Human Rights monitoring in Palestine and Israel
The Drama group had to cancel this month’s planned presentation due to a variety of insurmountable hurdles, so instead the U3A open monthly meeting on 21 June had a talk of considerably more serious content. It must be a fairly rare thing in Bude to have a visitor with first-hand experience of working in such a terribly troubled area of longstanding conflict as the Middle East, and all the more paradoxical when we were told that the speaker came from a quintessentially peaceful Cotswold village. Paul Clark is an accountant and has lived for 41 years in Bourton-on-the-Water, in recent years fulfilling the role of Treasurer of their U3A.
In 2016, Paul left his family and friends behind for 3 months and first went to Palestine and Israel as a human rights monitor based in Jerusalem, and on a subsequent visit in Bethlehem. He is a member of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which is an initiative of the World Council of Churches, set up as a response to a call by the heads of churches in Jerusalem for a protective presence. It is managed by the Quakers but its volunteer Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) come from any faith or none. Their primary function is to witness and accompany vulnerable communities and individuals, escorting children safely to school for example, and maintaining supervision at checkpoints within the West Bank. They try to reduce the abuse of Palestinian civilian rights and help people gain access to their land, jobs, education or medical facilities. As eye witnesses they also report with authority and authenticity to high-level political delegations, diplomats and the media to support efforts to lobby government and the UN.
Paul spoke passionately about the disputed ‘occupied territories’ and how the wall built to separate Israeli and Palestinian communities had not in fact followed the agreed so-called armistice line, creating an area where many human rights violations have been, and continue to be perpetrated. Palestinian children living in the West Bank are subject to military law, whereas Israeli children are governed by civil law. Hence Palestinian minors are routinely harassed by Israeli soldiers and teenagers kept under arrest; EAs try to be present at any interrogation and exercise a moderating influence.
The EAPPI proclaims ‘principled impartiality’. It does not take sides in the conflict and works non-violently in partnership with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists and the international community, seeking an end to the occupation and a just peace with security and dignity for all. A moving and highly thought-provoking talk was followed by a spirited and balanced discussion of views both from the floor, and over tea afterwards.