It’s a long way from Clare to Checkpoint 300. Barbara Walshe, a native of Co. Clare and a student on the Master’s in Reconciliation Studies programme at our Belfast campus, has recently returned from a stint with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine (EAPPI).
Walshe shared her experiences at a public seminar at our campus on Tuesday. Her story is at once fascinating, depressing, and inspiring. Walshe was based in Bethlehem this past summer with EAPPI. Her main task was monitoring Checkpoint 300. Palestinians, mainly male construction workers, must queue here daily to pass from Bethlehem to work in Jerusalem.
Walshe’s work has been featured in an excellent piece in the Sunday Business Post. This article, like her discussion with us, provides a snapshot of what life is like for those living under such conditions.
Indeed, the aim of the EAPPI is to ‘experience life under occupation,’ and to witness, or come alongside, those for whom this is a daily reality. The EAPPI website says that Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAS) like Walshe,
provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.
Walshe told us that her day began at 4 a.m., when she rose along with three other international EAs to queue alongside Palestinians. She said one of her main tasks was ‘counting,’ simply recording how many people passed by each day. She also took note of their experiences and when necessary, attempted to intervene if there were difficulties with soldiers manning the checkpoint. Information gathered by the EAs is sent to the International Red Cross and the UN.
The picture that Walshe painted was indeed bleak. She said she was moved by the degradation which was inflicted upon people at the checkpoints. Sometimes construction workers, the skin on whose hands had been worn down by their work, were sent back because could not pass through the fingerprint scanner. She spoke of men who wouldn’t take their children into Jerusalem because they didn’t want them to see the soldiers humiliating them. She said there was even a rather banal pettiness about the way that those queuing were, at times, treated as less than human.
On the other hand, Walshe said she could identify with some of the soldiers, often young and scared, or simply bored – wishing that they could be anywhere other than Checkpoint 300. And she praised the Israelis who dared to criticise their state for unjust practices, and to work at building peace.
Walshe said that the Quakers are instrumental in facilitating the EAPPI in Ireland and the UK. Several from the Belfast Quaker community attended Walshe’s talk. Walshe acknowledged that Christians are a minority in Israel/Palestine. But she provided some hope that they could witness for non-violent action, serving as a sort of bridging community for the other Abrahamic faiths, and striving for reconciliation.
She cited the recent ‘Kairos Palestine Document’ produced by Palestinian Christians, which diagnoses problems of sin and misuse of the bible,
Therefore, we declare that any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, transform religion into human ideology and strip the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth.
We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God. It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests, and distorting the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice.
The document goes on to urge education and dialogue, seen as the cornerstones of ‘hope.’
You can hear more about Walshe’s experiences on RTE Radio 1 on April 3, when it will air a documentary, ‘Witness at Checkpoint 300.’