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Ecumenical solidarity and action promised in Palestinian-Israeli conflict

11 February 2002

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-40, of 29 October 2001

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-34, of 14 September 2001

As the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East continues to deteriorate, representatives of over 40 church and church-related organizations gathered in Geneva 1-2 February have agreed on the scope and framework of an Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI) in Palestine and Israel.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) programme, initially called the Ecumenical Monitoring Programme in Palestine and Israel (EMPPI), was renamed to allow a broader role for the international ecumenical movement, as requested by the churches in Jerusalem. Salpy Eskidjian, programme executive in the WCC International Relations team, explains that participants in the programme may engage in a number of tasks, including human rights monitoring, advocacy, and supporting non-violent resistance by local Palestinian and Israeli peace groups.

A framework for action

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme's mission is the "accompaniment of Palestinians and Israelis in non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation". This includes:

  • monitoring and reporting on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law;

The programme objectives include:

  • exposing the violence of the occupation;

Rev. Mark Brown of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America noted that each accompanier may take on different tasks according to the needs and their own areas of expertise and interest. "Some may be only monitors. Others may be much more active peacemakers." The meeting looked at the accompaniers' tasks on the ground as well as at coordination, training, recruitment criteria, and communication.

One critical aspect, however, was still unresolved at the end of the meeting - whether sufficient funds will be available to fully implement the programme. A "WCC fund for the ecumenical response to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict" has been established, but so far, says Eskidjian, few firm commitments have been made. "We know that our churches, our partners, our governing bodies are firmly behind this ecumenical response, and we all see that this programme can have a positive, peace-building effect in a tragic situation. In the end, however if the money isn't there, the programme cannot go forward with the ambitious plans laid here."

The EAPPI is open to churches and ecumenical organizations in the broad ecumenical movement. Roman Catholic priest Peter Ruggere of the US Maryknoll fathers, brothers, sisters and lay missioners, said that "For Catholics, this is a golden opportunity. It offers us a chance to participate in an ecumenical programme in solidarity with Palestinians."

In developing the programme framework, participants emphasized that it will be important for observers to relate with both Israelis and Palestinians. "We are called to accompany all those groups, Palestinian and Israeli, who are striving against great odds for justice and peace," Eskidjian said. "Nonetheless," Brown acknowledged, "the church is partisan. We are on the side of the poor and oppressed."

Ms Abla Nasir, General Secretary of the Palestine YWCA said that "The fact that the WCC has adopted this project means a lot to us as Christians and Palestinians as a whole."

At the conclusion of the meeting, Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, representative of H.B Irineos I, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, thanked the WCC and everyone who had co. Summing up the feelings of most around the table, he said, "I feel strengthened, but this is just a starting point. The road that lies before us is long."

For further background on the meeting and the call behind the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, please see cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-40, of 29 October 2001, 11 February 2002.