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Taking risks for peace

Julia Guest reports from the West Bank city of Hebron on the work of the Christian Peacemaker Team and the philosophy behind their approach to nonviolent interventions.

She's just coming home from Ramallah, she's been away, you have to let her through explained Anita, with her Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) armband and hat, a signal of her role as interventionist. The two soldiers did not look convinced, their sole purpose, to maintain curfew. No one can go now argued the young Israeli, and as if to add reason to his statement he added Anyway they are not human, you saw on the TV. Implying the lynching in Ramallah of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers may also be blamed on this young woman.

 

For the past three weeks the city centre of Hebron has been under twenty-four hour curfew, only being lifted for a few hours every few days for the market to open, allowing everyone to buy their essentials or make their escape from the town.

Day after day, we cannot work, the children cannot go to school explained Seflika, a translator for the CPT. And they are afraid, they hear the gunfire night after night, it is no life for them. Seflika's house overlooks the tomb of Abraham, the father of Judaism and modern Islam. Nowhere is there a more direct symbol of the theological conflict. Half the building is a mosque and can worship over one half of the tomb, the other a synagogue. This place is now a military base she explained, the soldiers shout obscenities at me from their posts, while I hang my washing on the roof. Seflika's face is clearly strained and pale from the confinement.

We are still here

CPT came to Hebron after an invitation from Palestinian Christian groups to monitor the rate of settlement expansion after the Oslo accords, a document now proven to have been riddled with legal loopholes, allowing Israelis to build without any legal restraint all over the West Bank explained Kathy, a long-term member of the team. I helped write the project proposal in 1995, we thought then we would be here for five months, allowing for a couple of months monitoring the settlers reaction after the army left. She explained with an ironic smile, We are still here and so are they. In 1996, we found ourselves reporting on the settlers violence, they would knock people down in the street, even I was attacked, she added. The guy, Yigal Amir; who shot Rabin, had organised most of the settler attacks; after the assassination a lot of the violence stopped, because Amir was gone.

One day an Israeli contact called us about a house demolition and we went and found the owner of the house and got his permission to sit on the roof of the house to try to stop the demolition, from then on we responded to every house demolition we could. Shimon Peres heard about the demolitions and called for them to stop, after Netanyahu was elected the number of houses under threat went up into thousands. The Committee Against House Demolitions was formed from that, explained Kathy. The team has consistently helped Palestinian families rebuild their homes.

A peacemaking army?

CPT started in 1986 from the idea that Christiansshould be prepared to take the same risks as soldiers do in conflict areas, and be a Christian peacemaking army, and take the same risks for peace, otherwise they have no right to lecture on non-violent resolutions, continued Kathy. Right now we are on response mode, every time we go outside the work finds us.

The now daily task of writing up their reports for their Church groups has become a delicate balance of factual information, with a sensibility about what people can bear to be described. You know I visited the family of the man who was shot in his home two nights ago, explained Bob, a Basilican priest on the team. They told me how long it took to clear up the blood and remove the pieces of his skull and brain from the room. He had left the safety of the kitchen, to answer the phone and was hit with a 500 mm Fragment bullet from a helicopter. I put in my report simply his head exploded; some people thought that was too strong.

Andrew Getmans report of how a taxi driver was hit in the street by a sniper, prompted an email response of, How do you know for sure? In fact we were a hundred yards away, Andrew replied, is that a close enough account for you.

In the hospital the doctors are showing all the signs of the medical profession in despair, each serious case they now send out to Saudi Arabia or the Emirates they have a better chance and these countries can afford the treatment. There are now one hundred and twenty clinically dead, explained the surgeon. The despair is clear, each injury could represent a permanent disability. The X-ray of a dead man's chest show the havoc the bullets are reaching on bodies, tiny fragments from the deadly Dum-Dum bullets show up clearly over his whole chest.

The nightly barrage of machine-gun fire into the surrounding neighbourhoods keeps everyone awake and wondering. The night of the Sharm Il Sheikh agreement missiles were launched into the neighbourhood of Hart-I-Sheikh, explained Andrew, showing me the large ten-inch holes in the steel shutters of the local drapers store. You cant help wondering what or whom they are shooting at each time it happens said Kathy. Last night I went onto the roof to see if it was the soldier on the roof next door, he seemed to be looking down, I think they may have been shooting at rats; if that's all it was, that's fine by me.

Julia Guest is a professional photographer and sometime Peace News Photo Editor.
She has been visiting and working in Israel/Palestine on and off for many years.