Patricia Mercer of St. John’s returned from a five-month stay in Palestine in July. She is now talking about what life is like for the Palestinians to bring attention to the need to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Israeli soldiers plan their raids for the middle of the night, she says, often terrorizing families, searching their homes, having them stand outside for hours and often taking teens into custody.
During an interview at a local coffee shop Thursday, Mercer said while she didn’t witness any raids, she visited families the morning after the raids occurred.
In one case, she said, a 16-year-old had been taken and detained.
The same teen had also been taken nine months before, when he was 15. He told his family that he’d been placed in a cell, left there for two days and then released.
Mercer said the teen was traumatized by the experience. He started bed-wetting and seldom left the house. He was under a doctor’s care for his stress, she said.
When Mercer visited the family after the teen had been taken for a second time, she found the father very agitated.
“We took his information, but were reluctant to leave. He seemed to need our presence and so we stayed until others arrived to sit with him.”
Mercer was told that, because of the boy’s failing health, he was no use to the army and would likely be released.
She was called back to the home two days later. The teen was home. Mercer still finds it difficult to talk about what the boy had been through.
“He had been bound by his wrists while in detention, raised off the ground and kicked and beaten by the soldiers. He was in no condition to talk to anyone,” she said.
Mercer wonders what will happen to the teen when he appears in court in a few months to answer to whatever charges he had admitted to under interrogation.
Mercer travelled to Palestine as a volunteer with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
Ecumenical accompaniers — or EAs as Mercer was referred to during her time in Palestine — come from around the world and monitor and report human rights abuses to international agencies.
Mercer’s first placement was in a farming village called Jayyous in the West Bank. About 3,000 people live in the village, she said.
They suffer from violence and harassment by armed Israeli settlers and have little protection from the Israeli authorities, she said.
Many of the villagers have lost land to Israeli settlements or to the wall that separates Palestine from Israel.
“We would monitor the gates to make sure they opened on time and that there was no humiliation to the farmers who were going through the gates to get to their land.”
There were other times when members of the Israeli army would come into the village with guns pointed.
“We were in the middle of all that. We’d be called when they’d come in and we’d go there just to witness what they were doing.”
Mercer said the volunteers weren’t welcomed by the Israeli army. They were told to go home, but were never harmed, she said.
Mercer is a retired teacher. She and the other volunteers also taught English to the women of the village.
It was a good opportunity for them to get to know the women, who traditionally spend most of their time in the home, she said.
Mercer’s second placement was in the small village of Yanoun, also in the West Bank, where she continued to provide a protective presence for the villagers who, she says, are under constant threat by settlers.
Mercer says the Palestinians are frustrated and upset with the occupation.
“They don’t know where to turn… but at least with our presence, they have somebody there that knows what’s happening.”
Mercer is now giving presentations about her trip to help people realize how important it is that the occupation end. Both sides need to work towards peace, she said.
“The Palestine voice has not been heard. It’s unimaginable to know that somebody doesn’t have the rule of law to protect them in their lives. I feel so lucky to live where I am.”