Saturday, January 01, 2005

Israelis & Palestinians protest together at Jayyous

I spent the summer of 2003 with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), in the village of Jayyous. In this village the Israeli Security Fence cuts the farmers off from most of their land.

When it was announced earlier this week that a protest rally was to be held in Jayyous on New Year’s Eve, I felt sad that the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Hebron was too stretched to release me to take part. However the team caucused (my American colleagues’ word) in my absence and told me to go to Jayyous as their representative. Tom Fox, an American Quaker from the CPT team in Baghdad, who had come to Hebron for a rest (!) joined me on the long journey to Jayyous.

We arrived on the evening of 30th December at the EAPPI house in Jayyous whereI stayed in 2003, and the ecumenical accompaniers (EAs) readily offered usfood, bedding and – so unlike Hebron – warmth and a shower. One of the EAs turned out to be a Friend from Somerset, and the resulting critical mass of Quakers enabled us to hold our own meeting for worship under a vine and next to the fig tree. In the village shop and streets I was greeted warmly by old friends. Farmers in whose fields I used to sleep were especially welcoming. But sadly their situation has grown worse since I left.

The illegal Israeli settlement of Zufin on Palestinian land close to the Green Line (the Israel-Palestine border) is about to build over a thousand new homes on fields, owned by Jayyous farmers, between the Fence and the Green Line. The settlers claim to have bought the land, and have already bulldozed hundreds of olive trees. The villagers deny that their fields were sold, and certainly Turek Salim, the owner of the olive trees, is heartbroken and would never knowingly have parted with his land. Indeed he would not have been granted his permit to pass daily through the Gate in the Security Fence if he had not satisfied the Israeli authorities that he was the owner of the land. A legal appeal has been launched.

The rally was a joint action involving the villagers and Israeli peace groups.The Israelis approached the fields from the West, and defied police warnings by planting olive saplings on the bulldozed land. They then moved eastwards towards the Gate in the Security Fence. Meanwhile the farmers emerged fromtheir Friday worship in the village mosque. Tom and I walked with them downthe track from the village to the Gate. We were confronted by dozens of armedIsraeli soldiers, who prevented us from any contact with the Israeli demonstrators.

The villagers had been at great pains to keep their protest nonviolent. The “shebab” (youngsters) were asked to hold back. We “internationals”, EAPPI, CPT and mostly International Solidarity Movement (ISM) were asked to keep ahead. Palestinian rallies usually end with stone-throwing, tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests, and as we came face-to-face with the Israeli troops (see attached photograph) I confess I feared the worst. But this time no stones were thrown and the rally ended peacefully.

I was disappointed that the soldiers prevented protestors on opposite sides ofthe fence from meeting, but my predominant feeling was one of hope. The twin demonstrations had given the lie to the notion that Israelis and Palestinians cannot work together. The Israelis had shown, both symbolically and practically, their opposition to the Fence and the Occupation. The Palestinians had shown restraint in the face of army provocation. We hear of Palestinians starting to advocate nonviolent resistance on Gandhian lines. Will the little village which I love be in the forefront? This is my prayer.

Meanwhile we must be alert to the significance of the Zufin expansion. This isthe first major Israeli annexation of land between the Green Line and theFence. Unless this can be stopped in Jayyous it will surely happen elsewhere, creating fresh waves of resentment and violence. Please make this known as widely as you can, not only for the families in Jayyous but also for the sake of peace and justice in the Holy Land.

Israeli troops at Jayyous Posted by Hello


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