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Searching for hope in Palestine

Ann Moroney
Written by: Ann Moroney
04/01/2018

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Age Action’s Ann Moroney writes about her three months in Palestine as a human rights observer and her hopes for a just future in the Holy Land.

Ecumenical Accompaniers like Ann travelling with a shepherd in the South Hebron Hills.

It was wonderful to visit places that I had been hearing about from the bible since early childhood and to see cities like Jerusalem and Bethlehem. However, I hadn’t come to this magical but troubled land as a tourist.

I was fortunate to be able to take a break from my work with the Age Action Intercultural Project and to go there as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

This World Council of Churches initiative works alongside Israelis and Palestinians in non-violent ways and advocates for an end to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, now in its fiftieth year, and for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It also provides a protective presence for vulnerable Palestinian communities. Every three months about 25 Ecumenical Accompaniers from around the world are sent to Occupied Palestine to experience what life is like for Palestinians. 

Life for Palestinians

My placement was in a very rural part of the West Bank called the South Hebron Hills. Most people in this beautiful, but arid, area live a traditional life as shepherds and farmers. Aspects of their way of life seem barely changed since biblical times.

Food is of central importance in Palestinian culture and, as I feasted on delicious bread and other foods cooked in the traditional tabun oven, it was easy to imagine this beautiful land as a potential centre of agri-tourism.

However, the tortuous difficulties faced by farmers and their families in the South Hebron Hills provide a snapshot of the enormous problems faced by all Palestinians in almost every aspect of their lives because of the oppressive policies of the occupation.

These are countless but include military checkpoints which restrict peoples’ movements, including to their own farms; the restraint on Palestinians building any structure without a permit the Israeli authorities generally refuse to grant, forcing people to build without one, making their homes vulnerable to demolition; the Separation Wall which cuts off access to Jerusalem; and the constant threat of violence from Israeli settlers.

The occupation has led to a drastic fall in living standards and deep levels of poverty. Because of its budget deficits, the Palestinian government is unable to meet the most basic needs of their society.

This political, social and legal environment obviously has a detrimental impact on everyone but older people, who have borne witness to it over so many years, are particularly vulnerable. 

A member of Machsomwatch leads a discussion with a group of Palestinian children whose family has been moved off their land.
A member of Machsomwatch leads a discussion with a group of Palestinian children whose family has been moved off their land.

Signs of hope

In such a corrosive environment the resilience of Palestinian, and many Israeli, people frequently astonished me. Two people, both of whom happen to be older, stand out.

One of them is Hanna Barag, an Israeli woman who set up an organisation of Israeli women, called Machsomwatch, when she was in her late 60s. They monitor and document human rights abuses at Israeli army checkpoints. Twenty years on, Machsomwatch consists of 250 women and Hanna continues to be a leading member.

The other is Suleiman, an elder of the Bedouin community of Umm al Khair in the South Hebron Hills. Suleiman told me that when he was a young man, following the founding of the Israeli state in 1948, the Bedouin were moved from the Negev desert and settled in their present home on land that cost 100 camels.

In 1983 the Israeli settlement of Carmel was established nearby on land that was taken from the Bedouin and settlers have since waged a campaign of harassment against them. However, Suleiman continues to lead his community with wisdom and restraint.

Leaving Palestine, and all of the friends I made there, I took with me some comfort knowing that because of people like Hanna and Suleiman there is still hope for peace with justice in Palestine.

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Raising the Roof - Homes for All Ages

Raise the Roof Rally for Housing 18 May

Preparing to Raise the Roof

Age Action, motivated by intergenerational solidarity, is joining the Raise the Roof campaign to tackle the continuing housing crisis that is affecting people of all ages.  People are being mobilised through trade unions and community organisations, to stage a major national rally on the housing crisis under the banner of Raise the Roof, in Dublin on Saturday May 18.

When people take an interest in what is happening in their local community, seek solutions to problems and initiate improvements they are being active citizens. Community is the foundational building block of society and housing is fundamental to community. Ireland’s housing crisis is rightly dominating public discourse as it undermines our ability to live with dignity as part of a community.  Ireland’s changing demographic brings with it a changing demand for homes that meet the needs of an ageing population.

The Government’s failure to deliver on a whole of Government approach to ageing and provide good quality social housing to meet demand has resulted in older people feeling subjected to negative, ageist language about their needs and wishes for suitable housing and health supports as is evidenced in the narrative on ‘down-sizing’ or ‘right-sizing’.

In the 60s and 70s the State implemented policies to support owner occupation of housing. People on lower incomes were able to buy their own homes which went some way to addressing wealth inequalities. According to Professor Tony Fahey, writing in Social Justice Ireland’s book ‘From Here to Where?’, by the year 2000 even low-income households owned substantial housing wealth and were less disadvantaged by inequalities in housing wealth than they were by inequalities in income.

Most of the growing population of young private renters today grew up in homes that were owned by their parents. Prof Fahey identified the essential features of secure long-term housing as being affordable, and having secure tenure. As he says, “today’s private rented housing has neither of these features”.

Looking at the future needs of an ageing population, for those aged 50-54 almost 10% were renting from private landlords at the time of Census 2016. It can be assumed that these people will continue in the rental market beyond their working years which leaves them in a vulnerable situation.

We encourage any and all of you who can to be active citizens and march with us on Saturday May 18 in a show of intergenerational solidarity. We will be gathering at 1pm at Parnell Square. You will find us behind an Age Action banner. At 2pm we will march down O'Connell Street towards Custom House Quay and join the Rally for Housing (location to be confirmed) by 3pm.

For more information about the campaign visit www.raisetheroof.ie