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Covid- 19 The border closed behind us – West Bank

International Nonviolent Communication Training (IIT) in Beit Jala, just outside Bethlehem, Palestine West Bank, in February 2020.

Time, since I returned to London on March 8th, has passed in a blur, writing this now meets my need for coherence, order, and celebration of my trip to the Holy Land to attend 9 days of Nonviolent Communication Training with Israelis, Palestinians, and Internationals.

Many of you know (and some of you may not know), that the aim of these IIT’s is to enable nonviolent dialogue between people who are experiencing conflict.  It is primarily a training course in NVC, for local people who work in their communities. It brings in some funding through inviting Internationals who help pay for it, and also learn NVC in a place of conflict, to take back to their own communities.

The facilitators carefully navigate their way through some opposition to these West Bank training courses and have to hold the possibility that they may be stopped, disrupted, or cancelled for various local reasons.

Covid- 19 haunted our steps

This year it was COVID19 that haunted their steps towards running the course, which was 22 February to 5 March 2020.

It was a risk that just worked out in terms of timing.  During the 9 days in the beautiful Retreat Centre in Beit Jala, we heard that Bethlehem had its first cases of the virus in the Angel Hotel.  Concurrently, those participants who were eligible in the Israeli elections went back across the border for a day to vote on 2 March, and then returned for the last three days of the IIT.  Our remaining days were spent in a flurry of comings and goings and wondering whether we could leave in time before any of us caught the virus, and/or the authorities closed the border between Palestine and Israel, which would have meant total quarantine in the West Bank.

Image Israeli West Bank Wall 

Survival mode was triggered!

One of the NVC trainers in the West Bank who also works for the Palestinian Health Authority encouraged us Internationals to leave as soon as possible.  I was triggered into survival mode, cool, calm, How-Do-I-Get-Out-of-Here.  I went to my room and did the Self-Empathy Dance Floor.  I recognised that behind the cool/calm bit there was complete terror at the thought of lockdown in Palestine.

I was leaving!

In retrospect, I feel ashamed that I broke the rule of all “good” travelling companions, and told the woman I had travelled with that I was leaving immediately.   I knew she wanted to stay to complete a hike that she had planned the next day through the hills surrounding Bethlehem.

I am 74 years old.   My needs for safety for my wellbeing, for self-care, and my autonomy are paramount.

I felt guilty for prioritising my needs and at the same time, had absolute certainty that I was doing the right thing. My travelling companion did get through the border into Israel the next day with two hours to spare, and we met again in Jerusalem.  I felt relieved!

Image: the Holy Land

The group held together through their mourning and celebration of life

In spite of these distractions, worries, concerns, the group held together to the last, carried on with their learning, mourning and celebrating, and raising the roof in the No-Talent show.

This IIT must have earned its place as one of the most challenging for the Facilitators, who had to hold this unprecedented and fearful problem, think and plan ahead and on their feet, as the situation changed from hour to hour.

The authorities did close the border 24 hours after we left, and none of us caught the virus.  I am celebrating my own learning: sitting in a group in realtime with people who have life and death reasons for being there. This event is the sharp end of the conflict. I am touched by the courage of the participants and the skill of the facilitators of this particular IIT.

Image: Angels pull the walls apart in Bethlehem

If you would like to know more about International Intensive Training   follow this link

Written by Luli Harvey

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