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Encounters visit to Palestine and Israel: Week One

Diving in head heart and hands

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Encounters associate Ben Yeger is in Palestine and Israel for nine weeks as part of a year long series of visits to deliver bi- national workshops with fellow members of Combatants for Peace (CfP). His visit will also involve supporting and taking part in actions that demonstrate non-violent collaborative  pathways to ending the occupation. The aim of this third and final visit in this year is to nurture the personal storytelling of Combatants for Peace members and offer other Encounters tools that can support activities for lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis

Week One

The main aim of this week was to renew connections (there is nothing like real human contact) and actually talk face to face to my fellow CfP activists about my plan for the next few weeks as the situation here changes day by day

It’s always so very immediate and full on here, I always feel that there is so much to do. So much to explore. So many pockets of action that can be taken. Of course I realise that I CANT do everything. This realisation is fundamental to what I and all of us need to be able to consider to sustain the struggle here. This is the quest to build sustainable, working relationships, to establish some fertile ground for living in peace, within ourselves and with our supposed enemies.

Two days after I arrived I  had the honour of sharing a platform with my dear friend Yousri, Palestinan co- ordinator of Combatants for Peace where he and I both shared our personal stories of transformation from violence to non violence with a group of English visitors. Jane, their organiser, met us at Greenbelt Festival in the UK earlier this year. This is a large part of CfP work to meet with visitors to the Middle East as offering tours and insight into the Occupation.

In the following days: visits to Tul-Karem  refuge camp and South Mount Hebron in the West bank to meet Palestinian friends and fellow Cfp members to share plans.  Always heart-expanding to go to the West Bank, it always amazes me that despite the fact that the Palestinian people live under an occupation, which defines so much of their daily lives, they are so very hospitable and humorous, it always chills me to remember that we were trained to believed they were our enemy.


On Thursday I  join an impromptu solidarity action in a small village called Zaatra not far from the famous archaeological site of the Herodion (Home of Herod the King of the Jews in ancient times.)  I had doubts and as I rose very early in the morning to travel several hours  I thought to myself- ‘ No one will come, we are not really sure what we are going to do, it might get violent with the settlers/Army. who’s organising this, what’s the purpose?’

In any case, I decided to get in the car and  as I drew near to meet my fellow activists (indeed only three of them) I noticed my heart settle down, though some beats of fear started to appear. We then set off towards the village- still not sure what we would be doing. And the land started to speak to me..

I had spent most of my army service in exactly this area. And although I couldn’t really remember much of the area in literal terms I could remember my 18/19 year old self running on the desert mountains pretending to shoot the enemy and I could feel the potential reconciliation that could occur as I drove through this piece of land. The earth was calling for change, calling for peace and transformation.

We arrived at the village and the Palestinian elders and farmers had prepared fresh coffee and were waiting for us. Other Israeli activists arrived and after a short debat and briefing we went off to the land. These villagers have not been able to safely work their land (Olive groves and other growing fields) since 2003 because Illegal Settlers have been violently preventing them from doing so. With the help of an activist group called Yesh Din they had now acquired legal protection and were there to help ensure that the settlers did not interfere with the work and that the Israeli army would uphold the courts order.

The settlers  stayed away and I had the real privilege to prune these olive trees that had been left since 2003. This was alongside Palestinian men and women who were clearly delighted to be back working the land, and also very happy to be supported by outsiders. The work was very straight forward and highly satisfying as tending the land can be, and it felt very natural to be doing this alongside my Palestinian brothers and sisters.

With a deep feeling of gratitude I continued my day feeling the land with me.  The following day still nourished by simple action and  the feeling that overcoming the initial barriers of apathy and fear are really worth gold, I was able to continue my focused journey of offering a creative way to support the long journey ahead within CfP.

More soon…

For more about Encounters work with Combatants for Peace

To see a Ted Talk with Ben Yeger