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‘Keep Hope Alive’... despite the unexpected

March 1, 2013

For the last quarter of 2012 I had the opportunity to work alongside our partners at the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) in Beit Sahour, Palestine. A joint project of the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine, the JAI was formed in an effort to better engage the existing international networks of the YMCA and YWCA as well as other church-related networks in advocacy for the people of Palestine and a just peace to the conflict.

Utilizing a sophisticated system of “laws” and policy, the Israeli government continues to annex land within the West Bank for the purpose of population transfer into the Occupied Territories. Despite international law against such practices, the practices of population transfer and land annexation continue without consequence.

As part of its work to create new and innovative ways of advocating for peace with justice for the people of Palestine, the JAI promotes and runs the Olive Tree Campaign. This unique program serves as a vehicle to better engage the international community. Through the sponsorship of olive trees the campaign works to establish facts on the ground for the Palestinian farmer’s ongoing struggle to retain access to and possession of their land.

Now in its 11th year, the Olive Tree Campaign has planted between 80 and 85 thousand trees. Despite this encouraging number, the UN reports that, on average, 7,500 olive trees are destroyed each year as a result of settlement construction and expansion, the construction of the apartheid wall, violence perpetrated by extremist settlers, and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Today, there are more applications for trees from farmers who are in jeopardy of losing their land than there are trees to distribute.

In addition to the raising of funds for olive trees, the JAI also organizes opportunities throughout the year to bring the international community to Palestine. Through an olive picking program in the Fall and an olive planting program in the Spring, internationals have the opportunity to work alongside local farmers in the West Bank in their struggle to remain steadfast.

If there is one common message I heard over and over again, it was an open invitation for the international community to visit Palestine. Greeted with open arms from the day I arrived, the people of the West Bank continue to live each day with the hope of a better tomorrow.

Feeling the world’s attention shift once again to the reality of the occupation, Israel continues to implement restrictions as to who can visit the West Bank. Over the New Year holiday I decided to visit Istanbul, Turkey. Upon my return to Israel, I was stopped by passport control and subjected to a four and a half hour interrogation process. In order to enter Israel I was forced to sign a paper stating that I would not enter the West Bank. The consequence of violating this agreement: deportation and/or possible detention. Despite the efforts of the Israeli government to suppress internationals from working in solidarity with the Palestinians, hope, like the olive tree, continues to grow and prosper from the most seemingly desolate of circumstances.

My inability to enter the West Bank presents some obvious problems to my original plan to work with the JAI for one year. After a brief period of itineration during the month of February, I will continue to serve as a global mission intern in Lebanon working with the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue.

During this season of Lent, may we all continue to work to ‘Keep Hope Alive’ in the anticipation of a new tomorrow!

Sincerely,

Andrew Long-Higgins

Andrew Long-Higgins serves as a Global Mission Intern with the YMCA Beit-Sahour in Palestine.  He worked on the annual JAI Magazine and did field documentation for the OTC.

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