The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is an initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC). It was established to provide a protective presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (except in Gaza) and to contribute Checkpoint data and other information to research done by organisations, particularly the United Nations, in order to regularly update publications on the situation in the Middle East.
An Ecumenical Accompanier (or an EA – as we are also called) provides a protective presence at Checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank and also at schools. At various demonstrations, EAs stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and with all those who are working towards ending the Occupation of the Palestinian Territory and striving towards a just and lasting peace in Palestine and Israel. At the regular Friday ‘Women in Black’ Demonstrations, EAs are allowed to silently participate by holding a poster, which simply states: “Stop the Occupation”. All other demonstrations are monitored but our aim is to stay safe.
The photo depicts an EA in the official EAPPI vest. On the back of the vest, as seen in the photo posted on the blog separately, the EAPPI logo and the name, in large letters, immediately identifies the EA. (We are well known in many areas.) On the front of the vest, there is a small logo on the left shoulder and several pockets – seven to be exact. (See www.eappi.org for more information about this WCC Programme.)
What does an EA carry in these seven pockets of the vest?
The security checks are regular – both specific and random – nobody may be without their identification papers at any time in case they are stopped and asked to produce these – the military police has absolute power, especially at checkpoints.
- Cell phone
We stay in regular contact with one another, the Jerusalem EAPPI Office and with our local contacts, who inform us of any events where our presence is required. An EA’s phone is always on and always charged.
- EAPPI office and group 45 phone list
We keep the latest phone list in our pockets, in case of an emergency or when we have to pass on urgent information.
As EAs we have to find our own way around very quickly and good maps are, therefore, essential to help us familiarise ourselves with our areas.
EAs tell the stories of the people in this land. Photos and video clips often tell a story very much better than words can. EAs are careful not to violate rules and regulations but, at times, we endeavour to take photographs of injustices as they are taking place in order to assist with evidence in any court cases that might arise.
Apart from the obvious reasons that any EA would need money for (transport, food, etc.) we carry enough money on us in case of an emergency. We need to be able to cover the emergency costs at a clinic or at a hospital. EAs, therefore, carry at least NIS 300 with them at all times.
- Transport log book
EAs are given a travel allowance and we need to keep a record of every trip we go on for the purposes of EAPPI. On our days off, we are given a flat rate of NIS 30 towards our travel costs for the 3 days. What an EA does not use out of the travel allowance is paid back to EAPPI at the end of the term.
Although we are now entering the autumnal season, we are still in the desert and the days are still very hot. Water is an essential item wherever we go. Some EAs carry a 2 litre bottle of water with them but I have a small one that fits into one of my pockets and when passing a water fountain, I top it up.
- Business Cards
All EAs are provided with business cards. We are encouraged to make contact with as many people and organisations as possible. These cards are especially valuable during our church visits – we need the churches to know about the EAPPI Programme and that they can count on our support.
- EAPPI information leaflets in Arabic
Many people will stop and talk to an EA. They are often curious about what we are doing and so to have leaflets in Arabic (especially as most of us do not speak it) is a very helpful tool.
We live in an EAPPI house, which is called a Placement Home, and each EA has a set of keys to the house. EAs often have appointments at different times and all need to have access to their homes for these three months. We also carry our suitcase keys with us, especially if we lock away any valuables.
No EA can go anywhere without a notebook. There is so much to learn and, very often, the names of people and organisations are not easy to remember (or to spell). Noting information down is essential in order to follow up on it later. We can also write down appointments and reminders to ourselves.
A pen is an essential tool and all EAs carry at least one with them at all times.
EAs are often out for many hours and a supply of tissues in one’s pocket is essential if or when the need arises to use a public toilet – that is apart from their usual use!
- Sun-block stick and Lip-Ice
The sun is hot and at some demonstrations there is no shade. Being prepared is better than getting sunburnt.
- Scarf (for women)
At most places female internationals (EAs) are welcome without their heads being covered. However, when entering a mosque a woman will cover her head.
A fabric sun-hat is a valuable item to have in one’s pocket. EAs walk long distances – often in the middle of the day.
- Chewing gum
Not everyone likes to chew gum but when one is hot and there is not much water available, chewing gum can relieve one’s thirst for a while.
- Head-ache tablets
These are optional but it might prove to be a good idea to squeeze some into a corner of one of the pockets of the vest.
- Small gifts
EAs meet people all the time and visiting a Palestinian home might come as a surprise. It is good not to be caught unprepared – I carry small beaded bracelets in one of my pockets and it has been wonderful to have them with me to give to the hosts in response to the gracious hospitality that has been extended to me.
Bedouins are nomadic people, who choose to live in tent-like structures. In times gone by, many Bedouins were wealthy people, owners of many camels and donkeys. They also used to have large flocks of sheep and many goats. This unfortunately is no longer the case. Khan Al Ahmar is a Bedouin Village, situated seventeen kilometres outside of Jerusalem on the Jericho Road.
The Jahalin Bedouins were originally from the Negev Desert but after the Second World War and the establishment of the State of Israel, the Bedouins were forced to flee from the Negev in 1951. Many of their men were killed and others were forced into serving in the Israeli Defence Force, their livestock was confiscated or stolen from them and their Bedouin Camps were burnt and/or destroyed by other means.
After trying to find a suitable place to live, they finally settled next to the Jericho Road outside Jerusalem. According to the Israeli Government, they are there illegally. The Israeli Government has made some attempts to relocate them but those options are unacceptable to them – firstly, they would have to live in a city environment (the site chosen for them is actually a garbage dump at the moment) and secondly, they would have to give up their animals. Their choice of lifestyle does not appear to be considered by the Israeli Government. They have nowhere else to go.
One of the many challenges, facing Bedouin people, is that of the education of their children. Their clan leaders recognise that the children need formal education and they are doing everything in their power to ensure that their children go to school. Two of us (Ecumenical Accompaniers from East Jerusalem) went to interview some of the leaders in the Khan Al Ahmar Bedouin Village, in order to hear their stories.
No structure is permitted where this Bedouin Village is situated. Building permits are unobtainable and so the construction of their “mud and tyre school” was undertaken illegally. The International Funders were aware of this but the plight of the children and the need of the village weighed heavier than the legal requirements of the Israeli Government.
The traditional welcome at a Bedouin Village is very important. First, guests are received at the common tent near the entrance to the village and there traditional tea is served and small talk takes place. Only after that could we begin our interviews. Our conversation began informally with Abu Khamis, their spokesperson, asking him what the community felt about the Freedom Theatre Group, which toured the country and performed at the school at the end of September 2012. He agreed with us that the drama had not been appropriate for the children. The adults appreciated it because they could understand it better. The drama group had interviewed people from the Bedouin Village, who were in the audience, and then acted out their story in mime. Abu Khamis indicated that they also felt that the informal drumming session before the time was a good way of including some of the children.
Once we moved to the school, Firas (our interpreter) spoke to one of the community leaders who told him that on the 8th October a Settler Security 4×4 vehicle came down into their village and drove around there for a while. Nobody knew what they were looking for but the villagers do not like it that they invade their village without warning. The Settler Security Officers often come and take photographs in the villages and the Bedouins believe they report on their activities in the villages to the Israelis.
We were then introduced to the Principal or Head-Teacher, Ms Halimeh Al Zahyka. She explained that there are nine teachers, two administrators and one principal – twelve members of staff in all. In response to our question as to what some of their major challenges are, over and above the demolition order that hangs over the school, she said the poor facilities at the school and the acute lack of resources.
Some of the basics are now in place but several classrooms still do not have walls or windows. The ‘courtyard’ between the classrooms is a rocky patch of earth – dusty in hot and windy weather and muddy in cold and wet conditions.
The teachers find it difficult to teach at this school but one teacher told us that her aim is to teach and that she will continue to do just that. In response to a question about particularly bright children, the teacher said she does everything in her power to encourage those children to study – “even if this school is demolished” she said, “we shall ensure that those children continue to study”.
Teachers share transport and it takes them approximately 30 minutes to get to the school from Al ‘Eizariya – an area where other displaced Bedouins were moved to. This is where most of the teachers live. What makes it particularly uncomfortable for them, is that there is no access road to the freeway for the Bedouin Villages. It is extremely dangerous to cross the freeway when traffic is heavy.
There are approximately 90 children enrolled at the school and about 50% are girls. This is remarkable in itself because since this school opened, the Bedouin girls have access to education. Before the school was built, only the boys would walk almost 20 Kms to Jericho to school, but girls were not allowed to go because it was too dangerous. Five children did die by being hit by a car on the freeway, either on their way to or from school.
Although these 90 Bedouin children do have access to education at present, it is in jeopardy because of a demolition order hanging over their school. All building is restricted in the West Bank. Even if they did apply for a building permit, they would not be granted one because, according to the Israeli Government, these Bedouin Villages are illegal. Therefore, at any time the situation here at the Khan Al Ahmar School might change and the anxiety causes insecurity among the teachers and the villagers.
I, Jenette Louisa Sprong, work for the South African Council of Churches as an Ecumenical Accompanier, serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this e-mail are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, the South African Council of Churches or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here, or place it on a website, please first contact firstname.lastname@example.org or the EAPPI Communications & Advocacy Officer (email@example.com) for permission. Thank you.