Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Travels in the West Bank

Route 6 takes on a familiar hue when you have been up and down it a few times. It was obvious on the map which road we were supposed to take, but actually finding it was a different matter. Maybe a symbol of how difficult it is to access the West Bank from Israel because of the ‘Wall’. The ‘wall’ is sometimes a fence, and sometimes a wall, but always excludes. Before the wall was erected, thousands of people from the West Bank were able to go into Israel every day for employment, but with the wall, numbers have been cut to a tiny dribble, and always with the uncertainty of whether your work permit will be removed. It was ironic that we were making this journey at the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

We were making for Jayous, where the Church of Scotland Guild is supporting a crèche, which allows mothers the opportunity to have time to work whilst their children are cared for. Jayous is termed a village, but was far bigger than I imagined. After visiting the crèche, we experienced Palestinian hospitality with a wonderful lunch.

After lunch, we were taken down near the checkpoint which is the only way through the ‘wall’ for inhabitants of Jayous, so they can have access to their some of their fields and olive groves. An Israeli jeep was heard approaching (people develop a keen sense of hearing), so we had to retreat back to the village. There is a group of EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniement Programme in Palestine and Israel)volunteers at Jayous. This is a World Council of Churches scheme, whereby volunteers from all over the world (the four we met were from South Africa, Sweden, England and Norway) spend 3 months, accompanying people to the checkpoint and observing, helping to minimise any abuses. The EAPPI volunteers are also a symbol of the World Church standing with the Palestinian people. We sat down with the volunteers for a cup of tea, but almost immediately there was the sound of Israeli jeeps roaring through the town - and then a shot is fired... I think it was just into the air, but it destroys the peace.

It is difficult for me to explain what I have seen to my Jewish friends in Tiberias. Some refuse point blank to go into any conversation about politics, because they know it will prove divisive. Others struggle to justify, saying that the wall has stopped the suicide bombings, which had created such fear among the Israeli population. However, for the people of Jayous, they were unanimous over lunch that they looked forward to a day when everyone would live together peacefully in one state (but who would have the power?). ‘And the lion will lie down with the lamb...’ ?

The name Nablus conjured up to me pictures of the Intifada, and it was with some trepidation that I set off to join friends from Jerusalem, especially as we would drive in cars with Israeli number plate. My fears proved groundless, as it seemed the easiest thing in the world to get there. Interestingly, there were two Israeli women standing at the checkpoint into the city, monitoring any possible abuses – it was good to see. We joined Sheena Boyle from Prestwick, who is involved with a charity, Children of Amal, which seeks to use music therapy with the children in the refugee camps, who are often traumatised by curfews or by the security forces blowing up houses in search of militants.
We were in Balata Refugee camp, which has 30,000 people living in it and is in fact one of the most densely populated places on the planet. The children took it in turns to play the various musical instruments and also to conduct. Then at one point some music was played (In fact, it was ‘Out of Africa’) and the children had to let their imagination run riot. This has apparently led in the past to quite harrowing accounts, but on this occasion they seemed to imagine trips to far away, beautiful countries which. in its own way, was quite sad.

The following day I had been invited out in the evening for a Shabbat meal by Lavi, who works at the hotel and who lives with his wife in a caravan by the lake. It was quite a bohemian setting and a thrill to listen to 5 young Israelis talk and put the world to right. I felt enormously privileged to be part of the gathering. Yet, such a different world from Balata camp.

1 comment:

  1. It will take quite a while till people will feel comfortable enough to talk about these things. Once your relationships in other contexts (eg work) are more established people will feel freer to discuss "the Matzav". In the meantime whatever you say will be too much, not enough or simply ignored. Same goes for the Shoah/Holocaust. Patientzia! Margaret of the sea of Galilee