This week, we’re delighted to have a piece from Hannah Brock, a YFGM member for the past 3 years who is currently volunteering as an Ecumenical Accompanier in Isreal Palestine.
YFGM has got under my skin. It turns out that wherever I am in the world, and however busy I might be, I still get a bit glum when it’s a YFGM weekend and I’m not there! I found this out in February when, despite a difficult morning monitoring Checkpoint 300 (the checkpoint between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, through which thousands of Palestinians have to pass through every morning, mostly having waited for at least 2 hours) I was still preoccupied by the decisions made in Nottingham by my YFGMer friends.
Some might call this just a little bit tragic, but I see it as testimony to the strength of the YFGM community, and the experiences we have together.
It’s an itinerant community; no two YFGMs are the same, either in terms of people attending, the sessions we run, the atmosphere, or indeed the location. But it’s also, I think, a strong one, where you can feel surrounded by support, even if you haven’t seen those supporters for three months.
Since I have been here working as a human rights observer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, I have felt warmly upheld by the YFGM community. I’ve felt this both personally, through the emotional support I’ve had from the friends I’ve made here, and I suppose practically in the work that I am doing, because people are interested in the work that I am doing here and the people I am meeting.
I’ve also encountered communities out here in which I see strong and supportive bonds between members. In Wadi Rahal, a village of about 1000 people, everyone is related, and there is a real family atmosphere when walking through the streets. From these streets you can also see the Israeli settlement of Efrat, which has expanded so that it is now just 50m from the house at the edge of Wadi Rahal.
Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that in occupied territories (such as the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967) “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Some of the land the settlement is built on is owned by the farmers of Wadi Rahal.
Furthermore, although the separation barrier that winds its way through the West Bank has not yet been built around the village, they have the maps which show the planned route, and it will go approximately 3m behind the back of the villages’ school. Much more of the villages’ land will be taken when the separation barrier is completed.
Over the past years a popular resistance committee, made up of ten young people from the village, has been coordinating demonstrations to protest against the building of the separation barrier, and the confiscation of their land for the settlement. Every Friday the villages would pray in the land that has been confiscated. At first it was people from the village, but soon they were joined weekly by internationals, and also Israeli peace activists. Anas Ziada, a student of Social Work who was part of the popular resistance committee, was grateful for the support of these Israelis: “I will never forget the Israeli solidarity with us. They came many times to help us, all the way from Tel Aviv”.
In the popular committee, it is Anas’ job to rouse support from the villagers, so he went house to house at first, explaining what the committee was planning, and inviting people along. Recently they have ceased their demonstrations, having been threatened by security staff at the local settlement. They were told that those people who have work permits for Jerusalem would have them revoked if the demonstrations continued.
Far from being downhearted, Anas says that this is evidence that their campaign is having an impact: “Some people say that popular resistance doesn’t make any difference, but I say, why would they come and talk to us if we weren’t making a difference?”. Whilst the protests in Wadi Rahal are suspended, people in the village have been visiting neighbouring villages Al Ma’sara and Al Walaja, to attend their protests against the wall and the confiscation of their land. As EAPPI is here to show solidarity with communities like Wadi Rahal, the people of Wadi Rahal also show their solidarity to their neighbours in their nonviolent resistance – that’s the kind of community spirit I hope is echoed in our own young Quaker group.
Disclaimer: I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt firstname.lastname@example.org