the friend online
02 October 2009

Middle East witness

Quakers live alongside Palestinians in an international programme providing protection by presence. After four years away, Ann Wright went back to the Occupied Palestinian Territory as an ecumenical accompanier, a project of the World Council of Churches

I can’t believe I’m here again, four years after my last stint in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Much has changed in my own life in four years; most importantly I have three new grandchildren. Yet the occupation is still both depressingly the same and, even more depressingly, changed by hi-tech ‘improvements’.

So, what will I be doing? That has changed too. On my first stint, I lived up in Tulkarem, a town in the north west of the occupied Territory. This time I am based in Jerusalem. I still hope that by describing what I see and telling the stories of the people I meet I can again illustrate how the occupation damages both sides: dispossessing and impoverishing the Palestinians and brutalising the Israelis.

My team lives atop the Mount of Olives in Palestinian East Jerusalem. It’s a haven of peace and tranquillity, with a purple bougainvillea on the wall, but I can also see all the signs of Israeli settlement expansion in and around the city. The western press is currently full of Obama’s call for a settlement freeze. But the Israeli authorities and the settler movement seem determined it will not happen.

Just a few weeks ago on 2 August, two Palestinian families were evicted. Settlers moved in the same day, and the families are now camping on the street opposite their former homes. These families have lived in East Jerusalem since 1956 when they were ‘refugeeed’ from West Jerusalem. Peace envoy Tony Blair is literally just around the corner from them. So, how about it, Tony, it’s in your own backyard after all? Joking apart, international solidarity is important, so to find out the facts, see the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Occupied Palestinian Territory website

Of course, it’s not true that everybody looks the other way. The Israeli peace camp opposes the spread of settlements. Part of our team’s mandate is to support their activities too. One activist currently facing a prison sentence is Ezra Nawi, who has for years tried to protect Palestinian shepherds from settler attempts to drive them from their land in the South Hebron hills. Sentencing was suspended again on Sunday; activists outside said the judge was waiting to see which way the political wind blows.

After the Separation Barrier was built, 70,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs found themselves on the wrong side of it. Qalandya checkpoint between the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and East Jerusalem opens at 4.45am. Workers queue early to be sure of getting to work, since the time it can take to pass is unpredictable. The Ecumenical Accompaniers Programme for Palestine/Israel (EAPPI) has started liaising with the UN and we now count numbers for their statistics. I’d already come across the Israeli organisation Machsom Watch in Tulkarem, but here we see them a lot more. These ex-Israeli army women go to West Bank checkpoints to monitor their own soldiers’ behaviour.

My shock at the injustice here, my anger at myself for knowing so little, and my disbelief that the West could have ignored it for so long remains. This indignation stayed with me during four years of advocacy. However, time takes its toll and, although the situation for Palestinians inside Jerusalem and those shut out of their Holy City by the barrier is much worse now, I am no longer shocked; it is all too familiar. So, I need to find another voice. Come and visit, any of you.

Ann Wright


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A testimony to Love
Judy Kirby, Editor
Circles of silence
Gerard Benson
A view of Quakers
David Wood
Testimony to peace
Helen Steven
Middle East witness
Ann Wright
Peace for all
Stephen Hanvey
Living the testimonies
Helen Drewery
Harvey Gillman
Testimony to Equality
Jonathan Dale
Committed relationships
Phil Lucas
Quaker thought in literature
Marina Lewycka
Quaker thought in poetry
Gerard Benson
Ros Smith
Marian Liebmann
Equality and social justice
Belinda Hopkins
Testimony to Simplicity
Jan Arriens and Marion McNaughton
Laurie Michaelis
Testimony to Truth
Linda Pegler
Integrity in public life
Tony Stoller

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