Tag Archives: human-rights

Human Rights Are For Children

human rights are for children Human Rights Are For Children is a picture book of stories for children about children. I have the privilege to cross paths with many children and youth in the work that I do. My question is, how can I share with them some of the stories of children who have to cross a military checkpoint to get to school everyday? How can I talk about Israeli youth who don’t want to do military service even though it is obligatory for them? As I continue to do advocacy work on human rights issues and raise awareness about the situations in Israel/Palestine I notice my impatience working with adults who claim “it’s all too complicated” or “there will always be fighting and conflict over there.” I have found that a good entry point for people to understand the military occupation is to share some of the everyday realities for many Palestinian children. They live under abnormal circumstances and their testimonies can enable people to wake up to the unfairness of the occupation.

I have also learned in justice related work that it is important to be able to talk about complex topics in accessible ways. I remember one time when I was having dinner with a former colleague of mine and she asked if I would explain to her children (in middle school) what I was doing with EAPPI in the Westbank. It was a challenge. What is an age appropriate way to talk about some of these issues? Of course the most powerful narrative is a personal one – the stories of other children their same age and what they might have to go through on a typical day.  It is important to point out commonalities and our shared humanity with people who might seem so far away or different from us (i.e. children in Jayyous like to play soccer too). At the same time as uplifting the human side of the story, it is important to show how abnormal the military occupation is and what it does to Palestinian and Israeli young people.

I have become increasingly passionate about the issue of children’s rights after visiting with Palestinian families whose children were arrested and detained by Israeli military without any charges laid, without accompaniment of a parent, adult or lawyer. I have started to educate myself more on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I am realizing that all children everywhere need a human rights education. For children here who I hope to share this book with, the aim will be to get them interested in human rights and to encourage them to learn and ask questions. I want them to know that they have a lot of power to speak out and act for peace and justice!

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At the girl’s elementary school the students like to study lots of subjects. Here they are presenting a song. Sometimes the students get to study outside under the palm trees with their teacher.

Here some boys who are five and six years old walked to the separation barrier after school but the gate was locked. They didn’t know how to get back home. The bus driver came and took them home by driving a long way around on a different road.

These boys live in a Bedouin village called Arab ar Ramadin in the “seam zone.” The community was not allowed to build their own school. The parents did not want to send their children to the Habla school where they have to be checked by soldiers at the gate everyday. The children were scared.

The community decided to make classrooms out of tents for the children. The children love their new tent school!

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This boy lives in the “seam zone” and has to go through the checkpoint everyday to go to high school. Everyday the soldiers ask to look at his permit at the checkpoint when he goes back home.

This is his high school in Azzun Atma. In the 1980s a group of Israeli settlers decided to build houses and make a neighbourhood above the high school. This is something that they are not allowed to do outside of their country. Sometimes the settlers open the sewage pipes and all the water and waste from their toilets goes down to the schoolyard. When this happens, the students aren’t allowed to go outside or play basketball.

In Israel, some school children have problems too. In a town called Sderot, the people live beside Gaza. The people of Gaza are closed inside a small area by a very tall wall and are not allowed to leave unless they have a permit. The people in Gaza want to be free and some people fight by launching rockets into Israel. Sderot is a town that is affected by these rockets. They have many bomb shelters there including one at this Kindergarten. If the children and teachers hear the siren, it means they have to go to the shelter right away so they will be safe. Some people in Sderot are working with their neighbours in Gaza for peace.

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There are many young people in Israel who are working for peace. They want a good life and want Palestinian people to have a good life too. This girl came with her parents from Israel to visit her friend Naim and his family in Jayyous (Westbank). They helped during the olive harvest. Every young person in Israel has to join the military when they are finished high school. Many young Israelis don’t want to join the military.

You can view more of the book here (unfortunately the text is pretty small to be read in this format) http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=0AZOG7ho5ct2zuI

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For more information please refer to: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, Defence for Children International, “Palestine Through My Eyes” exhibition of children’s photographs organized by Medecins du Monde, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, The Other Voice (Sderot), New Profile and Breaking The Silence. (photos by N.Maxson, J. Moller, K. Cargin)

The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, my employer, 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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“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.

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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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