Good evening from Upper Yanoun near the Jordan Valley. After arriving in Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning the 16th, I passed through passport control without any problems and was issued a 3-month visa. I was met by a driver who drove me into downtown Jerusalem, pointing out the Separation Barrier, Israeli settlements and Palestinian neighbourhoods along the way. It was a major reality check !!
I checked into the Capitol Hotel and met a number of other new Ecumenical Accompaniers from Group 48. We were then treated to a brisk tour of Old Jerusalem by Group 47 Jerusalem team members George (USA) and Olli (Finland), along with key logistical locations for buses, the post office and the traffic circle where the Women in Black, Israeli peace activists, hold their Friday demonstrations.
On Wednesday the 17th, the Jerusalem EAPPI team delivered the first phase of orientation and then took us for a briefing with the EAPPI the UN Office of the Commissioner of Humanitarian Affairs – an analysis of the occupation over time. In the afternoon, members of the seven Group 47 teams presented the priorities for each of the placements. Steve Berube, sent by the United Church of Canada, did a great job on the issues in Bethlehem and nearby villages, and had gifts for each of the incoming Bethlehem team. It was a class act. We then gathered up our new EAPPI vests and dashed to catch a bus to our placement.
The Yanoun team (Adam (UK); Cecilia (Norway); Sophia (Switzerland); Therese (Sweden), and I ), guided by John (UK) from Group 47 passed through the harshness of the Qalandia Checkpoint and the chaos it creates for those crossing into the West Bank into Ramallah. We changed transport and continued on to Za’tara where our driver Ghassan picked us up and drove into Upper Yanoun. There we met outgoing team members Annick (Switzerland); Diego (Ecuador); Mina (Sweden); and Tora (Norway). Of note is that three of our members are Arabic speakers.
Today, Thursday the 18th was filled with adventure. Firstly we traveled to the boys secondary school in As Sawiyya where the military continue to harass students. The principal brought an 11-year old student to meet us with a horrible story. Yesterday the military arrived as his home, automatic weapons drawn and stormed into his home. He related that his mother tried to stop them and was shoved to the floor. He was taken away and held in Ramallah for six hours before being released. No reasons have been given for his apprehension. He was still badly shaken when we met him this morning.
We next traveled to the Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus where we met with the coordinator of the Women’s Program Centre. This camp was created to hold Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and now numbers 10,000 people, including children and grandchildren of the original refugees. The centre provides economic, health, nutrition, and physical education training to women in the camp, and has received funding from France, Spain, Germany, Great Britain and Canada (CIDA). Refugees who live here are registered with the UN and lose their benefits if they leave the camp.
After lunch and a visit to the Old Nablus market (souk), full of wonderful smells, spices, fabrics, food of many types and household items, we returned to Yanoun for our first walk from Upper to Lower Yanoun. While on the walk we were met by the military traveling along a road previously closed and opened in February. It was clear that they wanted us to turn back, as we were approaching lands taken illegally from the farmers of Yanoun by the Itamar Settlement. It is hard to understand how the land ownership and livelihoods of Palestinian farmers can be so drastically affected by those operating outside of the law.
We also wondered how the military knew that we were on our walk and intercepted us. Not surprising, the Itamar Settlement, several illegal outposts and the military camp on HIll 777 look down on the two parts of Yanoun and the connecting road.
But that’s the reality of life in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Tomorrow, Friday the 18th will see us doing the first of two walks from Upper to Lower Yanoun and back and then visits to key contacts in the Jordan Valley.