PALESTINE: The meaning of accompaniment

6 October 2020

by CPT al-Khalil/Hebron team 

Accompaniment is one of the many ways we work with our partners. Whether it is walking with children to school or being present during olive harvests, accompaniment serves to amplify the community’s voices, collectively document oppression, and provide a sense of safety for some community members.

In a conversation with one of our partners Mohammed, he defined accompaniment “in the context of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank [as] a concrete way to offer the Palestinian communities some sense of safety. When accompaniers stand with a girl while she goes to school under the pointed guns of a soldier or the watchful eyes of a settler attempting to harass her, that means the world to that little girl. It means someone not only cares about one girl’s physical safety but that this person also cares to make a stand and speak truth to power. For the general Palestinian public, especially those on the frontlines facing soldiers and settlers daily, accompaniment means that they have a voice in the world. I have seen many accompani[ment] teams come and go over the years. Palestinians on the frontlines insist that the accompaniers take back with them one consistent message: to be the voice of these frontliners. The need for accompaniers has drastically increased during 2020.  COVID-19 related restrictions forced international observers and accompaniers out of Hebron, giving the Israeli occupation forces and settlers ample opportunity to make irreversible changes on the ground that need to be highlighted. Also, the school year is about to start in the West Bank and international accompaniers are much needed to be our voice.”

Basel, one of our partners from Al-Tuwani, spoke with CPT about the importance of collective documentation of human rights abuses. “It is important for international activists to accompany Palestinians in the field to document violations against the Palestinians by the Israeli army or Israeli settlers. This documentation is essential first, to spread the truth about what is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories, and second, as evidence in the Israeli courts.  The court usually believes the Israeli settler or the Israeli soldier and condemns the Palestinian, but activists' video and photo documentation of events constitutes as evidence for the court, and the court cannot deny the evidence.”

Basel also mentioned how accompaniment can cause small behavioural changes in the occupation forces. “Accompaniment gives the Palestinians a measure of safety, whether the Palestinian is a shepherd, student or, someone crossing the checkpoints. When there are activists in the field, we have noticed that the Israeli authorities’ behaviour towards Palestinians sometimes changes, for fear of filming and exposing them. Also, Israel wants the world to see it as a state that respects the law, not a state of occupation.  The Israeli occupation army and its settlers often attack Palestinians and the activists who accompany them. In fact, Israel has killed several international [accompaniers] who came to Palestine in solidarity, and Israeli authorities have prevented other accompaniers from returning to Palestine because of this accompaniment work. These practices indicate the importance of the presence of activists in the region.

Many school students need to be accompanied by activists, and many shepherds cannot go far into the fields because there are no activists. We hope that the Corona pandemic will end, and the activists can return to Palestine because we miss them and their work.”

In conclusion, accompaniment serves as one of the foundational pieces of CPT’s work. It is a piece that is hard to measure but is fostered through the relationships that are grown through collaborative work. By following the community’s lead in accompaniment, we can best amplify Palestinian voices and provide a tool to work towards the big but slow changes we all hope to see.