Monthly Archives: March 2013

“We have the right to learn” – Palestinian school under demolition order

During the lunch break at the school in Izbat at Tabib a young boy approached me to offer a fistful of salty pretzelsamidst the noise and activity of students at play in the schoolyard.

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Hospitality and warmth like this is something I experienced a lot but is surprising considering Palestinians subsist on so little in this area of the occupied Palestinian territories. My teammates and I, with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAAPI), had stopped by the school to introduce a television crew from Germany to this small community of less than three hundred people. The community consists of refugees, many Bedouins, who resettled on their family’s land east of Qalqiliya in the northern West Bank when they were displaced in 1948 at the time the State of Israel was created.

Over the last ten years, the World Council of Churches has coordinated the presence of international Ecumenical Accompaniers who are sent by their local churches and provide a protective presence to communities facing hardship because of the conflict. We commit to work on human rights advocacy and towards a just and peaceful end to the occupation. I was sent by the United Church of Canada, a member church of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and served in Jayyous from September to November 2012. During the three months we did many tasks, including accompanying farmers to their land during the olive harvest where there was risk of violence from Israeli settlers, monitoring Israeli military check points where civilians pass to get to work and to school, documenting arrests of Palestinian children and adults by Israeli military, and offering support to Israeli and Palestinian groups working for peace.

The village of Izbat at Tabib is situated in a zone known on United Nation’s maps as Area C , which was supposed to be a temporary arrangement under the 1995 Oslo accords. But like many Palestinians communities in Area C throughout the West Bank, they are still living under Israeli control. This means that in Area C it is next to impossible to secure a building permit. As a result 33 out of the 45 houses in Izbat at Tabib built without permits have demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration.

School Izbat at Tabib_Kate Cargin

School Izbat at Tabib, photo: K. Cargin

The community did not always have a school of their own. It was built in 2005 after one child was killed and another seriously injured in traffic accidents while walking to school on a busy highway to the neighbouring town of Azzun. The school serves 48 children from grades one to seven. The building also has a meeting hall for the village council and a health clinic for a visiting mobile health team. Given administrative difficulties due to being located in Area C, the school was built without a permit. In August 2012 the Israeli Civil Administration issued an administrative demolition order and ordered that the building be vacated in 21 days.

The teachers told the television crew how the pending demolition order has created anxiety amongst the children. One student proposed to come to class on top of the rubble if the school is destroyed. In the schoolyard I met a boy named Othman whose English is outstanding for someone in grade five. I asked him how he felt about everything going on here with the demolition order. “We want to stay in our school,” he told me.

Othman’s favourite subject is math but on that day he was getting ready for an English quiz. He told me he scored 10 out of 10 on his last test. I wished him good luck and wondered about the fate of this bright, young boy if his education is interrupted by a demolition or if he is forced to walk along the dangerous road to the overcrowded school in Azzun. The village council is engaged in a difficult legal process in an attempt to protect their school. Unfortunately this process is not a guarantee that the school will be saved. Groups and individuals, both Palestinian and Israeli, continue to show their support for the school in Izbat at Tabib during the community’s ongoing, non-violent demonstrations bringing attention to the importance and right of access to education for the children.

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Published in World Communion of Reformed Churches, Reformed Communiqué: http://www.wcrc.ch/node/941

Full edition of March 2013 Reformed Communiqué:  http://www.wcrc.ch/sites/default/files/WCRC_Communique-201301-EN-lowFINAL.pdf

Version français: http://www.wcrc.ch/sites/default/files/WCRC_Communique-201301-FR-low.pdf

UN OCHA fact sheet on Area C:  http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_Area_C_Fact_Sheet_July_2011.pdf

About the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: http://www.unicef.ca/en/policy-advocacy-for-children/about-the-convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child

The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, EAPPI 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 for permission. Thank you.

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Barot and the Basement – A Tribute to Elders of Resistance (ou “j’ai trouvé l’esprit œcuménique au sous sol)

When I worked for the World Council of Churches I would occasionally leave my desk, break the monotony of sitting in front of the computer responding to hundreds of emails, and retreat to the basement of the Ecumenical Centre (home to the WCC headquarters and several other organizations in Geneva).

The basement became a desirable quiet space—an alternative to the cafeteria tea break. I found myself again and again drawn into the bowels of the building as a way of reminding myself why I was doing this work and the mantle of responsibility I carried on my shoulders to honour the work and history of the ecumenical movers that came before me (a movement is made up of movers, no?). Down the spiralling staircase into the cool, quiet dark of the concrete basement I found calm in the stillness amongst shelves and shelves of records. I would walk between the books, papers and boxes and stop to read the labels of the archived materials: “1949 Youth Work Camp” or “South Africa Apartheid: Programme to Combat Racism.” As I touched these boxes I felt somehow connected to the voices and people represented by these records and greatly humbled. A few times I would invite people, colleagues or visitors, to come with me, “Do you want to see my favourite place in the whole building?” They probably thought I was going to take them to see the beautiful stained glass in the chapel or the large tapestry in the meeting hall or the diversity of flowers in the garden…no, down to the basement we went to connect to this ecumenical heritage.

I recently read André Jacques’ account of the life and work of Madeleine Barot published by the WCC in 1991 shortly before her death. After reading about Barot’s life, I realized how little I know of ecumenical history – only snippets here and there that are loosely stitched together. I wonder if we do not spend enough time across generations listening to stories, especially of elders, from whom we inherit this great legacy and project of unity.barot

Barot worked with youth movements like SCM and YWCA who came together to form the CIMADE (Inter-Movement Committee for Evacuees) in 1939. They asked themselves how God was calling them to act in the context of war where friends they had made with young people from other countries were now considered their “enemies.” Barot and other people active in the youth movements of CIMADE decided to live in the internment camps in France with Jewish refugees and those in the resistance movement. I realized their model was truly an early form of “accompaniment program.” They witnessed and experienced the internees’ daily life of imprisonment and tried to secure resources in scarce supply such as clothing, medical supplies and food. They provided pastoral care and organized prayers for those interested and demonstrated what seems to be a great deal of sensitivity to religious plurality (i.e. some Rabbis joined in the bible studies and offered their wisdom on the Hebrew scriptures). They helped people escape to Spain and Switzerland who were to be deported to German camps. They mobilized the churches in any effort they could to spare adult and children internees from death. They were active resisters to the racism, xenophobia and fascism experienced through the Nazi and Vichy regimes. People like Barot and her contemporaries in these struggles were instrumental in the formation of the WCC.  One quote I found both inspiring and challenging was from Barot’s address in 1947 to the World Conference of Christian Youth in Oslo (considered the first major postwar international, ecumenical conference):

 “Young people aspire to Christian unity not only on the level of theological speculation and doctrinal affirmations but also on the level of daily life…It seems to them that beyond the reality of divided churches, the different ecumenical movements have created the consciousness of Christian unity, but that this remains too intellectual. To become a revolutionary and creative power at the heart of this broken world, the creative action of the Holy Spirit is needed.”

Barot, was a young woman and a powerful leader who exemplified solidarity, ecumenical cooperation and persistence through her faith to actively oppose injustice. Her address from 1947 is one for unity—visible, lived unity. It is not enough to talk about our togetherness —we must act. She also goes on to say:

“Observing the life of the churches confirmed my impression that ecclesiastical institutions can paralyze the witness, service and presence of Christians in the world.”

Somehow her wisdom echoes into today’s church context. Where is the spirit of the ecumenical movement that once inspired these young people towards acts of non-violent bravery and compassion? How do we continue to follow the Holy Spirit in the midst of institutionalized church and ecumenism? How are we being called as witnesses and movers for justice in the world today?

I was reminded of another elder of resistance, Stéphane Hessel, after the news of his death on February 26th. Hessel was involved in writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More recently, he wrote a pamphlet called “Time for Outrage” (“Indignez-Vous”) and is considered a major catalyst and inspiration behind the “Occupy Movement.”  Hessel says of his pamphlet:

“Do not accept the unacceptable. Take it upon yourself to resist and to be outraged. I hope that it (Indignez-Vous) will give courage to the young generation to feel that it us up to them to change the global society in a more humane direction.”

Stéphane Hessel, whose pamphlet Indignez-Vous! sold 4.5m copies in 35 countries

During his interview on CBC radio, Anna Maria Tremonti alludes to the fact that it must have been Hessel’s outrage that led him to join the resistance in France against the Nazis. Hessel’s reflection on the French resistance during the war in comparison with the challenges we face today somehow echoed what I felt after reading about Madeleine Barot’s life. As Hessel says,

“…of course, that (resistance to Nazism) was relatively obvious. I mean it was a difficult fight but it was an obvious fight. Today it is not as obvious. What are we supposed to fight against? What challenges do we have to meet today? They are not such obvious challenges as an occupation by a foreign army. But the challenges are there. The enormous difference between extreme poverty and great, great riches. That is the injustice that has to be fought against by a solidarity movement of all. The non-violent way of determined action but without weapons can be more successful. In my long, long life I have seen non-violence more successful than violence.”

Perhaps the challenges facing us today, such as climate change, are more complex or broad as Hessel seems to claim. I turn to the examples of people like Barot in the early ecumenical movement and elders of resistance like Hessel for strength and wisdom to face what we must do today. It is not just up to young people to work for the justice and change we need in the world but should be an effort across generations as we learn together what it means to be community and  live the unity given to us.

Sources:

The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, EAPPI 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 for permission. Thank you.

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