Annual report 2019-20Read now
“You are from Ireland, you understand”. As an Irish person I was always glad to hear this great welcome from the Palestinian people I met during my time in the West Bank.
I participated in EAPPI, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which is supported by Trócaire. I accompanied local Palestinian communities, this involved monitoring human rights violations, and providing a protective presence to communities under threat of violence and abuses.
Our journey does not end when we come back home. Ecumenical Accompaniers commit to participating in public awareness and advocacy on return from the West Bank.
As I walked towards Leinster House to present before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, the people I had accompanied in the occupied West Bank of Palestine sprung to mind.
I thought of the resilient Palestinian farmer, Abu Nael, who herded his sheep and goats despite ongoing harassment from the overlooking and expanding Israeli settlement.
I thought of the Palestinian grandmother, Um Adel, who I met in Al Fawaar refugee camp, who was at pains to point out how good her relationship was with her Jewish neighbours until 1947 when her family was displaced into the refugee camp. They have remained there ever since, waiting for peace for three generations.
I also thought of the Israeli peacemakers who we stood with as they accompanied Palestinian people in their daily lives. These Israelis are driven by their Jewish heritage to stand and oppose the now 51-year military occupation of Palestine. They recognise that the occupation impacts negatively on both Palestinian and Israeli society.
In Ireland we are blessed with a political system which tries to be accessible. We love to share stories. The stories help us to understand.
The focus of our meeting with this Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade was the need for additional funding for UNRWA, the UN agency which supports Palestinian refugees, in light of the US administration’s recent withdrawal of funding.
We also raised the imminent threatened demolition of the village of Khan Al Ahmar, a small Bedouin village in a strategic location where Israeli settlements are expanding to the east of Jerusalem.
Presenting to this committee was an example of listening and understanding the shared responsibility that each of us has to act for peace and justice. It was heartening that the majority of the committee members were engaged, not just with the knowledge they had about the ongoing crises, but were also keen that our government would live up to the commitments that have already been made and now take action.
We urged the committee to call on the Irish government to take specific measures to advance peace and human rights.
We urged that the Irish government and the EU provide increased funding to UNRWA and to peace-building work in the region. Furthermore, the EU should seek compensation for the demolition of EU-funded aid structures by Israel.
We also called for Ireland to immediately recognise the State of Palestine, a simple step towards protecting a two-state solution.
Having the opportunity to speak to our elected representatives is a privilege not taken for granted. Our experiences of witness makes us acutely aware that those we accompany in Khan al Ahmar, and throughout Palestine and Israel, desperately need our voices to tell their stories and to urge action before it is too late.
Trócaire supports the EAPPI programme, which to date has brought 1,800 ecumenical accompaniers to live in the West Bank and monitor human rights.
To learn more about the situation in Palestine and Israel, watch the award-winning documentary “This is Palestine” produced by Trócaire and Tyrone Productions, which was featured this month on TG4.