Page 14 - PC_Fall2020
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FALL 2020
    Two Ecumenical Accompaniers walking together.
Providing a Protective Presence for Children in Palestine
Assembling new furniture.
okay.” Some would always linger until the groups dispersed. Sometimes we would become the targets of harass- ment, but that is the point of protec- tive presence—making the vulnerable less apt to be targets.
Near the end of my time in Hebron I had many questions. Did we make a difference? There was a squad of three girls with whom we had devel- oped a rappor t. We would jokingly pick on each other: some days they would pretend to not know us, then run away laughing. Other days they would hang around playfully pester- ing us for an hour. On one of our last days at Cordoba, they asked for my notebook and pen, then asked my teammates and I to spell our names, under the guise that they were “prac- ticing their English.” They scurried away and huddled together with the notebook and pen, whispering, laugh- ing and pointing back at us. Each time I approached to get my things back they waved me away. This went on for about 20 minutes. Finally, they handed back my things and quickly stuffed a tightly folded piece of paper in my vest pocket, before running away laughing and looking back at us. I unfolded the piece of paper to find a message, in (somewhat broken) English, that had our names at the top, two little hearts and the phrase “I Love You” in the middle, and their names at the bot-
By Shaun MacDonald, Former Ecumenical Accompanier
in Palestine-Israel
Cordoba School lies in one of the most repressed geographical areas of the West Bank. Originally a school for girls, boys now also attend up to sixth grade, and there is a kinder- garten connected to the premises. My team was tasked with provid- ing a protective presence for these children and reporting whether their access to education was being re- stricted. We were required to be there twice a day, five days per week, for approximately two hours.
The children at Cordoba were at first suspicious of us. They had got- ten to know the previous team, but we were new. We would have to earn their trust. The kindergartners took an immediate liking to us as we carried in and assembled colourful new furni- ture for their classroom on one of our first days. We watched as these little ones navigated their way through the checkpoints and centuries-old, crum- bling walkways covered in barbed wire, being confronted with heavily armed soldiers and settlers daily. We got to know the older ones through broken Arabic/English chit-chat, high- fives, kicking soccer balls around and showing them photos on our mobiles. Some days they were mischievous,
and a few always eyed us warily. All of them were traumatized in some way from growing up here. There were constant violent clashes outside the main checkpoint to the street on which the school is located; teachers were often denied entry, so students showed up with no educational pro- gram; there are absolutely no extra- curricular activities; the school day is shor tened for security reasons; and the number of night raids, detentions and general level of violence is higher than average.
The H2 area of Hebron is under the authority of the Israeli military, with over 100 checkpoints and road- blocks, making freedom of movement within H2 often impossible for the nearly 40,000 Palestinians who live there. Inside H2, there is a Closed Military Zone around a hill called Tel Rumeida, where Palestinians are for- bidden from entering unless their ID card number corresponds to a per- manent address within the area. Once you move out, you cannot come back. Even permanent residents, after ma- noeuvring through the checkpoints, cannot drive on the roads or even walk for the most part on the main street (Shuhada Street—once the most vi- brant commercial neighbourhood in the city). The doors of the shops and homes were welded shut when the Is- raeli military shut the street down over
20 years ago, so locals are forced to enter their homes through rooftop doorways. Cordoba School provides education for the children who grow up in this desolate district.
There are three Israeli settlements1 near Cordoba School, as well as an army base across the street in what used to be the main bus station. Over the years, children and teachers have faced violence and harassment from settlers and soldiers alike, with set- tlers attempting to burn the school down on three separate occasions. Enrolment has dropped significantly. We met with a local resident, Ms. Abu- Haikal, whose family home is next to the newest of the Israeli settlements. Her teenage grandniece had been at- tacked with pepper spray by settlers on the way home from school a few days prior and had not left the house since, refusing to go back to school.
The friction was made evident whenever large groups of settlers or soldiers would show up outside the settlement near the checkpoint en- tryway to the school. The kids would come running out of school at the end of day, skipping, jumping, play- ing and then stop cold in their tracks. They would stare with a mix of curios- ity and fear, turning to look at us and then back at the heavily armed group past which they would have to walk. “Tamam, Tamam,” we would say: “It’s
tom. Maybe that was the only phrase they knew, I could not be sure, but they felt safe around us. That was all that mattered.
1 “Settlements” are Jewish-Israeli–only
cities, towns and villages and outposts that have been established in the occu- pied Palestinian Territories (and the Go- lan Heights). While settlements are legal under Israeli law, they are illegal under international law as per the Fourth Ge- neva Convention. Those living in settle- ments are Jewish-Israeli citizens, called settlers. They tend to live in gated com- munities with armed guards where Pal- estinians are not allowed to enter. He- bron and Jerusalem are the only places where settlers live directly in the centre of a Palestinian city.
Cordoba school in the West Bank.
 Presbyterians Sharing supports international partnership.

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