Monthly Archives: September 2012

Getting to school

We monitor five checkpoints and agricultural gates in the Qalqiliya district. The separation barrier (or wall) snakes through the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) here in the north. There are several major settlements located within the borders of Palestine in this area and the wall is built around them in such a way to incorporate them into Israel. However there are several Palestinian towns and communities near the settlements who find themselves blocked from the oPt. This is known as the ‘seamzone.’

We monitor two gates where Palestinian children who live in the seamzone must pass in order to get to school. Today is the Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur, but yesterday many gates were already closed because of the holiday. When a teammate and I got to Habla gate we sat with five young boys (ages 5-6 years) who were waiting by the gate ready to go home after school. The gate was closed and there seemed to be a lot of confusion. These little boys were eventually picked up by their school bus but had to drive all the way around the wall to another checkpoint to get back home.

Habla gate

At home in September children get ready to go back to school. It is a time for buying books, pencils and other school supplies. Here, the children have a lot more than supplies and uniforms to worry about. They have to pass through military security on the way to and from school each day. In the next months, we will monitor the passage of schoolchildren to and from the seamzone and are working on a report on access to education for UNICEF. We monitor the behaviour of the soldiers at the gates and how the children are treated and provide protective presence in hopes that the children can get to and from school with minimal disturbance and delays.

School buses near Habla gate

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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the significance of olive trees

Two weeks ago we visited a family in a place called Azzun Atma where the separation barrier is being constructed. Fahima wept as she showed us her land and the places where olive trees and their small house they sleep in while on the farm have been torn down. Her family is losing half their land to the construction of the barrier that is not built along the ‘green line’ but within the occupied Palestinian territory. She also showed us greenhouses that were vandalized and destroyed by settlers. Fahima brought us to an ancient olive tree now a dead stump. Right beside the tree is a fence and behind it an illegal Israeli settlement. I approached the tree and put my hand on it admiring its size. My teammate from Ireland turned to me and said, “How do you heal something like this?”

dead olive tree in Azzun Atma where the separation barrier is being constructed

In Jerusalem during our orientation earlier this month, Angela (an Israeli and human rights advocate) took us to an illegal settlement outside of Jerusalem called Ma’ale Adumim. It was my second time visiting what appears to be a very large and sophisticated looking suburb. Our guide, Angela, pointed out the old olive trees planted in the middle of the roundabouts at the entrance of the settlement. She explained that these are called Roman trees because they are thousands of years old. “Palestinians refer to these trees as grandfather. They have a very close connection with olive trees because they are such an important source of life for the people,” she explained.

Ancient olive tree transplanted into Ma’ale Adumim settlement

Many of these old trees were uprooted for the construction of the separation barrier throughout the West Bank and transplanted into settlements. We learned that to lose these ancient trees, tended by Palestinian families for generations, is very painful. I’ve been thinking a lot about the significance of this action. These trees have been confiscated and superimposed onto the aesthetics of a modern, illegal settlement as if to express that the inhabitants of the settlement are the rightful owners of this heritage and are here to stay.

Here in Jayyous our neighbour, is anxiously waiting for his permit to cross the separation barrier to his land for the olive harvest. He applied for the permit two months ago but according to the local municipality over 160 people from the village are still waiting for their permits. The olive harvest usually starts in the first week of October so hopefully the people will still have a chance to access their trees on time…‘InshaAllah.’

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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International Day of Prayer for Peace

Creator, we give thanks for the signs of hope that you provide us

like trees growing out from rocks

help our roots to grow deep in your love

nourishing a sense of respect and care for all your creation

that we may, together with your guiding spirit, build a better world.

tree growing from a rock (on the other side of the separation barrier from Jayyous)

Resources for the International Day of Prayer for Peace: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/events/ev/se/article/1634/international-day-of-pray-10.html

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A struggle for land

Yesterday our landlord and important leader in the area, Abu Azzam, took us out on his land. Several times I have greeted Abu Azzam and his wife, Sahem, in the mornings riding their tractor through one of the agricultural gates we monitor. On his farm there are greenhouses with tomatoes and trees ripe with mango, guava, citrus fruits and avocado. He also has olive trees that will be ready for harvest next month. Only recently this year was Abu Azzam granted a permit that allows him to sleep overnight on his land. This is important especially during harvest season when there is a lot of work to do. Abu Azzam also explained to us the personal significance of being able to sleep in a small shed out on the land for someone deeply connected to his family’s ancestral land. Abu Azzam explained the struggles he has had over the past several years to safeguard this land. Israel confiscated land from the local Jayyusis through a series of laws (from the British Mandate and Ottoman empire) which claim that land which is not regularly cultivated may be confiscated by the state and turned into state land. Abu Azzam has been able to develop his land with more agriculture that had predominantly been used for grazing sheep and goats through his own efforts and with help from local and international friends. Jayyous was the one of the first communities affected by the construction of the separation barrier resulting in a great loss of land. It is also difficult for farmers to access the land they have left since it is surrounded by tall electric fences (also known as the separation barrier) which is not built along the 1967 ‘green line’ or border between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Farmers need permits (not always easy to obtain) and must pass through a security gate at specific times during the day. All of these difficulties in accessing the land creates an economic crisis for people who depend on the land for their livelihoods and poses problems for the agriculture that needs regular irrigation and tending in order to thrive.

Abu Azzam explains the struggle to maintain his family’s land

While we were out on Abu Azzam’s land we took a close look at an illegal Israeli outpost near the Zufin settlement. Currently there are five trailer homes parked next to Abu Azzam’s land. This is typically how a settlement starts before people build more permanent houses and roads.

View of an illegal Israeli outpost near Jayyous

In 2005, Abu Azzam and I met in Geneva at the Theological Reflection on Accompaniment meeting of the WCC. He was there representing the Land Defence Committee. At the meeting he shared his story and struggle to maintain his family’s land. According to the British law that was imposed in this land (and sometimes adopted by Israel) any land consisting of more than fifty percent rock is not considered suitable for agriculture and therefore can be confiscated by the state. Yesterday he showed us two trees growing out of stones one of which is featured in this story he shares as a symbol of resilience of the Palestinian people and connection they have with their ancestral land:

On 21 October (2003), I discovered a wild tree growing on an inclined rock; it was faded, because of thirst. As a farmer I felt I must help. I brought a bottle of water and poured it on the wild tree, but because the rock is inclined the water came out quickly, so I drilled the lid of the bottle with a nail, so the water came out drop by drop. The wild tree began to bloom. I did that daily until my wife called me on the last day of October to say that she had received my passport with a ticket to attend the European Social Forum in Paris, so I must come back home. I felt sorrow towards the wild tree, I went to it and said: sorry, because I will leave to France, sorry because I will not be able to come back to take care of you, because I have no permit. I don’t want you to suffer again and to die many times daily, because of thirst. So, I cut its two branches, and when I reached the gate the Israeli soldier asked me what I had in my hand. I felt really puzzled; why was I still carrying the two branches in my hand?

After five months, I got a permit and went with my wife to the land. After we passed the gate, we kept silent, watching everything as if we were seeing it for the first time in our lives. When we reached the shed, my wife began crying because everything was dusty and the food was damaged. I ran away to do a tour of the farm; after an hour and a half I came back to the shed to have breakfast. On my way I found my wife moving out the grass around a small orange nursery plant, and she was singing with tears (the Palestinian way). She was 10 meters away from the place of the wild tree, so I went there to see if it was still alive. I was astonished when I found many branches were growing again, I kissed it, and apologized that I had cut its two branches before. My wife heard me talking – she was worried that I had become mad, and shouted, Shareef!! Wake up!! With whom you are talking? I was lying beside the wild tree, a few drops of blood came out of my lips, because of the thorns of the tree. Then my wife, who was gazing at the rock, asked: ‘how can this tree survive?’ I answered: ‘This is a Palestinian tree; a Palestinian can live without water, without food, if his roots are in his land’.

(Source: Theological Reflection on Accompaniment, WCC, p.170-171 <http://eappi.org/en/resources/eappi-publications.html&gt;)

Abu Azzam shows us the tree growing out from a rock

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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In Jayyous

Last night we arrived in Jayyous, a small village of about 3’700 people. This is where three women and I will do our work as Ecumenical Accompaniers. This is a beautiful community and we have received a warm welcome. It is a great time to be here when guava, mango, figs and pomegranates are in season. Next month will be the olive harvest.Image

This community and surrounding villages have requested international presence for the past ten years due to several challenges they face. First, many people here make their living through agriculture. Since the construction of the separation barrier, many farmers have difficulty accessing their land or have lost land. Most of the barrier, built by Israel, does not follow the border (also known as the 1967 “green line”) and effectively cuts local Palestinians off from their lands. The barrier also poses other mobility issues for Palestinians trying to get to and from school and work. The barrier is built in such a way as to incorporate some of the illegally built settlements onto the Israeli side of the border. One of our tasks is to provide protective presence at checkpoints and agricultural gates. We are also monitoring the expansion of a settler outpost near to the Jayyous municipality.

In Izbat at Tabib, a village near to us, the local elementary school has received a demolition order from the Israeli government. We are visiting the community regularly to offer support and monitor the situation. Demolitions are a prevalent problem throughout the Westbank mostly because it is very difficult for people to gain building permits.

Finally, we monitor instances where Palestinian children are apprehended and detained by the Israeli military. In such cases, the military usually enter the family and neighbour’s homes at night and the children are taken often without charges and without an adult member of their family to accompany them. Often the children are accused of throwing stones at the military or settler roads. These incursions are traumatic for the children and families and we will go to visit the families during or after the arrests.

This is a very surface level analysis of this area so if you have questions about some of these issues please write to me and I can try to direct you to resources for more information.

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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map of Qalqilya district

map of Qalqilya district

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September 14, 2012 · 6:38 pm

On Accompaniment

In preparation for these three months I have been reflecting a lot on the meaning of accompaniment. What does it mean to accompany someone or to be accompanied yourself? The idea of being accompanied struck me during my Commissioning Service as I was surrounded by friends, colleagues, family and strangers who promised to pray both for the people of Israel and Palestine and for me during my time with EAPPI. I felt surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. I felt that I was not alone as I invoked the names of mentors and friends who have accompanied me to the place I am at today and have shaped me into a person passionate for justice. I felt that I was not alone as that room full of people promised to pray with me as I start this journey. I felt that I was not alone—I embark not on my own mission or the church’s mission but God’s mission whose vision for creation is much larger than I can even imagine. This is humbling and I know I have a lot to learn. I know I will need to pray and reflect a lot. I know I will learn from people I have not even met yet.

The idea of accompaniment makes me think about the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-54). They were sad after losing their friend and leader, Jesus. When they were joined by a stranger on that road at first they didn’t realize that it was Jesus accompanying them. I arrived today in Jerusalem and took a walk to St. George’s cathedral. As I sat in the sanctuary of the church, an icon of Jesus on the wall before me, I thought a lot about who Christ is and the strength and compassion I will need for these months ahead. I asked for strength from the Christ who broke all taboos by extending love to those on the margins of society. I asked for understanding , humility and from the Christ of compassion for times when I may face difficult situations or conversations.

Prayer

God help us to see your face in the face of a stranger

one who may emerge on our life’s path bringing to us valuable teachings.

Open us to the possibilities of your mysterious ways.

Bring us near to your loving presence

that we may have the courage to love one another.

So be it.

~ Jerusalem, on a warm September nightImage

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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