Speaking up for a just peace

30 July 2019

Topics: advocacy "human rights"

“Visible in our vests, we walk alongside Faraj, a Palestinian shephard. His grazing fields, crucial to his livelihood, are less than a kilometre from the Israeli settlement of Susya. Despite the ongoing and unjust harassment he experiences, this shepherd is determined to remain on his land.”

Advocating for workers’ rights in the West Bank

Aletia spent three months helping to keep communities safe in the West Bank. Now she uses her firsthand experience to open people’s hearts and minds to what Palestinians are going through and advocate for a just peace.
“During my three months as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) providing protective presence, I walked alongside shepherds, activists and school children, all of whom were seeking to have their basic rights observed.

Now that I’m home, an important part of what it means to be a returned EA is advocacy; speaking up about what I saw in order to help people in Australia understand, on a human level, what it’s like living under occupation.

In Palestine, I was stationed in the South Hebron Hills. Once a month we rose at 3.30am to monitor the treatment of Palestinians travelling into Israel through the Maitar checkpoint between 4am - 7am. Because work is difficult to come by in Palestine, people will go to great lengths to find work in Israel, even if it means waking in the dark and staying most of the week away from their family.

Under the current system, Palestinians experience a number of everyday injustices. Their basic rights to decent work, education, healthcare and access to land are all limited.

Shortly after returning, I visited my Federal Member of Parliament, Anthony Albanese, to talk to him about what I witnessed. Anthony invited me to speak at a Labor party event where Bob Carr was introducing and promoting a proposal to recognise Palestine.

I thought the best way to humanise the experience for people who were interested in workers’ rights was to talk about the daily challenges Palestinian workers face due to the numerous checkpoints, which restrict people’s movement and access to work.

It was really encouraging to hear that Bob Carr’s influence, and perhaps my human interest story, led to the Australian Labor Party’s commitment to recognise Palestine.”

Palestinian workers line-up for the brutal ‘morning commute’ in Bethlehem, where they will queue for hours at a checkpoint monitored by Israeli soldiers. Limited employment opportunities in the West Bank mean thousands of Palestinians pass through this checkpoint each morning during the early hours to get to work in Israel. Peter Morgan/Act for Peace

Suffocated by checkpoints

“My name is Imad* and I have a store in the marketplace in Hebron, Palestine. Hebron is an important city for many religions because the prophet Abraham and his sons are buried here. Sadly, it is also a divided city – there are 200,000 Muslims in this city and 600 Israeli settlers.

The occupation and security restrictions make it very hard for us to make a living. There is a lot of harassment and pressure from the settlers to push us out. But I am 55 years old, where would I go? I have been doing business here for many years, and it is my home.

The Israeli army closed our main shopping street, Shuhada Street, in 2002 for ‘security reasons’. For the streets that are still open, the Israeli soldiers use the checkpoint turnstiles to stop people coming into the marketplace. Sometimes, the soldiers make customers and suppliers wait for a long time just to enter.

The soldiers seem to hope that the customers will get fed up and walk away. People say they feel threatened when they come and buy from us. These days, most people shop elsewhere where they feel more safe and secure. It is very hard for us, and we try to stay steadfast and live each day in peace.

We are grateful to the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) that come from all over the world to monitor the situation and try to keep things calm. When customers and suppliers can get through the checkpoints, we in the market can make a living.
They help us here and it is a comfort to know that when they return home they tell people all over the world what is taking place in Hebron.”

Israeli soldiers patrol the narrow passages of Hebron’s Old City, one of the oldest souks in the world. Historically, it was hub of activity and life in the city but today many shops stand empty. For the shopkeepers attempting to work there, life is a daily struggle and many Palestinians are scared of entering. Ben Littlejohn/Act for Peace

Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel

Every day, persecution and human rights abuses destroy people’s lives and fuel conflict in the Holy Land. By taking part in the Ecumenical Accompaniment

Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), dedicated volunteers spend three months being a protective presence for families living under occupation.

Their life-changing work includes monitoring checkpoints, accompanying children to and from school, reporting any violence or harassment and supporting acts of nonviolent resistance alongside Palestinians and Israelis.