THE March meeting of Sandford Women’s Group received a presentation from Liz Brookes-Hocking on her experiences as a Human Rights Witness and Monitor in the Palestinian West Bank for three months in 2016.

This proved to be an extremely interesting and eye-opening talk.

Liz went out to the West Bank as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel set up by the World Council of Churches in 2002 following a call for help from Churches in Jerusalem.

The Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) are volunteers from any faith or secular background and they have placements lasting three months. Liz was there from September to November.

Liz, currently the Mayor of Crediton, explained to the Group that her role as an EA was to witness and accompany vulnerable individuals and communities, engage with those communities in deterring violence from Israeli military and armed settlers and to help people feel safer.

They work with Israeli Human Rights Groups such as Rabbis for Justice and many Israeli lawyers.

Under International Humanitarian Law an occupying army is responsible for the protection of civilians but in parts of the West Bank they are the cause of fear.

The presence of EAs deterred settlers from upsetting farmers’ sheep, harassing Palestinian children going to school and the military from destroying Palestinian property.

Liz spent some time with a young Palestinian farmer, Mohammed, and his family who farmed land that had been in his family for generations. She explained and showed through slides some of the restrictions placed on Mohammed and other Palestinians by the Israeli occupying forces.

Mohammed and his family lived in a tent because they could not get planning permission to build a house. Their cooking facilities were inside a cave.

When Mohammed attempted to build a kitchen outside the living tent for his wife, he was prevented from doing so by the military because he did not have planning permission.

An ancient well that had provided water for them was destroyed by the military because they said it did not have planning permission.

Between 2010 and 2014  98.5 per cent of planning applications by Palestinians were refused whereas Israelis had been allowed to build settlements deemed illegal under International Law.

Another example given was of the fact that Israeli settlers come under Israeli Civil Law, whereas Palestinians come under the auspices of the Israeli military. Sometimes during the night the military would just enter Mohammed’s tent to the alarm of his children just to see who was there.

At the conclusion of her talk Liz handed out leaflets setting out details of where we could obtain more information about the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.

As the cricket season has now started Sandford Women's Group will not have formal meetings during the Summer.

Our April meeting is a coach trip to Sidmouth and the Donkey Sanctuary on April 18 – cost £18 per person - in conjunction with Lapford Over 60s Group.

Pamela Larcombe