Helping people: from Hull to Hebron via Oxford Brookes

Ian Cave worked in the NHS for 40 years, a career driven by his dedication to helping people. He recently spent time as a volunteer in Hebron, Palestine – helping people there to go about their daily lives despite the threat of human rights violations. Here he talks about his experiences and his hope that good people can bring much-needed change where there is conflict.

A truly rewarding career

Ian trained at the University of Hull, graduating in 1985 – one of the first nurses to earn a degree. He moved to Oxford in 1995 to work as a lecturer-Practitioner at Oxford Brookes, including teaching graduate students in major trauma care and minor injury. He also worked as a clinical nurse in the Accident & Emergency Department at Horton General Hospital, Banbury and on occasions at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.

“One of the things I liked about being at Brookes,” explains Ian, “was that in the role of lecturer-practitioner you’re teaching people theory in the classroom and also helping them put it into practice. It’s a great way of supporting students to fulfil their potential and therefore a great way to help patients.”

Ian enjoyed learning the technical aspects of nursing such as applying Plaster-of-Paris to broken limbs, stitching wounds together and resuscitation skills. But it was the chance to make a difference to people that really made it such a worthwhile vocation.

“I think the most interesting thing is people. In nursing, particularly in emergency nursing, you’re with people at a very acute and difficult time. You can do a lot in a short space of time to reduce their suffering. You can also build a rapport with them really quickly, as you explain to them what is happening so they feel a little more in control. This is very rewarding.”

In 2004, Ian’s career moved into commissioning services for patients with long-term conditions – another role where he could see the tangible impact of his work on improving people’s lives.

Volunteering in Palestine

Retirement has allowed Ian to do many other things, including walking 270 miles along the South-West Coast Path and becoming an activist campaigning on issues around climate change. Recently he travelled to Hebron to join a small international team with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). His role was to accompany Palestinians who live under the military occupation by Israel.

“Mohammed works in a shop just opposite Checkpoint 56, where the clashes usually happen. He epitomizes the friendliness and generosity of Palestinians in Hebron. Every day as we walked through the checkpoint he would see us and bring us coffee, sweets or snacks… and absolutely refuse any money for them.”

“We were human rights monitors – accompanying Palestinian men, women and children as they went to work, to pray or school, and as they went about their daily lives. This meant we could provide independent reports when there were violations of international law or their human rights. We took photographs, videos and eyewitness statements and sent these to the United Nations so they had verified information about incidents.

“We were providing a protective presence, helping to deter the Israeli military and settlers from violating human rights and international humanitarian law.” We can do this because we have the privilege of an international passport, which means we can come home and tell people what we have seen. Which means people tend to commit fewer human rights violations when they are being observed.

“It was something I could do which is a practical thing. People in Palestine really appreciate someone from the West coming and being with them because the thing they are most afraid of is that the occupation will be forgotten.” 

Encountering courage and resilience

Ian encountered a number of amazing people in his time in Hebron. One man in particular, Zidan Sharabati (pictured), made a deep impression on him.

“Zidan lives on a street with very limited access for Palestinians because it’s close to where some of the Israeli settlements are even though it’s in the heart of the old city.  And so, although he can walk out of his front door, he can’t drive a car to his front door. To get to his house from the market, he has to go through a huge military check point.

“He is part of an organisation called Human Rights Defenders. They teach local Palestinians to take videos of any violations by the soldiers or settlers. They then post them on Instagram to show the reality of the situation. This also helps to deter incidents from escalating.

“Zidan has been beaten up several times by the military. He’s lost his front teeth, got a broken nose and also lost the sight in his left eye when settlers threw stones at him and his mother when they were on the balcony of his house. He knows he is vulnerable doing what he is doing but he still does it. But this is his nonviolent way of resisting the occupation”.

Keeping hope alive

Now back in the UK, Ian is spreading the word about his experiences in Hebron and what he learned from them.

“Ghandi sells fresh juice stall in the souk and has lived above the shop with his parents, wife, children and cousins for many years. Settlers have been trying to expand their homes into the souk shops and have offered Ghandi money to sell up but he says ‘this is our home and how we earn a living. I want to stay with my community in Hebron where I was born.'”

“I’ve been giving talks to different groups, such as Amnesty International, the Women’s Institute, Quaker Meetings, and being interviewed for the Church Times. It’s important we don’t forget about the military occupation and keep it on the agenda – talk to your MP and spiritual leaders about it.

“And it’s important to remember the amazing resilience of the Palestinian people.

“Sooner or later there’ll be a solution. But in the meantime, we all need to keep alive the hope shown by people like Zidan, international organisations and Jewish peace activists.  The people reading this article and those who are interested enough to come to talks – we all need to make sure the military occupation and Palestinians aren’t forgotten.”

Helping people has been a thread running through Ian’s life – his career in the NHS, his activism and his voluntary work. In Hebron, he was able to help those he encountered simply by being there – but in the UK the key to helping people in Palestine is to keep telling their story and not let them be forgotten.

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