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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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Age Action Calls for €9 per week Rise In Old Age Pension in Budget 2020

Organisation also proposes that Government commission research on the Cost of Ageing to ensure policy meets needs of ageing population

Age Action, the advocacy organisation for older people, has called for the state’s Old Age Pension to increase by €9 per week in Budget 2020. The call was made at today’s Pre-Budget Forum, which is being organised by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and is being held in Dublin Castle’s Conference Centre.

Celine Clarke, Age Action’s Head of Advocacy and Communications, said that a €9 increase in the weekly Old Age Pension would be a key step in building towards the Government’s own commitment that the pension should be set at 35% of average weekly earnings.

“The National Pensions Framework was published almost 10 years ago and it committed the Government to benchmarking the Old Age Pension at 35% of average weekly earnings. In order to move the current pension payment towards the delivery of that target, we are calling on the Government to increase the weekly pension payment by €9,” Celine Clarke said.

Ms Clarke provided additional context to Age Action’s call for a €9 per week pension rise, when she explained that in 2009, the weekly income for pensioners depending on the State – when all the benefits were added together – was €265.44, this year it’s €273.63 – only €7.89 higher than it was higher than it was 10 years ago. 

“While pensions have increased by a welcome €5 per week over the last few years, there is no clear and transparent formula informing these increases, and Ireland is also unusual in setting the pension rate in the budget every year. Age Action is urging the Government to consider applying a triple lock formula for pension increases – namely, guaranteeing that the basic State pension will rise by a minimum of either 2.5%, the rate of inflation or average earnings growth, whichever is the larger.”

In addition to the proposals on pension increases, Age Action is also calling for:

  • The commissioning of research by Government on the Cost of Ageing to inform the development of policy so that the country can meet the needs of our ageing population – a similar exercise has been carried out in relation to the Cost of Disability;
  • Increase the income threshold for all means-tested benefits in line with increases to the Old Age Pension and secondary benefits;
  • Increase the Living Alone Allowance by €5 per week;
  • Increase the Fuel Allowance rate by €2.35 and reintroduce a 32-week payment period.

Pre-Budget Submission to Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection

ENDS