Israel-Palestine: reality of occupation, challenge of peace

Israel-Palestine: reality of occupation, challenge of peace

"Of course Israel has a right to exist... but with Palestine, not at the expense of the Palestinians." That was the message of an ecumenical accompanier speaking today (6th August 2013) at Just Festival in Edinburgh.

A good body of people gathered in the Persian Tent at St John's (venue 27), Just Festival's most intimate venue, to hear a moving and informative talk by Tricia Griffin on her time on the West Bank.

Tricia (pictured, speaking) was in the region for three months under the auspices of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which is coordinated globally by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and in Britain and Ireland by the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends).

EAPPI promotes nonviolent observation to assist conflict reduction. It favours a just-peace to benefit all in the region. It draws on volunteers from some 20 countries in Europe, north America and beyond.

The EAPPI programme enables people to talk to both Israelis and Palestinians, to link with peace activists, and also to understand the reality for Palestinians of life under occupation, including the seizing without compensation of land, water and the means of livelihood.

For example, the settlement of Efrat overflows its sewage onto agricultural land, making the produce there unsaleable. In other areas schools have been similarly affected.

Both the settlements and what some call a 'peace wall' and others a barrier also hinder transport and travel, disrupting the Palestinian economy very seriously.

The barrier is 708 kilometres, more than twice the length of the agreed Green Line. It is also built 85 per cent on Palestinian land.

"People on both sides of the conflict naturally think they are right, and they have various opinions,' observed Ms Griffin. "But there is also fact to contend."

Factually, she pointed out, settlements are illegal under International Humanitarian Law, in violation of article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention - underlined in 2004 by the International Court of Justice.

Israeli groups working for peace and opposing the occupation often feel marginalised, and value the chance to have their voices and concerns heard. They include Rabbis for Human Rights, Breaking the Silence (Israeli veteran soldiers), Women in Black (a group of whom also meet regularly in Edinburgh) and a variety of conscientious objectors.

Villages and settlers are very close together, and there are frequent attacks on villagers. Rabbis are among those who help with care of olive groves and other tasks to support local Palestinians.

Both Jews and Arabs also work together to rebuild Palestinian homes demolished by Israeli troops.

"Peace and justice is all we ask, and to have our dignity. Our hope comes from our faith in God, our belief in nonviolence and the love of God," said one activist.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace.

When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.

* EAPPI: http://www.eappi.org

* The Just Festival, also known simply as Just, runs from 2-26 August 2013. It is based at St John's Church (Princes Street and Lothian Road) and some 27 other venues, and combines artistic and performance style events with conversations, talks, films exhibits and other ways of exploring how to live together creatively in a mixed-belief society.

* For more information on Just Festival, visit http://www.justjust.org and http://justfestivalnews.blogspot.com

* Ekklesia is a sponsor of Just Festival. Our news, reporting and comment is aggregated at: www.ekklesia.co.uk/justfestival

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and a media adviser for the 2013 Just Festival.

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