Israeli volunteers’ group pursues peace agenda
Applause and cheers erupted from the crowded room as musicians put their instruments to their sides, stood and faced their audience, residents of the Palestinian village of Salem, with pride.
This was the maiden performance by students of the Salem Music Center following 9 months of learning.
With 6,000 inhabitants, Salem is a few kilometers from the city of Nablus, West Bank. The village lies between two Palestinian refugee camps, and the illegal Israeli settlement of Elon Moreh and near Skali Ranch outpost.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and the settlements have been sources of pain and hardship for the village. The locals have faced land confiscations, physical assaults, checkpoints, Jew-only roads and loss of livelihoods as their olive trees were burnt or uprooted. Worst of all, they faced a murder.
The second Intifada (the Palestinian uprising) in 2,000 resulted in Israeli controlled closures and curfews, trenches around villages, and huge boulders at entrances, hindering Palestinian movement. News about a family from Deir al-Hattab who were unable to purchase medicine for their two-year old epileptic daughter due to the closure of Nablus reached Israeli Asaf Oron, a social activist and volunteer. She remained untreated for 10 days. Eventually when taken to a hospital in Nablus, it was too late.
Oron maintained contact by telephone with the family, listening to tales of dire life in the West Bank, and how difficult it was to reach their olive groves. Thus began the work of the Villages Group.
Operating under the motto “Perhaps we cannot bring about a general peace, but we can perform deeds of peace,” these Israeli volunteers try to be a link, in a sense, between Israelis and the Palestinians.
Knowing that soldiers would not shoot Israelis, the group began their work by accompanying villagers to their olive fields, providing a safe passage.
The Villages Group challenges the status quo. Ehud Krinis, a member of the group, explained that aside from making direct contact between Israelis and Palestinians, `the group does not have a formal agenda.` If there is a need for something in the village, they extend help.
Born blind, 23 year-old Yasmin Jebara’s life has been filled with challenges and pain. Yet she has proven to be a fighter. In 2004, her father Sa’el Jebara was murdered by a settler from Elon Moreh.
Although the Jewish settler was sentenced for 8 years, he did not serve a day in prison. Jebara, 45, left behind his wife and six children, two of them blind. The group paid a condolence call to the devastated family, and since then, they make a monthly visit, bringing with them friendship and support.
Yasmin (means ‘jasmine’) remembers Ariella Dunayevsky, a group member, bringing her a jasmine on the first visit. With each visit the friendship and trust grew stronger.
The group arranged a visit for Yasmin and her brother to an eye specialist in Israel. However, their eyes are not made to see the world.
On the day this correspondent visited the Jebara family with members of the Villages Group, the atmosphere was just that, one of friendship and support.
Lively conversation filled the room as family members greeted their Israeli friends. Ehud Krinis, a member of the group, was obviously comfortable in his role as “family friend” as he mingled.
Having been active with Peace Now, an Israeli NGO, he worked against the occupation, but from within Israel. With collapse of the peace process in 2000, he, however, realized that peace was not going to be achieved in the near future.
“In order to be meaningful for myself, I had to go to meet Palestinians directly. What can ordinary people do? We have no political power so we must change the relationship with the Palestinians on a small scale,” he said.
He continued: “What are the chances of Palestinians meeting Israelis? None! Zero! So the Israeli impression of Palestinians is that they are suicide bombers, and the Palestinian impression of Israelis is that they are occupiers.”
The Villages Group also brought her two computers, and some donated English literature CDs.
Yasmin is not the only beneficiary in the village. The group helped Jubier Shtayih open the Salem Music Center in March 2010 where 15 children have received music lessons for the first time.
After eight months of training, the students were ready to perform for their fellow villagers.
Shtayih, manager of the center and music teacher, said, “The personality of the children has changed through music. Today our efforts will show.”
Yasmin agrees that the children have changed: “Children were afraid. The horizon of thinking has become wider and wider.”
As the Palestinian national anthem filled the room with 14-year old Shireen Rsheida’s beautiful voice, the Palestinian and Israeli audience stood together.
Yasmin’s words rang out, “This is humanity that links us together. I feel we are integrated parts.”
Noreen Sadik is an American of Palestinian origin. She is a freelancer for The Gulf Times (Qatar), and the New Internationalist (England). She has been worked With the Jerusalem Post (Israel) as well