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Access to Justice

Life in Yanoun, in the occupied West Bank

The devastation caused by Israel’s latest military offensive in Gaza has rightly generated significant public outcry and attention. However, just 60 kilometres away, Palestinian communities are also suffering under Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. Emmet Sheerin writes about the situation in a Palestinian village in the West Bank called Yanoun. 

In 2012 I lived and worked in the small Palestinian village of Yanoun, in the north of the West Bank. Like many other Palestinian villages, Yanoun has lost vast amounts of its land and natural resources to the Israeli military and Israeli settlements. These settlements are illegal under international law, yet despite this, there are currently over 100 settlements in the West Bank with a combined population of well over 500,000 Israeli settlers.

I was working in Yanoun with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) , one of Trócaire’s partner organisations.

EAPPI brings people to the West Bank to work in teams of human rights observers.  Our job in Yanoun was to document and report various human rights abuses against Palestinians stemming from Israel’s military occupation. On a day-to-day basis this might include the demolition of a Palestinian home or the violent dispersal of a peaceful Palestinian demonstration by the Israeli military. It could also be the arrest of a Palestinian child in the middle of the night, suspected of throwing a rock at an armoured military vehicle.

However, apart from responding to these types of incidents, there was another, and ultimately more pressing reason for our presence in Yanoun. Such is the level of violence posed by Israeli settlers living nearby, that without the constant and continual presence of international observers in the village, the local Palestinians would simply flee their homes. As Rashed, the village leader, explained to me, “if the internationals leave the village in the morning, we will leave in the afternoon”.

WATCH: ‘This is my land’, a short film about life in Yanoun

There is good reason for Rashed and the other villagers to fear. In 2002 after a sustained campaign of violence and intimidation by Israeli settlers, almost the entire village was evacuated. Eventually the villagers returned to Yanoun, but only with the support of international and Israeli peace activists. Since then there have been teams of international observers living in Yanoun, providing a nonviolent protective presence in the village.

For Israeli settlers, life in the West Bank is entirely different. Despite being illegal under international law, Israeli settlements expand and thrive off land and resources taken from Palestinian communities. In the Jordan Valley (close to Yanoun) Israeli settlers have used these resources to develop large scale agricultural operations, exporting produce abroad, including to the EU. Ultimately the production and trade of this produce is strongly linked to the dispossession of Palestinian communities, and serious breaches of international law.

Here in Ireland it could be easy to think that we have no bearing on the situation in Palestine. Yanoun and other vulnerable villages in the West Bank are far away, and the crisis in Gaza is immense. The reality is though that the Irish Government can and should play a significant role in helping to bring about a just and lasting peace. This means seeking a long-term political solution based on an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

Furthermore, recognising the illegality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the human rights violations resulting from their continued expansion, our government can publicly support the introduction of an EU-wide trade ban on settlement produce and demonstrate leadership by implementing an individual member state ban here in Ireland.

At the end of the day, however, the Irish Government is unlikely to take such action in the absence of pressure from the Irish public. It is essential therefore that Irish citizens continue to demand an adequate and concrete response from the Government. For the villagers of Yanoun and other communities across the West Bank, as well as the besieged population in Gaza, our solidarity, and our actions can have a massive impact on their lives.

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