A photographic exhibition which opened at in the House of Commons last night, celebrated the work of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). ‘Every day life in the Occupied Territories’ displayed photos taken by children aged between six and 14 in the village of Yanoun, near Nablus, where ecumenical accompaniers – including prominent UK Catholic lay women - have been posted for three month periods. The exhibition was hosted by Tom Brake MP of Carshalton and Wallington and Paul Burstow MP of Sutton and Cheam.
Around 100 people, comprising politicians, school groups and EAPPI supporters attended the event. While adults tend to photograph the Separation Wall, or other subjects showing the hardships of life there - the children took pictures of their brothers and sisters, friends, clothes, The hostile Israeli settlement nearby, can be glimpsed in the background. So much of the village land has been taken over by the settlement that villagers now have fewer goats and have taken to eating rabbits and pigeons.
Rosemary Read, who was an Ecumenical Accompanier in 2004 and travelled from Derby for the exhibition, was “appalled at the deterioration in Yanoun” since that time. “I have slept in Yanoun and picked olives there” she added “and the accompaniers are a very welcome support to the people of the village”. The Nottingham Diocese Justice and Peace activist, who is now on the Executive of the National Justice and Peace Network, was happy to meet up with other volunteers and celebrate the work of EAPPI, but lamented that, “the people now have restricted access to their olive groves and their water has been contaminated by the settlement”.
Pax Christi UK member Ann Farr, from Coventry, is an EAPPI volunteer currently based in Yanoun. Through emails this week, she has urged people in the UK to learn more about the situation in the occupied territories. She feels it is important to be there herself and see first hand the impact of the Israeli settlement on the hills surrounding Yanoun, which are illegal according to UN resolutions. She reports that villagers’ land has been appropriated and they have been told that they are no longer allowed to go to their olive trees on the hills and cannot grow crops, except in the lower fields. “The poverty in the village is very obvious” she says “and yet the hospitality to us has been very warm”. At the moment, the weather in Yanoun is bitterly cold and wet and Ann is very concerned that village homes are in a poor state of repair. “There is no heating apart from a night time brazier and some homes are flooded when it rains” she says, adding that, “I wish we could help sort these problems even if we can't remove the illegal settlers from the hills all around us”.
Albert Givol, from Israeli organisation New Profile, gave a superb presentation on the way Israeli society is accustomed to the presence of the military constantly - from the depiction of soldiers in soap powder commercials, to tanks and warplanes used as decorations in streets and school playgrounds. "Serving in the army is seen as a masculine rite of passage" he said. "condoms are usually added to greeting cards for soldiers - while women in the army are generally depicted as eye candy, sex objects."
Linda Ramsden, Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in the UK, also spoke at the event, describing how some Palestinian families have had their homes demolished up to 16 times. Her organisation has rebuilt more than 160 homes and raises awareness of the issue.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) supports Palestinians and Israelis working for peace by monitoring and reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, offering protection by accompanying local communities in daily activities, and by advocating with churches for a peaceful end to the occupation.
For more information on The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme, see: www.quaker.org.uk/eappi
To learn more about New Profile see: www.newprofile.org/english/
The headline picture, entitled: 'Brotherly love' shows a friendly touch and a shared joke on the road from Upper to Lower Yanoun. (taken by Hazn aged 10)