This article was was published in the Stroud News and Journal.
Human rights activist Steve Hynd has returned home to the Five Valleys after five months working in one of the most volatile, divided regions on the planet. The vital observations he made in the West Bank helped inform major peace organisations desperate to bring stability to the landlocked territory, which has been fought over for decades between Israeli and Palestinian troops. Having met some extraordinary people on his travels, Steve is now keen to share his experiences of life in the strained region, where human rights abuses continue to shock the world.
“I LOVE Stroud – everything from its green valleys to its award winning ale. It has a buzz about it that combines a feeling of vibrancy with a relaxed tranquil atmosphere.
It was therefore quite a jump for me to go from a quiet life in the west country to accepting a position with a human rights monitoring scheme in the West Bank.
I have just returned from five months with the scheme, which was co-ordinated by the World Council of Churches.
Throughout my time I witnessed some terrible human rights abuses but I also met some inspiring people carving out lives for themselves in incredibly difficult situations.
For example, I met Mohammed in East Jerusalem who was evicted from his home aged just 14. His neighbourhood, Sheikh Jarrah, is being targetted by Israeli settlers looking to establish a permenant Jewish presence there.
Today, Mohammad lives back with his family but is forced to live alongside the settlers in his house, which has been literally divided into two, with his family living in the back and the settlers living in the front.
What struck me most about Mohammad’s story was the honesty with which he told it. He would be the first to admit that he reacted with deep anger towards all Israelis, feeling the rage and injustice of the situation in which he found himself.
This was until Israeli peace activists such as Tzvi Benninga started to come and help him, his family and his neighbourhood. This was the first time he had met an Israeli who was not a soldier or a settler. Every Friday, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals come together to protest in MohammadÕs neighbourhood.
One of my organisation’s roles was to go along to these protests to monitor proceedings. In the past it has been met with violence and tear gas and it would be our role to report that.
Mohammad is just one of a series of inspiring characters that I met whilst I was there. Now that I am back home I feel it is only right to try and tell the stories of a few of the people that I met.
As such I am hoping to do a series of talks around the area about my experiences.
If you would be interested in hosting a talk then please do not hesitate to contact me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whenever I asked anyone I met what they would want me to do to help their situation they nearly always responded in the same way – ‘go home and tell people what you have seen here’, they would say – so this is what I am hoping to do.