Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Six Impossible Things before Breakfast

Apologies to Lewis Carroll

I went to Israel/Palestine in 2003 and 2004 with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (www.eappi.org). As a volunteer it can be very difficult to know what one person can do or if your presence makes any difference to such a long running conflict, but on a good day it does feel all worthwhile. This piece was written after a productive morning.

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. ~Betty Reese

Up early this morning, partly because of the mosquitoes, but mainly because I had a job, my first as an Ecumenical Accompanier. I had volunteered to help pick up patients and bring them back to the Augusta Victoria Hospital for dialysis. So at five in the morning I arrive to find the driver, Jalil, preparing himself for morning prayers. And as he kneels down and goes through his ritual I find myself joining him in my own way. The orientation is over this is where it gets serious, I ask God to keep us safe and well whatever happens over the next little while. It is a sobering moment I am not asleep any more, but the dawn chorus, the lightening sky, the world waking up give me some kind of hope and then Jalil brings the ambulance bus round and we are off, no turning back now.

Israeli Democracy in Action
Photo credit: Phil Chetwynd Israeli Democracy in Action

We are going towards Hebron, where a few days earlier a Hamas leader has been killed and dozens of people arrested. It has one of the worst reputations for violence in the country, and thats where we are going as fast as Jalil can manage. He asks if I can drive and says that I can if I want to, fortunately I have left my driving licence behind so we decide it is best not to. He teaches me a few words of Arabic and we laugh at my pronunciation. The sun comes over a hill and everything is bathed in a glorious golden light, it doesn’t seem so scary after all.

We pick up the first patient, a ten or so year old girl, and a few minutes later a younger girl and her mother. Then as we reach the turn off for Hebron we join the end of a queue for the checkpoint. The soldiers don’t seem to have woken up yet and no-one is keen to disturb them. The ambulance edges slowly forward to the front of the queue and we can see our last pick up, three children and their mother, about 20 metres away waving their passes and trying to attract some attention. They could walk over, but without some kind of acknowledgement they are frightened to do anything. A soldier emerges and tells us all to go back. Jalil shouts something, I presume to say we are from the hospital, but he waves us away. A few seconds later two more come out rubbing sleep from their eyes and holding bottles of juice, we have interupted their breakfast. Jalil thinks I should go and talk to them.

Red hat on, open the door, it didn’t feel like THIS in training. But I am not fast enough another man (the children’s father ?) is far more used to this and is already close to the soldiers explaining the situation. I wander closer and when he has finished say that we have come from the hospital to pick them up. The soldier tells me to go back to the car so I turn around and go slowly away. He checks the passes and then the mother and her children can join us. The whole thing has taken about five minutes but it feels like much longer.

As we drive away the tension starts to ease, the children start to chatter and laugh, they teach me my name in Arabic and tell me I am beautiful.

It is all a bit much and I feel a few tears coming. By seven o’clock we are back in Jerusalem and it must be time for breakfast.


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