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An Easter like no other

June 17, 2020

‘The women and children of Um al Khair decided to demonstrate their requests for quiet nights to their neighbours by peaceful means. They made their requests on placards and on the side of the community tent nearest the settlement. They wrote their requests in English so that their neighbours could read the modest appeals: “love your neighbours, let us sleep, stop the stones”’.

EA Lesley

‘It was a Palm Sunday like no other in the Holy City. The streets that are usually thronged with pilgrims on the day marking the eve of Holy Week were empty.’ So reported my friend, a Jewish peace activist based in Jerusalem, when I talked to her in Holy Week.

No palm-waving Christians, no donkey. All was still. No pilgrims in the holy places. No city has escaped the Covid-19 pandemic. It was an Easter like no other as the threats and rumblings of annexation following Netanyahu’s announcement continued, and the inhabitants of the West Bank in occupied Palestine braced themselves for the possibility of further displacement.

Since March almost all internationals have left the West Bank in occupied Palestine, repatriated by order of their governments. People around the world are vulnerable to the virus, but the Israeli occupation has made access to healthcare in Palestine very difficult. The current lack of international human rights monitors also means that there is no longer a protective presence in the region and fewer people reporting on the situation from the ground, meaning even less accountability for settler violence.

‘He started laughing and left’

A few weeks ago in South Hebron Hills two sheep, belonging to the Palestinian shepherds in the village of Um al Khair, were intentionally killed by a settler. When the locals asked the settler why he had killed the sheep, the response was unapologetic: ‘He started laughing and left’.

Suleiman, a community leader at Um al Khair, attempted to report the crime but was foiled as the police office in Hebron was closed due to the virus restrictions. This lack of access to justice is common in everyday life not just in this time of pandemic. The Israeli legal organisation Yesh Din reports that;

‘the reality in the West Bank is that police seldom instigate investigations of offenses committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property.’

Um al Khair faces difficulties on a regular basis because of the adjacent settlement of Carmel. In late 2017, night-time stone throwing by settlers interrupted the sleep of the adults and children of the community for more than 100 nights.

The women and children of Um al Khair decided to demonstrate their requests for quiet nights to their neighbours by peaceful means. They made their requests on placards and on the side of the community tent nearest the settlement. They wrote their requests in English so that their neighbours could read the modest appeals: ‘love your neighbours, let us sleep, stop the stones’. Whether by coincidence relating to Suleiman’s ever-resilient attempts at reporting to the authorities or by the effect of the peaceful protest, the stone throwing stopped and the ability to sleep was restored to all. Not all settlers are stone-throwers or violent but being good neighbours requires building good relationships and the climate of occupation is not conducive to that possibility.

Suleiman denied access to reporting settler violence

Graffiti on a tent at Um Al Khair as part of the peaceful protest

As this Eastertide progressed the news of settler force continued. One farmer harvested his barley crop and when he returned the next day to gather it in, he found it had been taken by a settler. On April 6th, the UN highlighted a 78% increase in settler attacks on Palestinians compared with the previous average.

Settlement expansion continues despite the pandemic. Word comes of a mobile home and a tent erected on a Palestinian farmer’s land during the night. Unfortunately previous experience of the arrival of structures like this tells locals that this heralds the foundation of a settler outpost. Outposts are residential structures often strategically erected at a distance within view of a settlement by an individual or a small groups of ideological Israeli citizens. The foundation of an outpost indicates the intention to expand the local settlement to meet the outpost.

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, for the first time in most people’s memories, we have had an experience of everything changing as we get to grips with coronavirus restrictions and their impact on our daily lives, work, school and recreation. Only three months in, many people want it to end, to ‘get back to normal’. These restrictions, for the most part, are understandable and most people agree that they are in place for the common good. Local lockdowns give a small insight of what it might be like to live with restrictions on your daily life, restrictions that Palestinians have lived with for decades. But they do not give a sense of what it is like to live under the authority of a hostile army, an inequitable legal system, and with the ever present threat of losing your land.

Meanwhile Pentecost has arrived. The three monotheistic faiths have celebrated – Shavuot and Eid and the Ascension. People of each tradition are challenged by their faiths to examine how best to heal and love their neighbour and live in peace.

Last night my friend in Jerusalem connected again. She shared a poem by the national Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, ‘Think of Others’. As she finished, she repeated the last two lines, this time altering them to include herself as cause in the matter of shining a light for those who are oppressed. ‘How can I be a candle in the dark? I want to be a candle in the dark.’ How can we continue to keep the light of hope aflame for the people of occupied Palestine?

‘How can we continue to keep the light of hope aflame for the people of occupied Palestine?’

What does international law say?

'Protected persons... shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence.'

Article 27, Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949

by EA Lesley    –    June 17, 2020

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