On January 7, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that the International Criminal Court (ICC) would be welcoming a new member soon – Palestine. On April 1, 2015, Palestinians will be able to pursue, and be subject to, war-crime charges.
Membership in the ICC has been perceived, more importantly, as a stepping stone to acquiring statehood for Palestine, a bid the UN Security Council has so far rejected.
But behind this political maneuvering are the regular people who live there – in Jerusalem, in Ramallah, in the West Bank. Many people, and not always the ones you might expect, are working for reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, as Christian Courier’s staff member found as she journeyed through these conflict-ridden lands.
Here are the stories of the people she met.
–Angela Reitsma Bick, Editor
The West Bank is divided into three areas. The largest, taking up nearly 62 percent, is known as Area C. This area is under Israeli administrative and military control. It is the area most affected by increased settlements and outposts. In Area C of the South Hebron Hills (SHH) I found both despair and hope.
The SHH has many small Bedouin villages. The people make their living shepherding and farming, mostly barley. It is now January. Most of the lambs have weaned and the women in the villages milk the sheep and make cheese, yogurt and butter.
But in this peaceful setting, there is uncertainty. The Bedouin villages here are under demolition orders, and settlements and outposts represent more confiscated land.
The Israeli narrative calls this land “disputed.” The international community calls it the “occupied Palestinian territory” (oPt).
I arrived in the Bedouin community of Um la Kher shortly after coming to the West Bank. A home had been demolished along with the village tabon – a community oven for baking bread – by the Israeli military. Yet I arrived to a beehive of activity. Internationals, including a fellow Canadian, were there to help with the cleanup. To my surprise, there were also Israelis.
The Israelis coming here belong to an organization called Ta’ayush, which is Arabic for “living together.” Their website explains their goals.
We – Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians – live surrounded by walls and barbed wire: the walls of segregation, racism and discrimination between Jews and Arabs within Israel; the walls of Apartheid, closure and siege encircling the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. . . . Together we strive for a future of equality, justice and peace through concrete, daily, non-violent actions of solidarity to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve full civil equality for all.
Over the next three months, I met Israelis coming every Saturday to stand in solidarity with Palestinians. I spoke at length to several people belonging to Ta’ayush. I wanted to understand the Israeli narrative and mindset.
I asked what their friends and neighbours say about them coming here. I was told that most Israelis do not know what goes on in the West Bank and, like most of us, they are concerned only with their own lives. A man called Danny put it this way: “They close their eyes and ears.”
Another man, who did not want his name used, told us about the Israeli education system. Israelis are taught that they were “a people without a land going to a land without people.”
They do not learn about the Nakba (the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homes). Palestinians are simply Arabs who came from Syria and Lebanon. And the maps in school show this all to be Israel – no green line.
Israeli Eyal Shani, when helping with the cleanup at Um la Kher, said “I think the only solution is peace. When houses are being demolished, it destroys the heart. I am here for my own sake, and for my children’s sake, and to show that not all Israelis are dinosaurs. . . . When children see that their home destroyed before their eyes, it does something with them. Soon they’re teenagers. What happens to them then?”
We also met members of Machsom Watch while standing at the Meitar checkpoint. This is an activist group made up of women who monitor the checkpoints, agricultural gates and separation fences. One of their tasks is to make sure the checkpoints are open on time and that farmers can get through agricultural gates to their land and children can get to school. Hanna Barag, an 80-year-old activist, told me that, “The soldiers are teenagers and we all know teenagers have no brains. They like to sleep in. They do not care if people need to work or go to school. So we constantly have to make sure they do their job.”
Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR)
This Israeli organization is dedicated to human rights both in Israel and the oPt. Jews, they believe, should protest against injustice, since we all are created in God’s image. RHR “give expression to the traditional Jewish responsibility for the safety and welfare of the stranger, the different and the weak, the convert, the widow and the orphan” (rhr.org).
RHR provide free legal aid for those who have demolition orders on their structures or are denied access to their land. Such was the case in a village that I recently visited. A farmer finally had a court order granting him access to land that he had not been able to plough for the last 10 years.
RHR also brings hundreds of volunteers to work side-by-side in solidarity with Palestinian farmers during the Olive Harvest. Their presence provides protection against possible settler harassment so that farmers can pick their olives in safety.
I met Israelis from many other groups, all working towards peace. Breaking the Silence is an organization made up of ex-Israeli soldiers telling their stories of working in the oPt. They want to encourage debate about the reality of controlling a population and what it does to them as human beings – both as occupiers and the occupied.
Women in Black have for 26 years stood at a corner in Jerusalem with signs the shape of a hand reading “End the Occupation.” The same hour, every Friday, no matter the weather, they non-violently demonstrate their opposition to the occupation.
The final group I learned of is called Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology centre with Friends of Sabeel chapters all over the world. Their vision in part reads: “Our faith teaches that following in the footsteps of Christ means standing for the oppressed, working for justice and seeking peace-building opportunities, and it challenges us to empower local Christians.”
Friends of Sabeel arrange tours to bring internationals to visit and see first-hand the reality of Palestinian life and the impact of the occupation and then to advocate for justice, peace and reconciliation.
After 60 years, is there real hope for an end to the occupation? Perhaps it will come through the work done by these peace activists and the internationals coming here to witness and advocate. And someday, Jews, Arabs, Palestinian Christians and Muslims will live as brothers and sisters – image bearers of a just and loving God.
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