“Here I stand: I can do no otherwise. God help me. Amen!”
The above quote is from the namesake of my given religious affiliation, Martin Luther. It is attributed to him as his closing statement at the end of his apology (think the Greek root word “apologia”; his defense speech) speech at the Diet of Worms in Germany, 1521. This is a fitting opening for this post, given how I spent this past Friday and Saturday.
Some information on EAPPI
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is quite accurately summarized by the title of their organization. It is a group of clearly-marked Christian internationals, and they seek to accomplish the following (the mission statement of purpose is an excellent explanation):
>>The mission of the EAPPI is to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and to carry out concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation. Participants in the programme monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy and, in general, stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation. <<
Today, the EAPPI is involved in a variety of areas in Israel and Palestine. They are not the Christian Peacemakers Teams, meaning they will never ever directly interfere or even get particularly close to settlers who have come into the areas the EAPPI is there to watch. They have a chain of reporting to do in the case of problems, which revolves around contacting the local mayor, then the local rabbis affiliated with the closest settlements (who, in some cases, I am glad to report, actually do attempt to stop the violent tendencies of the settlers), followed by the local IDF command (who arrive but almost never do anything to stop the violence perpetrated by settlers), and finally the EAPPI head offices. They live in and among the communities which need the protection, in teams of 3 or 4 for three months at a time, and report weekly to various international organizations. It is a wonderful thing, albeit frustrating for the EAPPI folks on the ground – they can tell the whole world what happens before them, but are personally unable to do anything to stop it – because if they interfere, the settlers will indeed leave (they cannot afford to hurt internationals), but will take it out on the innocent Arab people further.
Some Background Details on the Area Around Yanoun
Yanoun is a small village about 12 kilometers south of Nablus, one of the major Palestinian cities of the north. Located within sight of the border with Jordan, and overlooking the Jordan River Valley, this village of around 150 people is nestled in a small valley with beautiful mountains and hills all around it. Unfortunately, there is an illegal Jewish settlement called Itamar located on the edges of the hills around Yanoun. The settlers have a particular point of view:
>>Interestingly enough, not many Jews have come to resettle this Land. It is still a hidden place to most. In all Gav Hahar there are no more than 500 families. They are spread upon these ancient mountains, Harey Kedem, sparsely.<<
The above quote, drawn from the website of the Itamar Settlement which is slowly encircling and choking off the Palestinian lands with verbal and physical threats, is telling. One reads what they have to say as though 1) there are no other people there (false); and 2) Jewish people need to settle the entirety of “Eretz Israel,” the entirety of the current State of Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza (a fundamentalist opinion at odds with the UN, the USA, the EU, and a whole slew of other groups in the world). Unfortunately, as happens in some/many (as a matter of opinion) places in Areas B and C, settlers have this preconception that the West Bank really belongs to the Jewish State of Israel and no one else, and hence they will work towards this end by using violence. I wish I could say this was guesswork, but below is a map of the Yanoun village, and the numbered sections are where acts of violence from the settlers towards the peaceful villagers have occurred.
(See the full-sized map in its original form here. There is no copyright information given anywhere on the site, and as I have also seen the original map hanging on the wall of the mayor’s home, I figured I could use this photo as long as I clearly gave credit where it was due.)
Map location 1
Map location 2
Map location 3
Map location 4
Map location 5
Map location 6
Map location 7
Map location 8
My Personal Experiences in the Area
My experiences this weekend involved fulfilling the directives of the organization from the above statement of purpose. Leaving Jerusalem in the early afternoon, I experienced something very odd with the Arabic bus system of Jerusalem – I was refused entry onto the Arabic bus 1 in front of Hadassah hospital. Not really sure of why, but already running late, I ended up taking a cab down to the Damascus Gate to do two vital things. First and foremost, I purchased a kebab pita for breakfast/lunch, and was intensely pleased at having done so. I eventually got on the bus to Ramallah, and was let off near the taxi parking garage in the center of town there. I got into a shared taxi van, and off we went towards the Huwarra checkpoint in the north, where I was told to meet a specific cab driver.
At Huwarra, I indeed met up with Razan, a friend of the EAPPI teams in Yanoun and who always drives their visitors and is able to introduce them to the team’s work due to his excellent English. Early on in my trip, I experienced the reality of Area C full military occupation. The road we were going to take into Yanoun had been blocked by the IDF with large rocks in less than 40 minutes after Razan had last been there, and when I suggested that we get out and move the rocks, he told me that we could not, because if the soldiers were still around, it could be very dangerous. We later saw additional evidence of the IDF’s handiwork – they have slowly but surely closed off all routes to Yanoun and Aqraba over the years. Not just with a gate, though – they bulldoze a ditch into the ground, and then use the dirt to build a mound on the other side of the new hole. The small hill of dirt is usually covered in cement and brought to a steep incline, so that the road is unusable completely.
Arriving in Yanoun, I was dropped off right in front of the International House, where the EAPPI teams live and report from. As per usual, the settlement had erected armed watchtowers and water towers on the tops of the mountains looking down in the valley (in Arabic, Wadi Yanoun, or the Yanoun Valley). I was introduced to the 3 team members I would be working with: Lena, a retired lawyer from Sweden; Elaine, an adult education focused on employees of international organizations; and Johanna, a retired historian and professor from England. Among other things, our weekend conversation included religion: as I found out, Lena is a very spiritual Christian woman who is mostly attracted to singing and in that she finds God; Elaine is sort of Deist/agnostic, who believes in God but doesn’t have the details at present, thank you very much; and Johanna is a Quaker.
After telling me a bit about the place, and giving me a chance to sort of explain a little bit about who I am, we departed for the house next door – the home of the mayor of Yanoun, Rashid. We went inside and sat down on the cushions in his living room, and heard a little bit about his life story. He also told us about the difficulties faced by the villagers – a farming community, the settlers have slowly but surely taken more and more land. They will come down from the hills with weapons drawn, and tell Palestinians that “this rock” or “this tree” is now the new border past which Arabs cannot go. In this way, there is no longer enough grazing land for the animals of the Yanouni farmers. They are forced to spend some of what little money they have in order to buy feed for the animals from Nablus, which was heartbreaking to hear about. His seemingly identical daughters were not told to do so, but they brought us freshly-made coffee, and were very polite. In between discussing the situation in Yanoun, I managed to get into a running argument with Lena (a Swedish lawyer, you’ll recall) about copyright law and why (in my opinion) it is morally unjustifiable for speeches and other publicly-vital knowledge… heck, lets say all knowledge to not be freely available to all people. Quite the odd place to argue such things, but I think I made progress in convincing her of my side of the debate 🙂
After an extended stay at Rashid’s, we departed on foot for the long hike over to Lower Yanoun. We met with the extended family of a man named Josef, who had to leave on his tractor to get some work done just as we arrived. Josef lives in a small walled-in compound of several houses, each owned by a brother of his. Josef’s father Khader is the oldest man in the community, said to be 130 by the locals, but probably closer to 100 years of age. We met all of the children, and sat and spoke with some of them and Josef’s brother Abu Mohammed. The conversation was focused partially on how safe conditions seemed to be recently (no problems for over two months with the settlers there), and then other small talk. Eventually, the older kids of the combined families got their English class books and were very proud to recite lessons and sentences to us (they were pretty good, as it were). Our visit to the homes there ended with the older kids gathering around to sing a Palestinian national song, about hoping to one day return to their land. Given that their land was around them and being stolen by armed settlers, it was a fitting choice it seems. I recorded them:
On the second day, I learned more about EAPPI and the people I was working with, and things got exciting early in the day. There was a settler or two or three (it was high up on the hill and thus difficult to see) regarding some Yanouni people shepherding their flocks. “Regarding” through the scopes of their rifles. As is their purview, the EAPPI members and I quickly went out to be near the villagers and ready to call the list of organizations prescribed, as well as to help the villagers. Not a pleasant feeling to have people on the top of a hill with guns pointed at you, to say the least. Thankfully, our presence or perhaps some other factor persuaded them to leave and the 2 month streak of peace at Yanoun continued.
We then walked back towards Upper Yanoun, and visited the home of Um Hani, to go see how they were doing as well as to purchase some freshly dried almonds. The matron of the household is not fluent in English but was a lovely hostess – serving us almonds and Arabic-style (read: overly sweet) tea. Her daughter-in-law, Fayide, was our hostess for most of our stay, and her very young son was absolutely adorable. He had all of us laughing the entire time we were there, mostly because he couldn’t decide if he liked the presence of us visitors, or didn’t like us. We returned to the International House, and Lena persuaded me to try some sheep’s milk… which was a MASSIVE mistake. I am told that the look on my face was priceless… and while it is nice to know that I brought smiles to the faces of the EAPPI people, I strongly caution people against trying it in the West Bank, to put it very politely.
All of that said, my weekend at Yanoun was a positive experience – it was difficult to see what the inhabitants there are still forced to live through, but the world is slowly starting to realize that the settlers need to be stopped and now. The next visitors to Yanoun after I left? German political advisers, gathering additional evidence to back their recent public call to stop Israeli settlements.
I hope you enjoy the photographs I took: although the reality of the situation in Yanoun is difficult to accept, the area was breathtakingly beautiful.