Where were you based, and what sort of communities were you working with?
Sinéad Ní Bhroin: I was based in Bethlehem, very close to the separation barrier and the checkpoint for the cars. My team was involved with the shepherding community in Kisan, where we accompanied the shepherds twice a week, as well as at Al Minya and Tuqu' schools five times a week. We also were involved at the Tent of Nations once a week, in addition to the municipality of Tuqu’. We also accompanied people at the local refugee camps (Dheisheh Camp and Aida Camp) in Bethlehem, and at Checkpoint 300. We were involved in the larger Christian community as well, attending church services as well the Wall Prayer.
Can you describe one or two incidents you witnessed in the course of your work?
Sinéad Ní Bhroin: While I was shepherding in Kisan with the local shepherdesses and shepherds, two settlers came and started to harass the shepherds. One of the settlers, Yossi, was well known to the shepherds. The other was the head of the nearby settlement. Yossi was suddenly standing near me. The other settler tried to steal a goat and was holding it. The goat was squealing. The settler eventually let it go.
I visited a man and his brother after they had experienced the third demolition to their home since 2020. This was in Artas, near El Khader. The third demolition involved the destruction of one large room (that had been for the owner's brother, who has cancer) and a building for the pigeons, who flew away. This demolition was carried out by six or seven jeeps and two bulldozers. The area was closed off. They were not allowed to take anything from the house. Water pipes were broken, leaving them with no water. Two wells have been affected, one of which is under the original rubble. Some of the soldiers came down from the direction of Efrat and stayed for one hour during the incident. Because of the demolition, one of the owner's brothers had to cancel his wedding. Four families were affected by this, including nine children. The family went to stay in El Khadr.
Is there a particular person who remains in your heart?
Sinéad Ní Bhroin: I was most impressed by someone I met in Kisan. She is a member of the local village council and is very active in her community. She comes from Aida Camp originally. She takes a great interest in the local shepherds and often accompanied us while we went shepherding. She was our main contact for those days. She told me the story about her family and how they originally lost their land during the Nakba. They experienced the confiscation of their land a second time before moving to the refugee camp where she is now seeking refuge from the settler harassment in her village.
What are some of the lived realities of the people you accompanied?
Sinéad Ní Bhroin: People experience all types of challenges. Some children are afraid to go to school and fall behind in their education. People are unable to sleep because they need to keep one eye open just in case a settler comes into the village. Farmers and shepherds are unable to do what they have done for generations and are pushed into towns and an economic system which is something very different from what they have been used to, ending up creating even greater competition for work.
People's lives become increasingly impoverished as they are unable to get to work due to checkpoint closures or strikes.
Some people lose hope. People leave the country if they can afford to.
Towns are becoming more crowded as people move in from the countryside where they are unable to farm their land.
People's dashed hopes can turn to explosive anger when they are repressed and demeaned consistently over a long period.
The list is endless.
Do you know what’s happened since 7 October to the communities you were with?
Sinéad Ní Bhroin: Since my return, I have been in touch with a few people, not everyone yet. I know that. some shepherds went missing for a few days as they were scared after the settlers tried to kidnap them. They were later found unharmed.
I have also spoken with someone who has no work now because things have come to a standstill for him. He is worried about how he will manage.
I plan to get in touch with a lot more people.
Before you went, what did you think you would be able to achieve as a human rights monitor?
Sinéad Ní Bhroin: I expected to be a protective presence to the communities I worked with and to be able to witness and report on infringements of international human rights law and humanitarian law. I didn't expect to change facts on the ground but hoped that my advocacy work would help make a difference.
Did you feel your presence made a difference?
Sinéad Ní Bhroin: At times, I think we made a difference. I believe we provided protection to the shepherds simply by being an international presence. The shepherds wanted us to be there.
On another occasion, at one of the schools where we provided a protective presence, there were soldiers in a jeep across the street. When we came out of the playground, they left. This wasn’t always the case, however. But the schools wanted us to continue to visit.
At the Tent of Nations, we were told that our presence made a difference. They feel under siege and want as many volunteers to help by being there with them.
What do you most want people to know?
Sinéad Ní Bhroin: I think it is important for people to understand that many Palestinians simply want to live a peaceful life and to be able to bring up their children safely. They would like to be able to see a mountain, the sea, Jerusalem, get a good education—simple things that most people would take for granted. The occupation needs to cease. I would like people to understand the extent of the violations of international humanitarian law and not to be blinded by propaganda. I want people to understand some of the stories of people who simply want to graze their goats and sheep, travel on a bus to their work from the West Bank to Jerusalem, visit their relatives in Gaza, and know that the land their fathers bought will still belong to them in years to come.