CHRIS & EAPPI
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) Dec. 2004 - Feb. 2005


Two Worlds Twenty Minutes Apart
Lydia Gall, Sweden/EAPPI

Jayyous. A small village in the northwest of the West Bank approximately 20 kilometres from Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean. Some of the villagers support themselves on the profits from their olive groves. The problem is that the olive groves are separated from the village itself by a fence that the Israeli government has erected. The villagers may only pass to their olive groves through two gates along the fence at certain times in the day and with special permits issued through complicated bureaucratic processes. But in truth, there are no guarantees for passage since when all is said and done; it is up to the discretion of the Israeli soldiers whether the farmers can pass.

The adult population in Jayyous is mainly unemployed. Before, several of the men worked in Israel, but most of them got fired from their jobs as a result of movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians arising from the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000. Farmers who depend on olive production for their living can have their olive groves destroyed by Israeli settlers, who are protected by the army. The most severe hardship the farmers must face is the confiscation, on dubious legal grounds, of their farmland. Still, rural life in the village goes on although at a slightly slower pace than before.

Sunset in Jayyous. My German colleague Chris and I stand on a hill and look straight into the sunset. The sky is radiant. Chris points to the horizon and says: “Over there you can see Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean.” The same sight greets the farmers after a hard day’s work in the olive grove. The difference is that the villagers of Jayyous cannot go to the sea.

Qalqiliya. A small town in the northwest of the West Bank close to the village of Jayyous. The town is completely encircled by a nine-metre high concrete wall and a fence. Since the second Intifada broke out, a considerable amount of stores were forced to shut down. The shopkeepers were dependent on Israelis who came for cheap bargains in Qalqiliya. The economy is drained and commerce is slow. Still, the remaining businesses must go on although at a slightly slower pace than before. And like the villagers of Jayyous, the townspeople of Qalqiliya are restricted from visiting the sea.

Noon in Qalqiliya. The sun is high in the sky. The heat is starting to become unbearable and the stench from the open sewage system close to the concrete wall is almost insufferable. The knowledge of the sea so close by is ever present.

What started off as a joke becomes reality when we suddenly find ourselves in a taxi, driven by a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, en route to Tel Aviv - to the Mediterranean.

We leave a world of poverty, unemployment, injustice, and dirt behind us and drive into a different world 20 minutes away.

Afternoon in Tel Aviv. The seafront resembles any Western tourist resort. It’s modern, clean, and filled with thinly-dressed people in crowded bars. So close to Jayyous and Qalqiliya, yet light-years away. The sea has no memory and for a short spell for the first time in months, we feel light-hearted and free of the thoughts of occupation.

But the freedom in Tel Aviv is a façade. The lack of freedom in the seemingly idyllic environment is manifested by a constantly present fear: The fear of Palestinian suicide bombers. This becomes evident by massive security measures at the entrance to one of the pubs along the seafront. By pure chance, we discover that we are sitting in an Irish pub, Mike’s Place, which was bombed a year and a half ago. I do not know if the Israeli fear of additional suicide bombs makes itself felt in us – we discussed it before we entered the pub but now no one mentions it. But the thought is surely there. Still, social life in Tel Aviv goes on, although at a slightly more cautious pace than before.

Sunset in the Twilight Zone. The car-drive along the poorly-constructed roads back to Jayyous reminds me that I have returned to the world I left a few hours before. Nothing has changed. Everything is the same.

Evening in Jayyous. From the hill I can see the lights of Tel Aviv in the distance. The Mediterranean is no longer visible in the darkness. Perhaps it would be better if it would not be visible in daylight either. I remember what my Swedish colleague Anna told me of the mother from Jayyous who had to explain to her little daughter why she could not swim in the sea over there. I wonder what her answer was.

Tomorrow is a new day for the villagers of Jayyous, the townspeople of Qalqiliya, and the Israelis at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv.

Representatives of two people united in a chokehold of fear and restrictions and separated by suspicion, barriers, walls, and fences. The refusal to forgo a fairly normal, functioning, everyday life on both sides appears promising - a type of defiance of restriction of movement and fear. Perhaps it is a subtle sign of a gathering change? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the sea in the distance remains a constant reminder and symbol of boundlessness and freedom.



On the beach between Herzlija and Tel Aviv


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Disclaimer: I have been active from Dec. 2004 to Feb. 2005 for Evangelisches Missionswerk in Südwestdeutschland (EMS) as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer EMS or the WCC. If you would like publish the information contained here or disseminate further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer and Managing Director (eappi-co@jrol.com) for permission. Thank you.