I just returned from being an ecumenical accompanier one month ago. I shall be talking about some of my experiences on Tuesday at the Quaker meeting house. The last month of my stay there was a busy time, visiting the many villages in and near the Jordan Valley demolished by the Israeli army. One such village, Khirbet Tana had already suffered two such demolitions earlier in the year. Sadly I just received an email from the British EA currently in the area. It has happened again. Khirbet Tana is where the shepherds from nearby Beit Furik, near Nablus, go with their flocks for the winter and spring. Like shepherds all over the world they migrate with the flocks to higher ground, more spacious, ready for the birth of hundreds of new lambs. These shepherds have been doing this for centuries. When I was there I spoke to one man whose grandfather had been killed by a Turkish soldier during the period of the Ottoman occupation. There is a mosque in the village, 300 years old.
The village is about 8 kilometres from Beit Furik along a difficult dirt road, past an often burning rubbish tip. So the people built a school for their children, so that they would not have to walk this road there and back each day. Education is very important to Palestinian people. As well as the school there are living units in large tents, and barracks, which are shelters for the sheep. Some people live in very comfortable caves and build a small tin shack as their toilet.
When we arrived at the village we found the headmaster of the school standing by its ruins, little chairs and tables lying around in disarray. A man sat by, head in hands. The mayor of the village was off to speak with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The Red Cross were beginning to arrive with new tents. Sheep had scattered everywhere. We sat with one family outside their cave, surveying the ruins of their toilet, drinking tea. Even in these terrible cicumstances people will want you to drink tea with them.
I asked them if the Palestinian Authority would help them. "We are waiting for the PA, like we are waiting for the rain" said one man. It hadn't rained for six months. The people feel abandoned. But up on the hillside we saw young men carrying girders and tarpaulins, ready to rebuild. The school had been rebuilt after the last demolition. It took four months.This was December. The children were due to start school in January. Now I hear it is demolished again.
I asked if the soldiers gave a reason for doing this. "They say the area is fo military training, but I have never seen them training here. The only time we see them is when they come to demolish our village, and they don't need training in that", said my companion. These people never lose their sense of humour!