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Holy work for the Holy Land

Holy work for the Holy Land

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. © Albin Hillert/WCC

29 March 2017

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was launched by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 2002 based on an appeal from local church leaders to create an international presence in the country.  So far, more than 1,800 ecumenical accompaniers have worked to create conditions for a just peace.

Stakeholders, ecumenical partners and staff of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel are gathered at the annual meeting 27-31 March this week in Geneva to nurture and strengthen a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis. As the EAPPI observes its 15th anniversary, it is also beginning to implement findings of a recent evaluation.

A decades-long quest for peace

“For the sake of the Gospel and the welfare of the Palestinian and Israeli people,” Bishop Munib Younan told the group, “the EAPPI and the whole WCC needs to be a prophetic voice in the region, to lead in the present, remembering the past and envisioning a constructive future for just peace for both Palestine and Israel”.

Younan is an Arab Christian, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and president, since 2010, of the Lutheran World Federation.

Stressing that “we seek justice for all,” he urged participants to be open to new forms of witness and advocacy. “Today is the day for a new kairos for just peace in the Middle East,” he said.

The EAPPI is an ecumenical initiative of the WCC, a partnership made possible by member churches and ecumenical partners, begun in 2002 in response to a plea from Heads of churches in Jerusalem.

More than 1,800 alumni and alumnae of the programme are living testimony in their home churches to the difficulties and oppressive conditions of the multigenerational occupation.

Accompaniment is advocacy

In his keynote address to the group, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit affirmed the importance of the EAPPI’s work as part of the whole ecumenical endeavour. Referencing John 17:21 and the spoken desire “that all may be one,” he said that the WCC’s work is “to call one another to unity for the sake of the world, for justice and peace and the reign of God.”

So too in Israel and Palestine. “Our mandate,” he said, “is to work for just peace.”

The context of Israel and Palestine makes the EAPPI’s fulfilment of that ecumenical mandate a complex undertaking. Yet it is more than a programme, Tveit said. It is “holy work,” in which God calls us to be peacemakers, working with the values of the reign of God for justice and peace. It is a work not just of accompaniment but also of debunking myths, ideologies, and theological misunderstandings that fuel animosities in the region.

Younan delineated the present realities of the Israeli-Palestinian situation and offered several directions that church work must take now.

Emphasizing the need for the churches themselves to encourage full participation in their life and work, he saw “renewed energy for ecumenical cooperation” after the ecumenical celebrations of the Reformation in Lund last fall. He urged resolute commitment to the two-state solution, despite recent movement away from it among Israeli politicians and the new administration in the US.

Work for equal citizenship rights for all persons in Arab countries is also important, Younan said, while renewed commitment to joint interfaith service and education can be a counterforce to extremism. “Our interfaith work must be more than dialogue,” he said. “We must see the face of God in the other.”

An ecosystem of advocacy

Formulating the revised strategy of the EAPPI in the complex cultural and political milieu of Israel and Palestine was a repeatedly expressed concern of the meeting.

Tveit noted that accompaniment itself is a strong form of advocacy for just peace. Through their presence, reporting, communications, and testimony, EAPPI participants, both present and past, change minds and hearts and empower people on the ground.

He referred to his recent meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said that the program is a support for his people.

For Frank Chikane, new moderator of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, such personal witness is indispensable to address the trauma not only of the victims of oppression and injustice but also the victimizers. Citing his own experience in the struggle against apartheid, he saw a variety of forms of advocacy for the various initiatives and programmes in the Middle East, in which the churches remain key.

Every person, every church, every programme has a role in ending occupation. A 48-year-old Palestinian man from Bethlehem posed the situation grimly to Chikane and offered the measure of Christian accountability 50 years on:

“I was born occupied, I am still occupied, and I will die occupied,” he said. “What can be done to change that?”

Learn more about the Ecumenical Accompaniment programme

Read about recent evaluation of the work of EAPPI

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