Efrat Ben-Ze'ev is an Israeli Jew and a member of Ta'ayush. For the last three years she has taken a particular interest in the effects of the enforcement of residency permits and other restrictions on the Palestinian villagers of Nu'aman, which amount to a siege on their homes by the Israeli Defence Force. She had invited Ecumenical Accompaniers from the Jerusalem Team to learn more about the deteriorating situation. I was intrigued to know what journey had brought a Jewish woman to spend her time helping Palestinian people.
I first met Efrat at the yellow gate that marks the boundary to Nu'aman in Greater Jerusalem. The residents have been forbidden to leave their village by this road since 1994. They are West Bank residents who find themselves now illegally living in what has become land annexed into Israeli administered Greater Jerusalem.
Efrat was born in 1964 in Jerusalem where her parents had met and married.
She went to High School and then headed like all young Jewish people
towards National Service in the army at 18 years of age. There was nothing unusual about this.
Her parents' background and Efrat's roots lie in the stories her
grandparents told. They arrived from Eastern Europe, - "somewhere around Poland or the Ukraine" in the post First World War years of the1920's. They came with the Zionist ethos of pioneers and the desire to work the land in ways that had been prevented in their homelands. They found an intimacy with the local Arab people who were close to the soil, her grandfather's citrus groves didn't care about the differences and
continued to flourish happily next to his Arab neighbour's orchards. Her parents grew up in the rural setting of a kibbutz south east of Haifa with her grandmother upholding all the feminist ideas of equality.
When Efrat's turn came for National Service she took the option given to girls, of working for the Society for the Protection of Nature. Given professional training as a soldier and as a teacher,she acted as a tour guide leading hikes and explaining to her charges about nature and the archaeology and history of the landscape. She explained to me that although she developed an intimate relationship with the land, when they came to the rubble of a demolished Palestinian village, she would say "there was a village here" and nothing more.
Then over time she became aware of how the army operated, gaining first hand experience of indoctrination, hierarchy, control and of the ways that soldiers treated Palestinians. These were things of which as an 18 year old she had been ignorant. At the Hebrew University she attended courses on the Palestinian conflict "out of curiosity". This sort of information was always available but was only given if asked for. She described it as a sort of self censorship. It is not handed out and most Israelis don't ask and don't express any interest. They say "If I knew about it I would feel uncomfortable so I won't get too close".
In the late 1980's she made her first trip into the West Bank. She had heard of an Israeli financed hotline at a legal centre for Palestinian human rights, and she volunteered. She said "this sort of experience changes your world view". Such changes led to study abroad and a
doctorate thesis entitled "Narrative of Exile - Palestinian Reflections on three villages."
Coming back to the subject of the village of Nu'aman and her work with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), Efrat's involvement began with an organisation called Ta'ayush meaning "life in common" in Arabic. It was formed in October 2000 as a response to the violent clashes in Jerusalem at the time of the second Intafada. A group of Arabs and Jews sought a partnership to break down the walls of racism and segregation. Their activities are those of solidarity towards ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The weight of the conflict that had started in Israel moved into the West Bank and Ta'ayush members followed with food, blankets, humanitarian aid and acts of support. Members wanted to make a clear statement against the methods of occupation and held vigils and demonstrations. Over the next six months Efrat listened and learnt about the methods Ta'ayush members used. The group was not hierarchical, had no leadership but worked with passion and dedication for the upholding of human rights for all. There are now also groups in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Bethlehem.
The work in Nu'aman village began three years ago after some Israelis made a night visit to the residents demanding that they sell their properties, accept compensation and move away. Villagers were told "We are going to build on your village so you might as well leave now." They approached Efrat and Ta'ayush who have been visiting and responding to concerns ever since.
Two years ago a member of the EAPPI approached Efrat to give a talk on the Ta'ayush activities. Swedish EA Martin Smedjeback had met her at a vigil being held in Abu Dis (at the site where the Wall had first been
constructed) when Gandhi's grandson visitted. With the discovery of their common themes it was inevitable that it would lead to the mutual support of members of the two organisations. This was particularly the case in seeking to show solidarity and raise awareness of the pressures being applied to the Nu'aman residents.
Since that time subsequent groups of Bethlehem and Jerusalem EA's have continued to work with Efrat and Ta'ayush. The latest event occurred on 1st December 2006 when Efrat learnt from her local grapevine contacts that Israeli settlers had been emailing to plan a protest march to the village.
They were anxious to get their new bypass highway completed. This would
give them faster access to their settlements even though the construction work across village land is already progressing at great speed. The villagers will not be able to use this road on their land, just as they can't use the road at the yellow gate. Five EA's and five members of Ta'ayush met in the village and attended the checkpoint to witness the march and demonstrate solidarity with the villagers.
It is the task of our programme to undertake this sort of presence and it is a privilege to meet and work with such dedicated and caring Israeli people such as those in Ta'ayush.
Jerusalem, December 2006