We headed north to visit the village of Yanoun in the West bank, where I will be spending my three month placement together with my Norwegian, Swedish and South African team mates.
Yanoun is in a very beautiful location, nestling among limestone hills reminiscent of the Peak District. Like many of our own villages, sheep are the main business. We meet the mayor of the village, as he grazes his sheep between the olive trees in the valley below the International House, where we are staying.
Taking in the scene around us we pick out the animal sheds, which belong to the Israeli settlers who live on the hill tops surrounding the village and who are the reason for our presence.
We cannot see the houses of the settlers, but the village is surrounded on three sides by the illegal outpost buildings of the Itamar settlement. Some of the settler animal sheds are only 400 metres from the houses of Upper Yanoun.
In 2002, the harassment of villagers by settlers became so severe – village men being beaten in front of their children, animals mutilated, crops destroyed – that all the villagers left for Aqraba, the nearest larger village under full Palestinian control.
Israeli and international peace groups came to the Yanoun to provide a protective presence and slowly, about 80 villagers came back. The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme has had a permanent presence in the village since June 2003.
In recent years the village has been relatively quiet, but the relentless incremental acquisition of the village land by the settlers continues.
CAFOD is supporting the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine & Israel, that trains volunteers to live and work in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and stand in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis. The volunteers report on human rights abuses, provide a protective presence by standing side by side with people who are being intimidated, and ensure that voices on both sides are heard throughout the world. Its ultimate aim is to help bring a resolution to the conflict.
Posted by PatD