Sunday, April 27, 2014

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

or The Interconnectedness Of All Things Quaker...

I came across a link to Jean Zaru's Easter message the other day. I heard her speak at the FWCC Triennial in Auckland, January 2004. She spoke then of the challenges faced by Palestinians whose land was being taken by the Israeli government; of the challenges of being a Palestinian Christian - a group whose history is unbroken by time right back to the life of Jesus of Nazareth yet get ignored by many Western Christians, especially those in the States who vociferously support Israel against the Palestinians; and the challenges of being a Palestinian Quaker, and added twist to the christian identity crisis many of us face explaining our unique place in the ecumenical communities of our own countries. Sadly life hasn't got any easier there.

I first found the link on Facebook via Aletia who had been at the Triennial with me, before I went there I'd been told to look out for her by Roz who'd worked with her at Glenthorne Quaker Guesthouse. I've known Roz since the early '90s and despite a 10yr or so gap in age we've been friends as well as Friends all along.

I'd ended up at the Triennial mainly as at the time I was working with Bronwyn Harwood who then was the FWCC Europe & Middle East Secretary. Part of her job included going to visit Friends in Ramallah, Palestine and Brumallah, in Lebanon. I was the one holding the fort in her absence figuring out which emails needed forwarded on and which could wait 'til she came home etc. It was the closest I'd been emotionally to having F/friends in danger zones where there was a real risk of not coming home. Yes I'd had a cousin stationed in Beirut and Northern Ireland with the army in the '80s, and I knew other Quakers who had worked in some pretty unsafe places, including Palestine, but other than it being sad had anything happened to them (which thankfully as far as I know it didn't bar a couple of deportations out of Russia) the immediate impact on my life wouldn't have been that big. But had anything happened to Bron I would've been in the thick of dealing with it back in Edinburgh - not only in terms of work, but personally as a long time friend of the family and the impact it would have had on our Meeting. Given this was around the time when at least three international observers were killed by Israelis I was always extremely relieved when she was safely back home again.

Over the years since I've known quite a few people who have been to Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams and Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel plus some study tours (which you'd like to think were less risky) and helping with the Palestinian olive harvests etc. So far no-one I know has been injured or killed in the line of duty, but there is no doubt the risk is still there. Currently Bronwen, who also happens to be Roz's mum, is there as an Ecumenical Accompanier and is sharing her story. Like Bronwyn she too was part of Central Edinburgh Meeting when I was, in fact Bronwen was my support person when I was WGYF administrator - a job I combined for a while with working with Bronwyn for EMES, the WGYF office being in her home.

In the run up to Bronwen and her cohort heading off to Palestine there were a number of posts and photos of the training event at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham on Facebook. I got double dose as another old f/Friend of mine, Mike, was one of the trainers. He was my line manager when I was WGYF administrator, and 10yrs ago was on Friends House Moscow Board with Bronwyn (and is also one of my f/Friends who've managed to be deported from Russia). Russian Friends have been much in my thoughts too of late due to the situation in the Ukraine. (FHM's statement on the situation and the response from FWCC World Office is currently on the World Office home page) I was rather relieved to hear lately that a Russian Young Friend who had been in my Home Group at WGYF has returned to Moscow having been living in Kiev until very recently.

As most posts have lately, this has taken me a few days to complete, which seemed meant to be as what popped into my feed since I started this but a link from Paul Paker, the Recording Clerk of Britain YM who I met at the World Conference in Kenya, they are busy looking for folk to volunteer for EAPPI next year.

It is pretty sad really to think that over the last decade life for Palestinians has got worse not better, it is also a sobering thought to hear news reports this week saying Russia is trying to trigger WWIII over Ukraine. How much credence to give that I'm not sure, but it feels like the clock being wound back not 10 but 20 or so years to the threats of the Cold War. I can't help but be cynical about the political influence of arms manufacturers seeking profits on this situation and surrounding propaganda. One thing that has changed though in the intervening years is the internet in terms of access to information, it is much harder now to restrict what news gets out that the 'authorities' don't want you to hear. I wonder if all the WWI centenary commemorations will have any impact on public perception of the perceived threat of global warfare? Or will it be so much for 'lest we forget'? And if the conflict in Ukraine does escalate, will we 'forget' about those who have been living with conflict for years, as in Syria, or decades as in Palestine? I hope not, and I hope that those who are risking their own safety to protect civilians and let the world know what is happening, continue to speak out and remind us of the impact the politicking has on every day lives.

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