Praying for justice and peace in Azzun
Arrests of Palestinian civilians and vandalism of their homes at the hands of Israeli military forces is not a new phenomenon in the West Bank. Natalie Maxson, a volunteer for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, speaks from her experience of meeting a family in Azzun faced with a similar situation.
On October 3 our ecumenical accompaniment team in Jayyous received a call from the Azzun municipality about twenty–year-old Mohammed, who had been arrested when his family’s home was invaded by the Israeli occupation forces in Azzun.
Located in the northwest of the West Bank, Azzun is a small town of about 10,000 Palestinians. In only one week five young men were arrested in Azzun.
We were invited to visit the family, and we learned that the Israeli soldiers entered the family’s home early one morning at three o’clock. When we reached the house we were greeted at the front door by Zahran, father of Mohammed.
“They came and destroyed everything,” he said.
We were led around the house. He showed us his truck which he used to transport vegetables to sell in the market. The hood was open and we could see the motor had been destroyed. In a shed next to the house we could see sacks of olives, recently harvested by the family, sliced open and dumped on the ground.
Inside the house wardrobes were pushed over, broken, and clothes were thrown on the floor. It felt as if I were visiting a site that had been affected by an earthquake. I noticed some women, neighbours and relatives, gathered in the living room consoling one another. One of them who spoke English approached us and introduced herself as Ayesha (not her real name).
Children faced with fear
I leaned my head into the doorway of a bedroom adjacent to the living room and asked the woman, “Whose room is this?”
“This is where the little sister of Mohammed sleeps. She’s not here. She went to school this morning,” replied the woman.
“How is she doing?” I asked as I looked in the room which had clothes and personal items strewn all over the floor.
“She is so scared. The soldiers went in her room and threw things. She was crying a lot.”
Fifty Israeli soldiers entered this family’s home. Many of them wore black masks and had dogs. They rounded up the entire family and ordered them to stay in the living room for two and a half hours while they ransacked the house and arrested Mohammed.
During that time, the little brother of Mohammed, a school-aged child was not even permitted to use the toilet. Another brother closer to Mohammed’s age, Ramsi, was punched and beaten by the soldiers.
Aggression affecting families
We were invited into the living room and offered tea. The family members were clearly shaken. As we sat and talked, an elderly woman entered the room with a walker and a cane. This was Fatima, the seventy-five year old grandmother of Mohammed. She told us that when the soldiers entered the house, they hit her on the head and pushed her.
I sat beside Fatima to show her the photos I took of her. I pointed to the henna on her hands and she saw that I also had some henna flowers painted on mine. She clasped my hand in both of her warm hands and said, “Welcome, welcome!”
What if she were my grandmother? I felt a deep sadness that this elderly woman had been treated with such aggression.
“They come and terrorise the people. They come to punish and humiliate us,” explained the neighbour whose home had also been invaded by the soldiers that morning.
Many young men in Azzun have been arrested without charges. Other families say that they don’t know why their sons are arrested or if they will be detained for a few weeks or will be put in prison for several years.
Many of those arrested also go to prison without a trial. This is one of the realities of the occupation where martial law governs the lives of Palestinian civilians.
Praying for peace
The prophet Isaiah proclaims that the fruits of justice will be peace, and people will live in “peaceful habitation, and in secure dwellings and in undisturbed resting places” (Isaiah 32:17-18). This verse makes me wonder about the importance of home and safety.
I pray for the children who are woken abruptly in the middle of the night to the sight of masked soldiers with guns in their bedrooms. It is not a nightmare. This is the reality for many Palestinians living under occupation who suffer military house invasions.
The prayer which is also the theme of the upcoming assembly of the WCC, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”, becomes more relevant in this situation. I pray for a West Bank where children can feel safe in their homes and where their rights will be protected.
Natalie Maxson serves as ecumenical accompanier with the EAPPI.