By Sarah Vincent, Media Volunteer
We received an eye-opening talk from our lovely colleague Hannah Griffiths who came to give us an insight into her experience before coming to work for CAFOD as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) in the West Bank city of Hebron in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Once all of our guests arrived, we had a lovely lunch, which was prepared by one of our fantastic volunteers. Our lunch encouraged all of our volunteers to get to know each other better, as well as discuss volunteering for CAFOD.
Hannah introduced us to the work of CAFOD’s partner the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which was organised in response to a request by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem through the World Council of Churches, to ensure an international presence within Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank.
Volunteers are trained as Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) and they then serve for 3 months in the West Bank. Their presence provides protection to vulnerable communities, and while in post they monitor and report human rights abuses, and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home EAs commit to share their experiences and engage in advocacy and lobbying work. Since 2002, EAPPI has sent over 1,500 Ecumenical Accompaniers to the region.
Hannah’s experience as an EA offered a unique insight in to some of the many challenges that ordinary Palestinians face as they go about their daily lives, something that does not usually receive adequate attention in the media. Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory, illegal under international law and now in its 49th year has led to severe restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinians.
The on-going establishment of illegal settlements has led to the destruction of Palestinian property and the displacement of Palestinian communities from their land and has also severely limited the economic development opportunities for Palestinians. Hannah’s experience in Hebron, the only Palestinian city in the West Bank to have Israeli settlements within it is particularly useful in helping us to understand how the Israeli occupation hinders access to education for Palestinian Children.
Each day, on their journey to school, the children are faced with numerous military checkpoints and physical obstructions. At these checkpoints, children may be stopped and searched for items such as rocks. Some of the restrictions make it more difficult for pupils to attend school, as it makes their journey much longer and more hazardous. For this reason, the school in Hebron only opens if internationals, namely Ecumenical Accompaniers such as Hannah, are present. This basic right, which children in the UK and many other parts of the world have free access to, is under threat for many children living in the West Bank.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, is immensely valuable in reducing violence against Palestinians and in supporting both Israelis and Palestinians who are seeking a just peace. We must give gratitude to people like Hannah, who have taken the time to take part in this programme and have engaged with local Israelis and Palestinians and urged them to act against injustice.
Read about CAFOD’s work in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, or how you can get involved by lobbying your MP, praying and giving please visit our website or call us on 020 7733 7900. The only way you can make a difference is by getting engaged!