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Reports from Jenny Derbyshire

Jenny Derbyshire, from Enniskerry, is currently working as a human rights observer in the West Bank with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which is run by the World Council of Churches. She is based in Bethlehem and writes from there:

Palm Sunday in Jerusalem

Palm Sunday is an exciting day for the Christians who gather for Easter in Jerusalem. On this day the Roman Catholic churches hold a procession from the Franciscan church at Bethphage, near the top of the Mount of Olives, to the church of St Ann at Bethsaida in the Old City. Bethphage is where Jesus is said to have started his journey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when he was celebrated by a crowd of supporters and well-wishers, waving palms in salutation. It’s a steep climb, and for an hour or so people of all ages and nationalities could be seen walking slowly up the Mount of Olives. Many also came in tour buses – all heading for Bethphage.
At the church, the procession started with prayers, and then the assembled people - the police estimate is 25,000 - began to make their way in a long orderly line, down the Mount of Olives. There were church groups from India, the Philippines, the US, Jamaica, Italy, and many others. There were also many individuals, from all over the world, who had come to join this celebration. It was full of colour and song, banners, dancing, and scout bands, on a warm sunny day with a breeze - perfect for the celebration.
But it was more than this international gathering. For Palestinian Christians, this was an emotional celebration of the opportunity to be in their capital city, their religious centre, at Easter. It’s a significant event – the oldest Christian community in the world having the rare opportunity to be in Jerusalem. Their banners said it as they walked together, one after the other: The Parish of Jenin, Palestine; the Parish of Nablus, Palestine; the Parish of Beit Jala, Palestine; the Parish of Beirzeit, Ramallah, Palestine; the Parish of Jerusalem, Palestine.
Before the six-day war in 1967, East Jerusalem was part of the West Bank. In 1967 Israel occupied and then, in 1980, ‘annexed’ East Jerusalem, declaring Jerusalem the one undivided capital city of Israel. This is against international law and is not recognised by the international community.
To most of the world and to Palestinians it is still their capital city. However, to gain access to East Jerusalem, Palestinians from the West Bank have to apply for permits, such as work permits, medical permits - to visit one of the key Palestinian hospitals, which are in East Jerusalem - and permits to visit family members. They also need religious permits - for example, to take part in the Easter celebrations. This includes the Christians from Bethlehem, which is only 10 kilometres from Jerusalem.
The banners were a clear and powerful statement of the presence of the Christian communities of Palestine, and their entitlement to be in their capital city and to visit their holy sites. They sang, laughed, prayed and held their banners high as they walked the winding ancient road down the Mount of Olives, past the Garden of Gethsemane, up to the walls of the Old City, and in the most emotional moment of all, in through Lion’s Gate, into the Old City and the church of St Ann.
Some of the banners had an additional note pasted across them with the words, ‘Entry Denied.’ Many of these groups were missing family members for this celebration. I spoke to one woman who told me her 15 year-old son had not been allowed to enter Jerusalem with her. Usually children under 16 are allowed to enter with their parents for the Palm Sunday procession, without the need for their own permit. But on this occasion, for some unexplained reason, her son was not allowed entry by the soldier at the checkpoint on the way into Jerusalem.
Her sister was with her in the procession, but her sister’s husband didn’t get a permit. Our landlord George told us that most of his family had received permits – his wife, his son, his daughters - but he hadn’t. He is 70, a former English teacher; he’s received religious permits before. “Have they suddenly decided I’m a threat?” He laughed at the absurdity of it. But he is frustrated at the treatment.
This year so far, only about 40% of Palestinian Christian applicants received permits to enter Jerusalem at Easter and some were still refused access through the checkpoints. Many Palestinian Christians are leaving the Holy Land, because life is made so difficult by the restrictions imposed by the Israeli military authorities. Under international law, there is a right to freedom of movement, and a right to freedom of religious practice, but at this time this is denied to many Palestinians here


A voice for peace from Sederot,Israel A further report from Jenny Derbyshire.
"When you stop seeing the other as human beings, you stop being human yourself." These are words that have great meaning for Nomika Zion, an Israeli woman our group of Ecumenical Accompaniers met recently, in the town of Sederot in the south west of Israel. She and others read these words together one Holocaust Day, and she realised they had meaning for them in their lives now, in Israel. You may have heard of Sederot – it is the town where many of the rockets from Gaza fall when Hamas starts an attack. It is also the town where they see the Israeli planes going over, to bomb Gaza. All homes in Sederot are now required by the government to have bomb shelters; there is a children's playground with a bomb shelter disguised as a play tunnel. In Gaza, there are few bomb shelters, and they are unlikely to be available for the general population, especially as the supply of building materials is still very limited as a result of the blockade. Other Voice Nomika is one of the founders of Other Voice, an organisation formed five years ago in Sederot. They are determined to build connections with the people of Gaza, and to tell the Israeli government that it is vital to negotiate, rather than to drop bombs. She explained that until the late 1980s, relationships between her town and Gaza were good. Even though she never forgot that there was an occupation and that therefore the relationship was not equal. There was trade and travel between Gaza and Sederot. "But then we (The Israeli authorities) built a fence around Gaza, and the fence became metaphorically and emotionally, a wall," and in 2001, the rockets began. When she first came to live in Sederot, nearly thirty years ago, it was a tolerant town. "But over the years, the people of Sederot, and the people of Israel, became more extreme, and more violent. The calls from Sederot became more and more extreme, for revenge … In my eyes," she says, "what happened to us over the years is that the majority of Israeli society lost the ability to see the other side." 2008 was a very difficult time in Sederot. There had been between ten and sixty rockets every day for six months. Often attacks came just as they were bringing their children to school or playschool: "We had to be alert all the time." Stress was very high, people were exhausted – often, whole families slept in the bunker, to avoid having to get up and go there when the siren went in the middle of the night. And she knew that the same thing – and probably much worse – was happening to the people in Gaza. At this point, a group of twenty people in the town came together to talk about what was happening. "We knew that we had to try to do something, to try to end the cycle of attack and revenge … We felt it was vital to find another way and to establish a connection with the people of Gaza." They adopted the name Other Voice, and they just began to make phone calls to various contacts they had in Gaza: "To show empathy, to be human in a violent situation." Then they began to organise public activities, to encourage different ways to respond to Gaza. This was "a very difficult effort in the mood of the time … For the majority of Israelis, the Palestinians are invisible. They have one collective identity - they are all terrorists … the anonymous 'dark demon', who is so easy to hate." "When we read about the Holocaust," she tells us, "I try to learn from it. We have suffered as victims, we should learn never to do this to others, in such a systematised way. But other people have learned a different lesson." "Our life – my life - has gone from one war to another – plus the occupation. The paradigm is so deep that it seems – this is the way of life here … You can't even talk about peace any more … peace has also become an enemy… We can only talk about 'an agreement'" "The goal of Other Voice, is to make the invisible visible. When you lose your empathy skills you lose part of your humanity." "I never felt protected when I heard the planes going to bomb Gaza" In June 2008, the Israeli government signed a peace agreement with Hamas. For Nomika, "It was the first time for many years that I felt protected by my Government. I never felt protected when I heard the planes going to bomb Gaza." And then six months later, the Israeli army invaded Gaza, "and we realized this was the end of the ceasefire, and we felt desperate. We wrote to the Government, and we begged them to solve it in a non-violent way … but soon after, the Cast Lead war began. It was one of the most traumatic times of my life. "We tried to communicate with our friends in Gaza, and we heard terrible stories. You want to reach out to the people who are supposed to be your enemies … We got a letter from a 14 year old girl whose best friend was killed. She cried out to us, really she screamed – 'Help us! Don't you understand, that we also are human beings' "And at the same time, we had to cope with the Israeli atmosphere – the walls here were shaking from the bombs falling on Gaza, and people came here with big flags, to celebrate the 'music' of these bombs." "We need the international community … to save us from ourselves." After the Cast Lead war, "We got quite a long time of quiet in Sederot, although it was a very difficult time in Gaza. At this time we actually managed to meet people from Gaza. … They had to get two permits, one from the Israeli government, and one from Hamas, and they couldn't tell their own government that they would meet with us. They said they would meet relatives from the West Bank. We had four seminars together; we traveled to Jerusalem together. For some it was their first time out of Gaza. Then we organised a four-day conference together." Now, again, because there has been another war, it is not possible for them to meet - there are no permits - and it's very hard to communicate. But they keep trying. During the recent bombing, in November 2012, Other Voice wrote again to the government, asking them to negotiate, rather than send bombs into Gaza. Nomika is very clear that they need the international community to play a role here. "The international community must force Israel and Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, to move forward … in some ways, to save us from ourselves. "It's not only about fear, it's about hope."
December 2012
Last winter Jenny spent three months working with the programme in Jerusalem. This time she is based in Bethlehem and writes here about the Tent of Nations, an initiative from a Palestinian Christian family:
Tent of Nations: a story of non-violent resistance
On a hilltop near Bethlehem Daoud Nassar is continuing to farm the land his grandfather bought in Ottoman times, in 1916, and registered in the 1920s. His family has lived here continually since then and today his grandfather's foresight in registering the land has become very important, as Israel is very keen to take over this hilltop farm and to build another settlement here. It is good land, in a strategic position, near Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It is surrounded, on all the other hilltops, by Israeli settlements, where Israelis have taken over Palestinian land. This is illegal under international law (Article 49, 4th Geneva Convention).
Here, just outside the City of Bethlehem, we are in the West Bank, the area agreed in the Oslo Accords, with the Gaza strip, to be the State of Palestine.
But the West Bank is still under Israeli military rule and divided into areas of control: A, B and C. Bethlehem City is in Area A, under Palestinian Authority control, as are all the main Palestinian cities except East Jerusalem. In Area B is there is shared control. Area C, which covers 62% of the land in the West Bank, is under Israeli control. And this is where the settlements are.
Daoud's farm land is in Area C. He has been served with many eviction notices and demolition orders, which he appeals repeatedly. There have also been offers from the Israeli authorities to buy the land, but he is not to be moved: "We need our people to stand up for their rights," he says to us. "Our land is our mother, and our mother is not for sale."
Daoud's family is Christian and this is another part of his story. Many Christians are leaving the country but Daoud is determined to stay. He has named his farm 'The Tent of Nations'. At the entrance is a notice that says in several languages "We refuse to be enemies". For him, staying here and continuing to farm is an act of non-violent resistance: "As Christians, non-violent actions are at the core of our beliefs. It is part of our theology as Palestinian Christians."
Each summer the family organise summer camps here for Palestinian children from the Bethlehem area, including the refugee camps. They want the children to discover their talents, their creativity, to be positive about their lives and their future. Jihan, Daoud's wife, organises a women's education and training group in the nearby village. At harvest time they bring in international volunteers to help harvest almonds, figs, olives and grapes. It is vital that there is international knowledge and presence - for protection. Settlers often attack and destroy the crops at harvest time to undermine the farm's viability.
Daoud continues to run his farm and his project, but under difficult conditions. Because the land is in Area C, even though he has the papers to prove the land is his, they never receive permission to build or develop. They have constructed sheds for hens and goats, but there are demolition orders on these . So as they cannot build overground, they are renovating the caves on the property. He calls this 'creative resistance'. The cave where his father lived in the traditional way until he died in 1976 is now a chapel. Another cave is a meeting room. They are glad to continue to use these traditional dwellings. Daoud says they would like to build a school here – but to build a school you need a building permit – "and that you will never get".
"We will have many challenges, but every tunnel has an end ... What they call Area C is actually the future of Palestine." The Tent of Nations is an inspiring project . We meet many steadfast, inspiring people here - Daoud, Jihan and their family are among them.


December 2011
Last week Jenny Derbyshire, from Enniskerry, travelled to Palestine to work as a human rights monitor for three months.
She will live in a Palestinian town in the West Bank and her work will include duties such as monitoring checkpoints in the separation barrier, where Palestinian men, women and children have to queue for hours in order to go about their daily lives, including going to school, working in their fields or attending hospital. Jenny will report any violations of human rights to the UN and other international bodies. She may also be asked to report on the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli authorities, monitor deliberate pollution of Palestinian water supplies or offer protection to children under arrest.
Jenny recently retired after many years working in adult literacy and community education. In the early 1990s she was co-ordinator of the VTOS pro- gramme run by Bray VEC. Following this she was a fulltime literacy teacher in Shanganagh Castle Detention Centre in Shankill, Co Dublin and when this centre closed she was seconded to work with the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA).
She travels out on November 21 and In Palestine Jenny will be working as part of an international group with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Pro- gramme in Palestine- Israel (EAPPI). This is a World Council of Churches programme which is organised in Ireland and the UK by Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW). As well as providing protection, the programme offers international support for Palestinian and Israeli peace groups. A further aim is to develop understanding of the situation in Palestine in order to build a just peace, based on international law.
Jenny is especially aware that she will be living in the occupied Palestinian Territories over Christmas and is particularly concerned to discover what the Christmas period will be like for the Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, who live in the Holy Land. ' When we sing the Christmas carols, I wonder if we realise what is happening in the places we sing about,' she said.

January 2012
Jenny Derbyshire writes:
Some stories and thoughts from the occupied Palestinian territories
As most of you know I am currently in East Jerusalem, working with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Ac- companiment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The programme was set up ten years ago in response to a call for help from the Heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem; supporting Palestinian Christians is part of our work. They are a community under pressure and decreasing rapidly, especially as they have more opportunity to find work abroad than many other Palestinians. The Israeli occupation has a huge impact on all Palestinians and we see all the time its effect on everyday lives.
On the Thursday after Christmas I was at Sabeel, the Palestine liberation theology centre in East Jerusalem. Twelve of us gathered in a circle for a very special, intimate service in both Arabic and English. The epistle was read in Arabic and then I was asked to read from the Gospel of Luke, the story of about the shepherds and their visit to the stable in Bethlehem.
This reading was particularly meaningful for me because I spent Christmas in the hill country near Nablus in the north- ern West Bank, about half way between Nazareth (which is in Israel) and Bethlehem (which is in the occupied Palestin- ian territories). There are many shepherds, or herders, in this area, but they can no longer wander freely with their sheep or bring them up on the hilltops. Settlers have taken over the high ground and are very aggressive towards the villagers, who now have very limited areas where they can graze their sheep.
The Rev. Naim Ateek, Director of Sabeel, led our reflections: at the end of one year and the beginning of another year living under occupation, he spoke about the need for hope. The group then shared their own thoughts and reflections. One woman called our attention to the phrase: "Mary stored up all these things in her heart" and spoke about women?s experience of the occupation. We recalled that Mary and Joseph also lived in an occupied land.
There is a lot of concern about the effect of occupation on children. Many have to cross checkpoints on their way to school - we see tiny five-year olds putting their school bags through a scanner and they have to do this every day. Then they have to show their original birth certifcate to the soldiers. A teacher we meet regularly at one checkpoint thanks us for being there and says it?s always better when we are watching. The Bethlehem team stands as a protective presence at school gates – when they are there the soldiers are less likely to harrass the children. In Hebron the team escorts children as they make their way to and from school, to prevent settler violence against them. Children here suffer a lot of fear: they fear what will happen to their families; they fear for their homes that have demolition orders on them; they fear that their mother might not be allowed to continue to live with them, because her ID is the wrong one; and they fear the sol- diers and police - children as young as 11 or 12 are arrested, for little reason, in the hopes that they will give informa- tion. It is an amazing experience to be here, as well as shocking, disturbing and frustrating. The Palestinians ask the interna- tional community to "come and see,? so that?s what we?re doing. And then we must go home and tell what we have seen. I have so many stories from here, these are just a few. I hope to share more with you.

February 2012
For the past two months I have been living and working with the EAPPI team in East Jeruslaem, so perhaps it is time for me to explain just a little about what is happening in this fascinating city. Jerusalem, we all know, is a spe- cial place, an ancient and wonderful city, holy for three of the world’s key religions. So it’s not surprising that this is a contested area: East Jerusalem is at the very heart of the Palestine-Israel issue.
Every Friday our EAPPI team in East Jerusalem gives support to a local Palestinian neighbourhood, in their non-violent protest against way they are treated by the Israeli authorities. Silwan is an old Arab area below the Southern wall of the Old City, stretching along the Holy Basin, the Kidron Valley. The Friday Prayers protest is held at a community tent, which has been placed over a house where there is a demolition order, as both protection and protest.
Every Friday about 100 men gather here for Friday prayers in the tent and in the street. It is a dignified, moving and impressive statement of protest, hurt and resistance by the local residents.
Their concerns focus mainly on continuing neglect and harassment of the area: especially the repeated arrests of minors; demolition orders and evictions; and the increasing intrusion by settler-archaeologists. In 1967, Israel occupied and then, in 1980, ‘annexed’ East Jerusalem: a situation condemned repeatedly by the international community; no country recog- nises Israel’s claim that the whole of Jeruslam is now part of their state. However, current plans by the Israeli authorities aim to ensure that Jerusalem becomes increasingly an Israeli city. Part of the plan involves creating a national park along the Holy Basin, linking Israeli West Jerusalem with settlement areas to the east of the city. But, Silwan, a Palestinian neighbourhood, and all its people, are in the way!
Around 45,000 Palestinians live in Silwan. There are also 54 settlement outposts which are given expensive protection by the authorities. Israeli settlements throughout the occupied Palestinian territories intrude increasingly on the Palestin ians. They are often large developments, built on hilltops – as they are in many parts of the West Bank and around Jeru

salem; or invading whole streets – as in the West Bank city of Hebron. But in Palestinian East Jerusalem, they are the people next door with the Israeli flag on the roof, the young men who took over your front room and stayed, the family across the street surrounded by barricades, the family in the rooms on the other side of the courtyard. Of the 500,000 settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories, 200,000 are in East Jerusalem.
In the early 1990s settler-archaeologists started to move into Silwan, taking over local houses and parts of houses, in an area already very short of accommodation. They claim this Arab area as the ancient Jewish City of David. And if a house taken over by settlers has a demolition order on it, the order is dropped when the settlers move in. The settler organisation El’ad that has been largely responsible for Israeli settlement in this area also has control of archaeological excavations and runs the ‘City of David’ tourist park - part of the national park development.
One morning at the end of January, I joined the ‘alternative archaeological tour’ (www.alt-arch.org), run by a group of Israeli archaeologists. We went on a circular walk, through the ‘City of David’ archaeological tourist park, to see the excavations and learn about the archaeology; then out into the Palestinian Silwan of today, finishing in the community caf้. The guide pointed out that Silwan is like a case study in the relationship between politics and archaeology, raising key questions about what we should do when there is an important site where people are living.
He explained that in the nineteenth century archaeologists identified this area as the place where the city of Jerusalem originated, as a Canaanite city around 1700 BCE (Before the Current Era). The city developed here because of the site of the spring of Gihon and over the centuries this became a rich and influential place, home to many different civilisations: Byzantine, Roman, Judaean, Muslim, Christian. But there are no clear findings that kings lived here: this surprises many visitors, given the title of the park. His view is that archaeology should not be used for political purposes: in Silwan it is being used to ‘prove’ that the area is originally Jewish, whereas it has been lived in and built on by many cultures over time. As an archaeologist himself he regards archaeology as a way to find out about all people, not as a tool to claim land for one group or another.
His tour ends in the Silwan community caf้. Very few visitors enter Palestinian Silwan at all. They enter the tourist entrance at the top of the hill, visit the excavations, hear the official tour, and then leave the area. They do not even know that this place is a living, active community, under huge pressure: in the lower part of Silwan current plans call for the demolition of 88 buildings, homes to over a thousand people, in order to create King David’s Garden.
Silwan residents have recently opened their community caf้, partly as a focus for the community, but also to bring in visitors and tourists. The caf้ is attached to the new children’s playground and both were opened for the first time in December. We were at the local festival that greeted its opening: as one of the speakers said that day, ‘We decided to make it a beautiful life for ourselves’.
The playground opened on 11th December. In mid-January it received a demolition order and we attended the court hearing, which was postponed until 8th April – for further paperwork. As for most Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem, there is no planning permission - because such permission is never given. On February 13th we monitored the demolition of this playground and the community caf้. The bulldozer arrived at 6 am, along with up to a hundred soldiers. Everything was destroyed and the children played now in the rubble.


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