The following is background information on an Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) whose framework and scope was set at a World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting in Geneva, 1-2 February 2002:
A call for ecumenical action
"Please come. We can't wait any more," pleaded local participants at the meeting.
Representatives of churches and peace networks in Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been involved from the start in identifying the need for ecumenical action through the WCC.They have been calling for churches around the world to move from making statements to taking action in solidarity with churches in the region, and for local and international efforts towards a lasting peace with justice. These appeals have intensified since a WCC delegation visited the Middle East in June 2001.
Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, representative of H.B. Irineos I, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, emphasized that Christians must have a peacemaking role: "We as Christians are peacemakers according to the sayings of Christ, and we try to create bridges between Israel and Palestine so that the two sides, through negotiations, can come to a resolution which will guarantee their peaceful coexistence and the rights of Christian minorities in it."
Monsignor Maroun Lahham, delegated by H.B. Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, recognized the differences among the churches in Jerusalem, but also their unity of purpose: "When we deal with the churches, the key word is diversity: historically, theologically, spiritually. Yet when it comes to injustice, human rights and peace, there is not a Greek Orthodox answer, a Catholic answer, an Armenian Orthodox answer. There is a Christian answer. Palestinians, whether they are Muslims or Christians, are victims of huge injustice and are struggling for peace. Our answer is that any peace based on injustice will never last."
The EAPPI is to involve not only international ecumenical presence in communities facing violence, but awareness-raising and advocacy in the participants' home countries. The Rev. Gustaf Odquist, representative of H.G. Bishop Munib Yunan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and Palestine saw the strong connection between presence and advocacy, inviting people to "Come and see what is happening, then share it back home."
Mr. Judeh Majaj, delegated by H.G. Bishop Riah Abu El Assal of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and general secretary of the YMCA in East Jerusalem, said that "We are talking about more than a conflict. We are talking about oppression and aggression." South African pastor Daniel Ngubane, speaking from his experience in the KwaZulu Natal Peace Committee during his country's anti-apartheid struggle, felt that "We have reached a kairos moment with Israelis and Palestinians. It is either now or no more."
A growing non-violent movement
Participants noted that the small but growing non-violent movement in the conflict area needs to be supported. One of the founders of the International Solidarity Movement, Ghassan Andoni of the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement and member of the WCC Peace to the City network, recalled that on 25 December 2000 a demonstration attempted to cross to Jerusalem through the main checkpoint at Bethlehem. In addition to international supporters, 30 Palestinians participated. At a second demonstration a year later, 700 Palestinians participated. A few days later, on 31 December 2001, there were 3,000. "The difference," Andoni observed, "was that at the last demonstration, the church leaders were there. People are very scared to meet Israeli soldiers face to face. We need to give them a sense of security and safety. Church leaders give them that sense of safety."
Churches and peace organizations from abroad have engaged in different forms of monitoring and accompaniment. Christian Peacemaker Teams, one model being built upon by the EAPPI, has had a team based in Hebron since 1995. The CPT is a project of the Mennonite Churches, Church of the Brethren and Friends United Meeting and other Christians, and has wide global experience in providing a non-violent witness for peace with justice. Rick Polhamus, a member of the team in Hebron, noted that the roles CPT members have range from documenting events to engaging in high-profile non-violent action. At one point, when the Israeli military sealed the entrance of the university in Hebron with concrete, university officials asked the CPT to help. "The officials were thinking of political action. CPT thought of sledgehammers" and attempted to break open the gate as a witness to Palestinians' right to an education The CPT action attracted media attention that eventually contributed to the reopening of the university. "In the end," Polhamus said, "while it is good to engage in such active peacemaking on the ground, what is far more significant is when CPTers go back home and share what they have witnessed."
In developing the programme framework, participants looked at other models, including Peace Brigades International, the international solidarity movement and ecumenical monitoring programme in South Africa, and current efforts by the YMCA and YWCA, and Danish, Swedish, and US churches and organizations.
WCC Relations Cluster director Geneviève Jacques noted that an enthusiastic response at the end of 2001, following the announcement of the accompaniment programme, and current efforts show that "There is much energy, interest, and ideas on how to respond. What is lacking so far is a coordinated ecumenical response."
For further information on the scope and framework of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme, see WCC Press Release, PR-02-06, also issued on 11 February 2002.