Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) negotiate with a soldier in the West Bank.
During a lecture by the journalist and author, Robert Fisk, he responded to a question saying, “To know about the real situation in the Middle East, people need to go there and learn for themselves.”
This made complete sense to Noirin Healy-Magwa, and when she heard, through Trocaire, about the human rights monitoring programme, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), it felt like the right choice for her to pursue.
She sent an application form to the Quakers in London, and was accepted on the training programme. Within months she would leave her Wexford home and start an adventure that would literally change her life.
During her training with the Quakers, Noirin studied the history of the region and completed assignments to stimulate clear thinking on issues related to international and humanitarian law - conflict resolution, the principles and goals of the EAPPI programme and the practicalities of life in the West Bank.
As an EA, an Ecumenical Accompanier, she would live for three months in Palestine, monitoring checkpoints, witnessing demolition of houses and bearing witness to all aspects of life under occupation. On her return, she would be expected to share her experiences with the Irish public with a view to raising awareness and advocating for change.
“Arriving and exploring the old city of Jerusalem reminded me of the stories and images of the Holy Land which featured in my Catholic upbringing,” said Noirin.
“I relished in absorbing the incredible sensory experiences through the cobbled streets of the souk in the ancient city and explored the sacred sites of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
“However, the constant presence of groups of armed Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Border Police all over East Jerusalem reminded me that I was now in the occupied territories of Palestine.
“My placement in a tiny remote Palestinian village in the heart of the West Bank demonstrated that the freedom and access to ‘normal’ services are severely curtailed for Palestinians, who were surrounded by expanding outposts of Israeli settlers protected by the Israeli army,” she said.
“All across the West Bank, different kinds of settlements continue to grow, joined by military camps and roads for Israeli vehicles only, dividing the West Bank from West to East. In spite of the stresses with the occupation challenging the social and economic relations amongst Palestinians, the village community were very welcoming and appreciative of us, the EAs, and they shared their home produce of bread, cheese, fruits and nuts on a daily basis.
“My three months as an EA in the West Bank has been a transformative journey for me, and since my return, and through my talks, I continue to learn,” she said.
“Having lived under military occupation and seeing the daily impact on Palestinian lives, it is difficult to maintain a sense of hope to bring about a just peace, based on international law and relevant United Nations Resolutions,” Noirin said. “But I cannot give up hope and I remain convinced that the solution will arise from Palestinian and Israeli peace organisations and academics exploring methods of resistance and peace.
“This must include the pursuit of rights under international law and a new emphasis on global solidarity and non-violent resistance,” she said.