A few months ago, I got back home to Edinburgh after a three month stint as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI programme in the occupied West Bank. Over autumn 2018 I was living with three other ‘internationals’ in a tiny village just south of Nablus. We spent our days visiting Palestinian communities, reporting on human rights abuses and acting as protective presence to help Palestinian families go about their lives under occupation.
I met so many wonderful people who asked me to tell their stories back home. One I’ll never forget is Yara (not her real name). Yara is 54, with 6 children, and has lived in the same village all her life except for two years from 2002. Then all the villagers were forced to flee after threats from the Israeli settlers who live in an illegal settlement outpost a few yards further up the hill.
“The evacuation was very difficult and sad for everyone,” she told me. “We went to the next town to live with my husband’s family. We were very cramped and the children were unhappy. But we couldn’t stay here. My children were very small then. Every Saturday the settlers came down on horses with dogs. They would point their guns in the doorway of our house where my children were watching. They would stone the windows. Their dogs ate our chickens and they would set our sheep loose on the hill.”
The family came back home once an international presence had been established to protect the villagers. “My children still remember those days. If the [Israeli] army or settlers came, everyone was afraid. But now that has changed because they see international people coming to help. They are not afraid anymore.
“Life here now is good – for me anyway. We have had no problems with the settlers since March last year. I have my goats and sheep, chickens and bees. We still have 30 olive trees in our field – the rest are up the mountain behind the settlement. We can’t reach those ones most days because the settlers will come. But we can be free here and the village families work together to run small businesses.”
Yara worries about the future, though.
“In the future only old women and old men will stay here. There are no jobs here and we cannot sell our produce. We cannot build in the village so our children have to move to the town when they get married.”
This situation exists because this area is under military rule and building permits are rarely granted to Palestinians by the Israeli administration.
As I travel around Scotland now, telling Yara’s story as she asked, it is hard not to worry about her future, too. But we can all contribute to creating the conditions for peace. Please help me repay the debt of hospitality I owe Yara and so many others, by reading the blogs of Ecumenical Accompaniers working in the West Bank today and taking whatever action you can.