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


Independant Candidate Afaf Shatara and the Palestinian Local Elections

How a Christian School Director Won Elections Without Campaigning
Dec. 23, 2004


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„Success is nice“, she says. No doubt, Afaf Shatara is happy. She has been director of the girl's school in Azzun with about 500 students and 28 teachers for 30 years. All of them are muslim. And now the students and colleagues and the whole community made her a christmas gift on Dec. 23, 20004, on the first local elections in the Palestinian Authority. 861 voters out of around 2.000 voted for her. Only one of the candidates got more votes. "That means: the people like me and appreciate the work I have been doing here." So she is the only independant candidate among ten members of Arafat's Fatah to sit in the eleven seat local council.
Afaf Shatara got that sensational result without any campaign. Even on election day, when her school was the polling station. "I just voted and went home at once." She is a good teacher in democracy as well. And so on Christmas Eve this year her muslim neighbours did not only come, like all the years wishing you a Merry Christmas, but also to congratulate her to that result. And like all the years she would serve them self-made Christmas cookies.
Besides she is the only woman, who was elected directly to the local council by the number of votes. A second female politician gets a seat just because of the quota. For months women's organizations, supported by NGOs like the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches (WCC), were demonstrating in front of the election committee in Ramallah for the quota. First they should get 25 per cent of the seats, then 20, finally just 16. What means in the case of Azzun: Two out of eleven seats are reserved for women. Afaf Shatara supports the quota, but prefers her own performance. Especially since there have only about ten per cent of the voters women. And still, as she believes, the women have to vote according to what theirs husbands or brothers tell them. "The men decide, whom the women will vote for. For them elections are a matter of family." And she tells this obviously while trying to keep neutral, tolerant and understand this. She is even asked to become mayor, but she doesnot like this full-time job. She wants to stay director of the school, where the door to her room is always open. Permanently teachers ask for their advice. It is the day of examinations. In the 12th grade they write their final exams in Arabic. Afaf Shatara listens carefully and then gives a short precise answer smiling. And smiling the teachers leave her room. "The last year we were among the ten best schools at the examinations on the West Bank." That's important to her. And that the new school is well equipped with computers, laboratories and a library. And that the Unesco school is delivered with special information. The friendship with a norwegian school is cultivated through regular visits. What about a partnership with an Israeli school? "No, that's not a good moment for that. Perhaps in the future. Right now they are killing us and destroy our houses and our lives. How can we build up good relations with them? Here we only see the army and not the human beings, some of them might be good."
The importance the Palestinians attribute to education is extremely high. Even in the smallest villages there are schools with qualified teachers. During the first Intifada (1987-1994) schools and universities used to be closed for longer periods. Therefore the Palestinian Authority has tried a lot to keep the education system going since the second Intifada started in 2000. The curriculum has been changed. English is now teached from the first year, what the former English teacher Shatara likes. The dress of the girls has changed as well. The blue school uniform nearly dissappeared below the long dresses. 90 per cent of the students wear Hijabs, as well as all the teachers, except for one. "This is rural area, very conservative", Afaf Shatara explains. Among the students at the gate of the school yard no girl likes to show a man the way to the teacher's room. "Some of them are raised like this, and if their father doesn't allow them to talk to men, they don't do it."
Every morning the students stay calm and pray for one minute, when an inhabitant died as a "martyr". Everyone who dies in fighting with Israelis is called "martyr". Either by Israeli soldiers or in a suicide attack. Do they discuss this in the classes? "We should not interfere in politics so much", she says. Knowing that this is politics too. The families here have for a greater part their origin in Haifa or Jaffa. That is their home, they were forced to leave with the independance of the State of Israel in 1948. "Many believe, they will return there, whenever this will be."
Her own family has been living here since 1650. But right now only she, her brother and his wife are left. The three catholics are the only christians in the town of 10.000 inhabitants. The next church parish is in Nablus. Until the beginning of the Intifada they used to go to church there. In the meantime they have to pass several checkpoints on this way. Including the fearsome one at the entrance of Nablus. Since then they pray, if they pray, at home. The christian presence in the countryside is getting thiner and thiner. The last to move out of Azzun to Ramallah were an uncle and an aunt in 1992. "The christians are leaving the countryside since they like to live in the cities, in the civilization", Shatara tells. But moving to Nablus or Ramallah is often just the first step of the irresistible Exodus of christians in the Holy Land. The next step leeds to Amman, Damascus or Beirut and often further on to Europe or America. Some decades ago 60 baptized Shataras used to live in Azzun, now they are wide spread in Michigan, France, Berlin, Jordan and Palestine. Afaf stayed here. To be precise: she always came back from trips to Malaysia, Romania, Morocco, Italy: Rome, Milano and Venice. She knows the USA very well. "The Americans are very nice. But they practise a very bad politic. They are always on the side of Israel." And for her they are too mighty. "And might means right. We hope that this will improve." It does not sound like great hope.
And does she support one of the candidates for the presidential election on Jan. 9 as a successor of Yassir Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority? Yes. But she will not tell whom.


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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.