Out on patrol with Peacemaker Team
I spent Sept. 14-28 as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron in the West Bank/Occupied Territories in Palestine. The Mennonite, Brethren and Quaker Churches in Canada and the United States created CPT to “Get in the Way,” i.e., to follow the example of Jesus Christ. CPTers promote a peaceful presence in areas of violence around the world, e.g. the West Bank and Colombia. A CPT team stands on the ground in Baghdad, Iraq, today.
Our delegation’s first task in Hebron consisted of patrolling four elementary and secondary schools in Hebron (El Khalil, “the Friend”). The 13 members stationed themselves in groups of two or three along the street in Hebron that houses the schools with children ages 5 to 17 years, the younger ones accompanied by older siblings.
At the uphill end of the street lies an Israeli roadblock, 2 large blocks of cement. Two or three 18-19-year-old Israeli soldiers, male or female, stand at the roadblock, carrying M47 machine guns. The soldiers also have an armored, bulletproof car, a grill covering the windshield, driven by a young, male soldier, who races it up and down the street.
Occasionally, the mothers walk their children to school. The children’s faces look anxious, eyes dart from the soldiers to the schools. They walk in groups of two or three, scurrying out of the way of the armored car.
A few Palestinian boys10-16 years old threw stones at the soldiers, and the headmaster and teacher from one of the schools quickly scolded them.
The headmaster complained to us that the soldiers were ordering him to close his school, and had thrown tear gas bombs into the schools last spring. The Saturday before we arrived, a 12 year-old girl had been hit in the head with a rubber bullet, and was in the hospital with a fractured skull. The principal of the girls’ school reports that the girls suffer from nightmares and other stress-related symptoms.
By standing in the street, we reassured the children, particularly the 5-6 year olds, that they were safe, and we helped de-escalate the situation when the 10-12 year old boys picked up rocks. We had conversations with the Israeli soldiers. When asked by one, “What are you doing here?,” one of us answered, “We are trying to help make peace.” One of the soldiers replied, “I hope you succeed.”
Our presence reinforced the message that the eyes of the international community were watching the events in Hebron. The team included five men, all ministers, and six women, a minister, a nurse practitioner, a college theology professor, a professional mediator, a zoo public relations officer, and myself, a family advocate. We had two leaders. Each one of us has given talks to churches, radio stations, and written articles both before and after the delegation.
Our presence appeared to calm the situation on the schools street. The soldiers drove the armored car more slowly (a different soldier was driving by the end of the week), fewer rocks were thrown. The children lingered to talk with us.
The second team task involved meeting with local Israeli and Palestinian community organizations and peace activists, to learn about conditions in the West Bank and Ghaza. House demolitions, torture of minors, illegal searches, land seizures and other human rights abuses have been documented by the Israeli organization B’Tselem (www.btselem.org), Rabbis for Human Rights (www.rhr.israel.net), and Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (www.icahd.org).
ICAHD calls the situation “ethnic cleansing without bloodshed.” In Bethlehem, we visited the Dheisha Refugee Camp, created in the 1950s. The BADIL organization works in the camp to set up Popular Committees that take care of women and children; they focus on health and safety issues, e.g. preparing for winter, repairing electrical lines and addressing the water crisis in Bethlehem.
Drugs are almost non-existent in the camp – frustration arises more from crowding, humidity and social conflict. BADIL sponsors non-violence training with courses in communication, conflict resolution and mediation.
The Holy Land Trust, also in Bethlehem (www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org), led by Sami Awad, runs several programs: the Peace and Reconciliation program also works on developing the Palestinian non-violent movement, Remember the Innocents provides counseling, social skills and non-violence training for children, Travel and Encounter sponsors hiking trips in the Holy Land. Wi’am (www.planet.edu/~alaslah), meaning “Cordial Relations.” provides unemployment counseling to Palestinians, and trains men, women and children in conflict resolution.
Our CPT (www.cpt.org) goal felt successful when, on the last day in El-Khalil, a 3-year-old child brought out a bunch of grapes as we stood at our patrols.
Tanya Rentz lives in Nevada City, and is a family advocate in Grass Valley.
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