Reflections on Yanoun

By EA Emma

Emma served as an Ecumenical Accompanier with EAPPI for three months before returning home to the UK in June. Just before she left, she wrote down some reflections on Yanoun, a village she got to know well during her time in Palestine.

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The view over the Jordan Valley from below Nabi Nun [Photo: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

It’s seven o’clock in the evening, around 28 degrees, and the sun is setting over the Jordan Valley. This evening has been a quiet one, no settlers or army vehicles to speak of, and, as the sun sets over Nabi Nun[1], we turn and make our way back to the tiny village that has been our home for three months.

Yanoun lies to the east of Nablus in the northern West Bank. Home to around 80 people (50 under the age of 18), it ekes out a subsistence existence surrounded by outposts of the Itamar settlement. Inch by inch, year by year these outposts encroach upon the villagers’ land, cutting off access to their livelihoods and hemming them in.

The village is only 20 minutes from Nablus by car, but the road is made impassable to both Palestinians and internationals by attacks from settlers. Instead the villagers have to make a 50-minute detour through Aqraba. Most seldom bother.

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An EA looking out over the Old Nablus Road from Aqraba Hill [Photo: EAPPI/L.Espelund]

At night, the searchlights from the settlement light up the sky, a constant reminder of their presence. Sometimes music can be heard, so loud you can identify the individual voices singing.

As EAs we provide constant protective presence. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Once during our stay we all had to leave the village to attend a training event. That day two villagers were arrested accused of trespassing on Itamar lands – a sheep that didn’t even belong to them had strayed too close to the fence surrounding the exclusion zone surrounding the settlement.

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Settlement searchlights over Yanoun [Photo: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

In 1996 the attacks on Yanoun started – violence against villagers, crops and buildings was common. In 2002, they came into the village with guns, attacked several of the men, and told them that they did not want to see anyone in the village next Saturday. The whole village left that week.

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Upper Yanoun [Photo: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

Protective presence provided by Israeli and international peace activists allowed the villagers to slowly move back into their homes. In 2003 EAPPI took over, and in 2015, I went was part of the 56th group of EAs to live and work in Yanoun and the surrounding area. The villagers still live in fear that if we left, they too would be driven out.

It is a strange existence, coming from a busy city to live in a tiny village populated by more sheep than people, but also a heart-warming one. In the morning we would often be given fresh bread from the taboon, and several times a week we would have a knock on the door greeted with a villager with a bowl of food. People are always happy to make time to sit with you and have tea (though perhaps not when there is cheese to be made), and conversation is built on broken English, even more broken Arabic, and smiles.

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A settler guides two tourists around the village [Photo: EAPPI/S.Oppegaard]

When the settlers enter the village, all work stops. Everyone comes out of their houses, stands and watches until they go. As an EA, the sound of every car moving is suspicious. You are constantly checking: ‘white plates – OK’, ‘yellow plates – not OK’. The settlers hold walking tours through the valley, bringing children from other settlements and Jerusalem to visit the outposts. Sometimes they try and swim in the well, and then we go down and discourage them. They are always armed.

“The view from the placement house is beautiful,” said my colleague to Rashed.

“Yes,” he said, and made a gesture blocking the view of the top of the hills where the outposts are, from the fertile valley below, “beautiful”.

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Yanoun Valley in the spring [Photo: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

[1] Said to be the location of the grave of Nun, the father of Joshua, who led the Israelites to defeat Jericho.