The annexation of Palestine continues at full speed, at the same time that Sweden's government is sharply cutting aid to Palestine. The Palestinian feverything asks us to tell their stories, but how long can the outside world continue to turn a blind eye? This is written by Rebecca Henley, former companion in Israel and Palestine.
I have recently returned from Israel and Palestine where I have spent the last three months as a companion. There is so much to say, which makes it harder to find the right words. Words that can fairly describe and explain what I witnessed during my time in the West Bank. I wish I could hand out a chip with my memories that others could plug in to access all my experiences. Feel the smells, hear the sounds and taste the flavors. We're not really there yet, I have to work with the words instead.
I had a layover at the airport in Rome on the way home, it felt like being stuck in a glitch in the Matrix. A sort of intermediate stop before I could step back into my life in Malmö. Once back in a springy but windy Scania, everything felt like a dream. Like I took a nap and woke up. Maybe it feels so surreal because it's like two completely different worlds, life among the sheep in the Jordan Valley in contrast to the carefree everyday life here in Sweden. It is difficult to understand that these realities are going on simultaneously.
What reality am I referring to and what have I, as a companion, experienced in recent months? The Ecumenical Companions Program in Palestine and Israel works through non-violent protective presence to stand in solidarity with people working for peace. During three months, we companions gather knowledge and stories from life under occupation, which we then take with us to our home countries and spread further. We tell people's stories through, for example, lectures, information meetings and articles like this one. I have been stationed in the Jordan Valley and spent a lot of time with shepherds in Bedouin communities.
During the preparations for the assignment, I have learned a lot about the history behind the occupation and how Israel has de facto annexed more and more of Palestine for a long time. When I now look back on the time in the West Bank, it feels like a documentary film is being played on my retina. The various examples of Israel building new settlements and taking over more land have been played out for me, live. I have, you might say, witnessed a live broadcast of the annexation. Because that is exactly what annexation means, to take control of another state's territory through coercion and violence in order to incorporate it into one's own state. Annexation is often preceded by occupation, as in the case of Israel and Palestine.
With the new right-wing government in Israel, the annexation has gained momentum. Only in the three months I was in the Jordan Valley did I see how much had changed. Shepherds' pastures were further restricted, new Israeli outposts were established, archaeological excavations and nature reserves were used as a basis for demolishing more Palestinian homes while Israeli outposts were welcomed on the same land. This is precisely what is high on Netanyahu's new government's "to do list", which is clearly visible when one is on the ground in the West Bank.
Just before the departure for Palestine in the fall of 2022, Sweden's government presented an autumn budget with reductions in aid, which in turn resulted in 45 percent less aid to Palestine. The information contribution that we companions receive from Sida after completed information work was quickly withdrawn. The future of the companion program is now uncertain, previously Sweden sent around thirty companions per year, but after the cuts in aid, Sweden can only send twelve companions per year. The drastic reduction in Swedish companions affects the program largely because Sweden is the country that sends the most companions to Israel and Palestine every year. Again a feeling of standing in the eye of the storm and experiencing live what was reported on Aktuellt.
At the same time as I watch the live broadcast of the annexation and hear people say that we are needed more than ever, I hear Sweden's politicians say that aid is decreasing. An equation that doesn't add up. The voices of the Palestinian people echo in my head: "Why is your government doing nothing?", "Why is the outside world not reacting more?". These are difficult questions to answer over a cup of tea among sheep and goats in the Jordan Valley. I wish I could stand behind my government, but the truth is that the aid money that, for example, makes it possible for me to be on site in the West Bank has just been halved.
It's this reality that swirls around in my head as I try to process what I've witnessed. What I have seen indicates that international presence is more important than ever, who else is going to spread further information about the occupation that the outside world turns a blind eye to? It is not time to back down, we must step up and show that we want to promote peace and justice.