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Jerusalem church leaders: "EAPPI is emblematic of Christian-Muslim relations in Israel"

05 August 2004

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Three heads of churches in Jerusalem - Roman Catholic patriarch, Michel Sabbah, Lutheran bishop, Munib Younan, and Greek Melkite archimandrite, Mtanios Haddad - visited three predominantly Muslim Palestinian communities on 2 August, showing their support and appreciation for the work of the members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

During visits to the West Bank communities of Tulkarem, Jayyous and Nablus, the three bishops met with Christian and Muslim religious and civil leaders, demonstrating the cooperation between members of both faiths, and the fact that the Palestinian people are one and united. The work of the EAPPI accompaniers was praised by the delegation and local community leaders as demonstrating the positive role that churches play in Palestinian society, both Muslim and Christian.

The sites were chosen because the accompaniers have been working in all three places. The church leaders also wanted to show solidarity with those communities which have suffered the effects of Israel’s "separation wall", and its policies restricting freedom of movement.

Latin Patriarch Sabbah showed his appreciation for EAPPI's work in an address to a group of Christian and Muslim religious and secular leaders in Nablus. "The love of Christ is not only for Christians; it is for everyone," Sabbah said. "And to the ecumenical accompaniers from the World Council of Churches, we called upon you and you came. We have put faith in you and we are always with you. This is an occasion to thank you, and also to thank the churches you represent and the World Council of Churches."

Bishop Younan saw the EAPPI as helping to show how all people of faith can work together towards a common goal of peace. "It is not true that there is a struggle between Christianity and Islam," Younan said. "We are communicating to the world that we are one nation, one cause, seeking justice and reconciliation - Christians and Muslims. The programme (EAPPI) proves this, as it is not only in Palestine but in Israel as well. We work with everyone who works for justice and reconciliation - Christians, Muslims and Jews. This programme works with people of all three faiths who work against injustice and for reaching a solution as members of one human family."

Reiterating the words of his two colleagues, "This programme is important," Archimandrite Haddad said. "It shows that the church is working for justice, without worrying about whom we are helping. I am very happy that Muslims accept the ecumenical accompaniers without worrying about religious divisions. This shows that it is not a religious problem; it is a political problem. This programme is a Christian testimony to peace."

Abu Azzam, a member of the Land Defense Committee in Jayyous, was one of many members of the local communities who thanked both the churches and EAPPI for their help. "We are one people, Muslims and Christians. We are together against the occupation. This visit not only confirms that, but shows the support we get from the churches and that we are not alone. They have supported us all the time. The ecumenical accompaniers show that as well. …They are good friends to this community, and we are all one family."

"It's an honour to have them come and see what we're doing here, and the village people's reaction," said Ann-Catrin Andersson from Sweden, one of the accompaniers in Jayyous. "It is very important to see the commitment to us of the people who invited us. It is gratifying to see that they appreciate us. …There are strong relations between the church and the community, a fruitful cooperation. I think that the work of the ecumenical accompaniers here has helped as well."

The EAPPI was launched following a call by the heads of churches in Jerusalem for an ecumenical presence here in the Holy Land. Ecumenical accompaniers are placed in communities throughout Palestine and Israel, working alongside all those who struggle non-violently against the occupation.

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