Pilgrimage to Holy Land - with a difference

Pat Devlin

Pat Devlin

A parishioner from north east  England  is to spend three months as an international observer with threatened communities in Palestine.

Pat Devlin is lending her support to the struggles of communities in the troubled West Bank caught between the Separation Barrier 'protecting' Israel and the Israeli military zone along the banks of the Jordan River in Palestine.

Pat is taking part in a programme organised by EAPPI (The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel). She will be part of an international team of Ecumenical Accompaniers who will be based in other vulnerable rural communities, monitoring evictions and demolitions in East Jerusalem, and supporting communities in Bethlehem and Hebron as they struggle to reach their schools and places of work.

Pat is a parishioner of of St John of Beverley's parish, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland. She is leaving the North East on  15 March and will be living in a small village called Yanoun in the North of Palestine, near Nablus. In 2003 Yanoun suffered so much aggression from an Israeli settlement which overlooks the village that all the villagers fled. Israeli Peace organisations worked with international organisations to set up a House of Peace in the village, where a permanent international presence is maintained offering support to the returned villagers of Yanoun and to the surrounding villages.

Pat said: "On 15 March, I will be setting out for the Holy Land, but not primarily to visit the sites associated with the Old Testament and the Gospels. I have had this opportunity before and my current 'pilgrimage' was inspired in part by some chance encounters in Bethlehem in 1996.

"I met a young Palestinian graduate who could no longer find work as a guide and interpreter, because independent travellers now find it so difficult to access Bethlehem and the West Bank that only organised tour buses come with their own guides.

"I also met some children, whose father's work in the construction industry was now so irregular because he was often unable to get a permit to cross in the other direction from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, where there are jobs in the construction trade.

"So, this time my visit will be for three months as an Ecumenical Accompanier, standing alongside some of today's living communities in the Holy Land as a witness to their present sufferings."

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was set up in response to the Church Leaders in Jerusalem in 2001, who were requesting international observers to come, as they saw violence and human rights abuses escalating and the situation of their communities deteriorating. The programme is coordinated by the Quakers in Britain & Ireland and supported by CAFOD and Christian Aid.

Ecumenical Accompaniers provide: a protective presence at checkpoints which control the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Israel and where the screening process can be both aggressive and humiliating; and  in rural villages, where farmers have to cross the Separation Barrier, erected by Israel, to access their olive groves and crops and where crops are frequently sabotaged by settlers.

They also accompany school children who are regularly harassed by Jewish Settlers on their way to and from school.

The Accompaniers express solidarity with the Palestinian communities in which they live,  by sharing their daily sufferings and joys; Christian communities with whom they worship; Israeli Peace & Human Rights groups  with whom they work

They provide advocacy by reporting any human rights abuses and infringements of international law  observed to the United Nations, British politicians and Church leaders;  sending eye witness accounts by email during the stay in Palestine and Israel; and giving talks and writing articles after returning home.

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