JEAN Reddyhoff, just back from a two-week fact-finding trip to Palestine, is getting fed-up with people asking if she enjoyed her holiday.
“It definitely wasn’t a holiday - interesting, eye-opening, yes, but a holiday, no”, she laughs.
“It was a great privilege to get the chance to visit Palestine and Israel and some of the holy sites but at times it was an overwhelming experience.”
Jean, wife of Lee Reddyhoff, minister of Upper Edge Baptist Church, travelled in a party of 48 with the WorkTrek organisation, led by Noel Moules. She was heartened and saddened - and occasionally scared - by some of the sights she saw.
“Having to go through the checkpoints in the West Bank was difficult for us but it was so much worse for the Palestinians who have to endure endless queues every day to get to their place of work or their farms,” said Jean.
At one point ten of the group were ordered off the coach by armed guards and told to surrender their passports for inspection. At another point one of the men on the trip was taken off for questioning.
“It was quite intimidating. You are told that everything is being done ‘for security reasons’ and you cannot question that.”
Jean, who works for Overgate Hospice, Elland, said the trip was part pilgrimage, to visit the ancient sights of the Holy Land, and part study tour to investigate human rights issues and the political situation in the Palestinian territories.
“I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of the politics in that land but the extent of suffering of the Palestinian people was clear to see. Families are being forced out of their homes and off their land and water is being diverted into Israeli territories so that vital crops die and wells dry up. Water is then sold back to the Palestinians and has to be stored in barrels on the roof - for which permission has to be sought.
“Olive trees, some of which were hundreds of years old, have been uprooted and burnt and sprawling illegal settlements spread across the hillsides.”
On the one hand Jean travelled through a varied and beautiful landscape with lush valleys and stunning wilderness but, on the other, she was shocked by the sprawling modernity of Jerusalem and the sight of the ‘Separation Wall’.
“This wall has to be seen to be believed. It is erected from 18 metre concrete blocks and straddles the landscape like an ugly scar. In many places, such as Bethlehem, it is now a magnet for some amazing graffiti and people from around the world leave their thoughts on the wall with a can of spray paint.
“Many Palestinians in the West Bank have to cross the wall to get to their place of work. People queue from 4am to get through. They have to go through a metal grille tunnel, two or three turnstiles, produce their ID and permits and have a fingerprint check. Often they are detained for no good reason and sometimes the queues are so slow that they don’t even get to work.
“It looks like a high security jail - however these people are not prisoners, they are just workers trying to get to work.”
Jean’s trip included visits to Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jericho, the Dead Sea and two days camping in the arid wilderness. But her abiding memory is of the dedication of the human rights organisations who are working in Palestine and the dignity and patience of the Palestinian people.
“Despite their plight I found them to be remarkably gracious. All they want is their land, and freedom to move around within it, and to live peacably with their neighbours.
“It has been difficult to settle to ‘normal life’ since I got back, and I know others on the trip have felt the same.”