three months with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), there’s a piece of me that does not want to lift up my eyes unto the hills when ever  Psalm 121 comes to mind — which is often as I walk the Yanoun valley!  (The hills actually cue the psalm in my mind.) 

Why? Because the hilltops are a graphic reminder of why I am in Yanoun, with other internationals.

Yanoun just may be the smallest surviving Palestinian village in the West Bank.  EAPPI maintains a team here 24/7/365 as a “protective presence.” 

(We also relate to and support 30 nearby villages with similar experiences and issues (land, water, demolitions, settler violence, army incursions etc.), and also the Christian communities of Nablus.)

First, and foremost, we are a protective presence and “witnesses,” because Yanoun routinely experiences settler attacks from the nearby Itamar Israeli settlement and outposts.  Yanoun is all but surrounded!  And a few of the Itamar folk are very aggressive.

To be honest, it’s a challenge to photograph the phenomena of being surrounded.  But there is one to the right, one to the left, one across from Yanoun with army presence – and one right above us!  The closest is only 400 m away!  Way too close for comfort!
 

There has been conflict at times in Yanoun as the settlers have tried to drive them out, and off their land.

The problem is that Yanoun is “in the way.”  It is in the way of a swath of settlements, and outposts running from the border between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel on the west, right through the West Bank to the Jordan River valley.

There are now several of these bands of settlement right across Palestine. 

These bands have often been been achieved through settler violence toward locals, army muscle, the confiscation of property, land, and water, and the demolition of homes and tents.

In simplest terms, it’s the living-out of the words of Ariel Sharon:
“Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Palestinian) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours… Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”  — Ariel Sharon, Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 1998.
 

At the same time, he also said, “It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization, or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.”

Yes, who ever has the most hills wins!

And the Palestinains are losing right, left, and centre!  They have been losing this one for a couple of decades!

Now, despite my hesitation, I do look to the hills when Psalm 121 comes to mind, and I will look to the God of justice and mercy, who companions us on the journey.  I hope and pray this One who neither sleeps nor slumbers will call us all — Israelis, Palestinains, and internationals; Jews, Christians and Muslims — to our best selves, to our best values, and to our sacred teachings and stories about how to be with one another — here, and anywhere!

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 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!

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! 

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!