Ecumenical accompaniers share observations with EU

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EAs escort schoolchildren to Cordoba school on Shuhada street in Hebron

“Walking children to school was anything but humdrum…” Photo: M. Knoblauch/WCC-EAPPI

As an “ecumenical accompanier,” Prokop’s role description might include: “walks children to school,” and “shares what he sees.”

In many communities, these tasks are daily – even mundane – parts of life. But for Prokop, who has served with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI), walking children to school was anything but humdrum.

In fact, Prokop came to think of the walk to school as “a repetitive roulette.” Serving in Hebron and Bethlehem, he walked children of all ages to school. “One day everything went fine, another day they were searched by soldiers, their teachers were stopped, settlers harassed them or school was simply closed by the military,” Prokop said. “I saw children frightened to go to school and afraid of what would happen that day while they were in school.”

Violence, tear gas and riots near the schools are an everyday occurrence, he said. “Not one of us would sympathize with the policy of occupation if this were our children going to these schools,” he said.

Prokop and other ecumenical accompaniers – or EAs – shared their first-hand observations with representatives in the European Union during an advocacy week in Brussels held 22-25 January. Nine EAs from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK met with members of the European Parliament and other government officials to report what they have seen “on the ground” and present recommendations.

The EAs relayed how the lack of peace in Palestine and Israel reduced children’s access to education.

One EA, Lottie, said she saw children from the settlements being escorted in and out of their homes by security guards. “It broke my heart to see these two communities living side by side, but with a total lack of harmony,” she said.

One of the goals of WCC-EAPPI is to ensure safe access to schools under occupation, explained Rev. Dr Owe Boersma, WCC-EAPPI international program coordinator. “In occupied Palestine, the obstacles to receiving an education are numerous. Large numbers of Palestinian children living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem experience serious harassment and hurdles on their way to and from school, as well as in school yards and classrooms.”

Since April 2012, EAPPI – in cooperation with UNICEF – has monitored access to education for children in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, said Boersma. “In 2018, Ecumenical Accompaniers are providing a protective presence to some 4,400 students and 300 teachers by monitoring nine schools, as well as six checkpoints that children pass through on a daily basis,” he said. “The presence of EAs deters soldiers and settlers from harassing children on their way to and from school.”

Children walking to school have reported they feel afraid of settlers and scared of soldiers who are pointing guns at them, stamping their feet, or driving very fast.

The EAs spoke to EU officials about how they worked to create conditions for a just peace.

“As I spoke of the experience in Brussels I felt grateful and humbled to be able to share the stories and to play my part in ensuring that this conflict will not be ignored or forgotten while EAPPI stands as a protective presence for those who continue to ask for it,” said EA Lesley, who added that the EAs support the work of both Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers.

Another EA, Lise, said she hopes that EU leaders understand that they should play a bigger role in the peace process.

“At least, I hope that more people understood the degree of suffering and in general how bad the situation actually is in Israel and Palestine,” she said.

Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace

WCC-EAPPI

Time for fresh water and prayer – ‘Ilhamdilla’

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By EA Lesley, Southern West Bank.

Each day, while watering his flock after grazing, Abu Ahmed repeats his thanks to God as he pulls a bucket out of the well. Giving thanks for another day of grazing for his sheep and goats. Giving thanks that today there was no incident with the settlers who overlook the grazing pasture. Giving thanks for the presence of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), who have answered his request for protective presence.

Abu Ahmed is the first person we accompany as we take over as rookie EAs in the South Hebron Hills (in the south of the occupied West Bank). On our first night he called to ask us to be present as he grazed his sheep on the common pasture in the valley. The other shepherds have stopped grazing there for fear of harassment. Abu Ahmed does not proclaim fear. He just wants to shepherd his flock on the land that he and his forefathers have shepherded for generations. He understands the value of having “internationals” as witnesses to the circumstances in which he now lives.

Time for fresh water and prayer – ‘Ilhamdilla’. © EAPPI/Lesley

He greets us as we approach his home, just before sunrise. His trust and welcome are part of his culture. A stranger will be welcomed and given hospitality for three nights before being asked why they have come. But we are not strangers. EAPPI is well known to Abu Ahmed and previous EAs have walked this land with him. As the sun rises we sit and share taboon bread, hot from the oven, made by his daughter Hadeel. We wash it down with black tea infused with sage and sugar.

Now it is time for work. We follow Abu Ahmed and his flock as they walk down the pasture towards the valley. Walking silently behind I watch the master shepherd with wonder and delight. He interacts with his flock in an elegant and organic way. I am reminded of Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.

At pasture under a settlement outpost. © EAPPI/Lesley

Abu Ahmed is also watchful. But not for the predators that kept his father alert. He looks continuously to the ridge of the valley, conscious of the possibility of anger or demand.

This morning that possibility became a reality. A settler – one of 380,000 Israelis living in the occupied West Bank, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – called down the valley to Abu Ahmed. Within five minutes an armed Israeli soldier had arrived. Abu Ahmed continued to graze his flock. An Israeli military vehicle arrived and five more armed soldiers emerged. Three made their way towards Abu Ahmed and ordered him to leave the pasture. Under protest, Abu Ahmed moved his flock back down the valley and began to water his animals from the cistern. The soldiers ran forward again and insisted that he stop watering the animals and leave straight away.

An EA standing in protective presence as soldiers order a shepherd from land. © EAPPI/Lesley

As I walked back up the valley behind Abu Ahmed I wondered how he was feeling. What is it like to be ordered off the land that you have worked on all of your life? I wondered how the young armed men in uniforms were feeling about giving orders to a clearly unarmed elderly civilian. I wondered about the possibility of creating hope in this Holy Land.

The dusty way home. © EAPPI/Lesley

As an EA my role is not to make sense of it all. I am here to be an impartial presence. I am here to give witness and report incidents of injustice. I am here to listen and notice and look for hope.

One word which says it all

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EAs visiting Khan Al Ahmar

Ecumenical Accompaniers visiting local communities in Palestine and Israel, April 2017- © L.Ranarison/WCC-EAPPI

After spending several weeks with local communities, our Ecumenical Accompaniers go back home with many memories and feelings. We have asked four of them to choose one word to describe their experience.

Chris from England

Photo of Chris, WCC Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel“Haunting”
So many experiences, images and encounters that stay with me and keep coming back to me. Such as children playing, shepards and sheep on the move, and all the people I’ve met. The joy they show and the deep sadness behind it, which is the reason why we are here.

Geoff from Ireland

Photo of Geoff, WCC Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel“Challenging”
Both on a personal and professional level.
On a personal level, it has been challenging since it made me reflect on why I was here and what I wanted to achieve.
On a professional level, it has been challenging to be in a conflict situation, dealing with security forces and trying to calm down tense situations, where mediating at agricultural gates is one example. All in all, being an EA has been a very meaningful experience.

Gilvan from Brazil

Photo of Gilvan, WCC Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel”Self-knowledge”
Dealing with the daily struggles of the Palestinian community helped me to better reconnect my inner self with my daily life in general. I feel I know more about myself now. Before the experience, I did not realise exactly what I could do there, but I felt quite comfortable in being present, in giving and receiving. It’s a kind of a plenitude sensation.

Natasha from the United States of America (USA)

”Emotionally rewarding”
Being an Ecumenical Accompanier allowed me to understand a really complex situation. I have learnt a lot about myself in this difficult environment. This work was part of a healing process, and these emotions were very beneficial.

 

How to become an Ecumenical Accompanier?
If you are a passionate and caring individual dedicated to human rights, justice and peace, we are looking for you.

Hope can create miracles, reflects WCC-EAPPI coordinator in Holy Land

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WCC-EAPPI programme coordinator Zoughbi Zoughbi. © Claus Grue/WCC

By Claus Grue*

“You can use either name,” he jokes when introducing himself. A cheerful man with a strong passion for dialogue, peace and reconciliation, Zoughbi Zoughbi sees his job as a “way of living – or a commitment, rather than a task”, as he puts it.

That’s the way it has been ever since his volunteer days at a grassroots level.

“I easily fall in love with my responsibilities and I’ve always been committed to the ecumenical movement”, he explains…

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Leaving the Holy Land with unforgettable experiences

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Photo: Sean Hawkey/WCC

© Sean Hawkey/WCC

The Ecumenical Accompaniment group 63 gathered in Jerusalem last week to wrap up their three-month stay in the Holy land with a debriefing and handover ceremony to the incoming team, group 64.

An experience of a lifetime came to an end and now the advocacy work back home for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine begins. WCC Weekly asked five departing EA’s to briefly share:

  1. What made you sign up for the programme?
  2. In three words, how was it?
  3. The most important experience you bring back home?

Edna from Sao Paulo, Brazil:edna-furuizi

  1. I wanted to learn more by being closer to the Palestinian people, rather than just reading about them.
  2. Challenging, a turning point in my life and that there are multiple truths in this conflict.
  3. The Palestinians’ resistance and their belief in a peaceful future.

Margriet from The Hague in the Netherlands:

ea-margriet-quarks-van-ufford

  1. To pursue peace in a different setting than my church at home.
  2. Confusing, impressive and hope versus despair.
  3. Meeting children and gaining their trust.

 

Malin from Gothenburg, Sweden: 

  1. malin-o%cc%88sterbergI am a human rights worker who believe in international presence, and I wanted field experience.
  2. Educational, engaging and frustrating.
  3. To meet people with different backgrounds and to feel that you are in the middle of a rich history.

Dave from Skipton, Yorkshire, UK

dave-stannard

  1. Came two years ago, and learned a lot about the situation. So, I wanted to come back for a longer stay this time and try to contribute to make things better.
  2. Humbling, moving and anger-inducing.
  3. The humility, generosity, kindness and dignity that the Palestinian people show.

 

 

Lanny from Minnesota, USA

lanny-kuester

  1. Have dealt with conflict resolution for the past 20 years, especially within churches. Trying to understand why this conflict isn’t solved.
  2. Intense, challenging and hopeful.
  3. The resilience of the human spirit and dignity.

Bring peace, love and respect – beyond the barriers

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by Marianne Ejdersten, director of communication for the World Council of Churches

rs117179_christmas2016_1_flipped_250kb

I have visited the Holy Land six times during the past year. Probably 20 times the last 20 years. I came back from my latest visit last week. I wonder; how could we bring just peace to the Holy Land? Is it possible? They are losing hope. You could really see and feel the hopelessness the last year. Even young people are losing their hope.

For decades the Holy Land has been a land of war, oppression, injustice and death. All the world’s Christians trace their faith’s roots to the Holy Land: it is the spiritual homeland for all Christians in the world. Therefore, Christians everywhere are called to prayer and action for healing in the Holy Land. They are called to act for justice and peace in the Holy Land. Peace with justice requires ending the long conflict, occupation, injustice and all acts of violence and terrorism and bringing back the land we call Holy to wholeness, peace, redemption and reconciliation for all of its inhabitants.

Look back on the last 10-15 years with ever-increasing settlements and a growing separation barrier. The deadlocked peace. I could both see and feel the hopelessness.

But there is hope – of course, we have to keep the hope – who else would do that?!

But how?

I met with the first Palestinian Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah in October. He is 84 years old and living in the monastery in Jerusalem. He told me, “We have to try harder. We have to do the unexpected. We have to build bridges of love, respect and understanding.”

I asked Patriarch Sabbah; what could we do as the WCC? He looked at me and smiled: You have already started in 1948, you are listening to others, you are praying, you are visiting, you are sharing stories of hope – please, do the unexpected from your side. Don’t give up. Please, continue. Please, invite the unexpected to your table, build unexpected bridges.

He said: A separation barrier is done by stones. Human beings are living stones. Focus on the living stones – beyond the barriers, beyond the fear, beyond the words.

My feeling is that we need to do more work to develop this spirituality of peace, love and respect in the way we work and live. In the small settings, in our daily life, in our families and in the wider fellowship.

One big hope is the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), created in 2002 by the World Council of Churches (WCC) based on a letter and an appeal from local church leaders to create an international presence in the country. At the WCC Executive Committee meeting in China in November, results were presented for a wide-ranging evaluation of EAPPI. Now, 15 years later, more than 1,800 accompaniers have taken part in the project. The evaluation indicates that 98% take the view that the programme is still relevant and delivers results, that manifestations of violence decrease when EAs are clearly visible; parents feel that there is security for their children on their way to school, etc. As a result, the programme is one of the biggest initiatives in Palestine and Israel in the humanitarian sector.

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit commented: “We learned a great deal from this report about what is needed to redefine the original purpose and profile of this very significant programme for the WCC, as an ecumenical initiative under the WCC, called for by local churches and pursued in close cooperation with member churches and other ecumenical partners. I believe this report and the follow-up will strengthen the programme.”

The communication strategies should be revised, that’s very clear in the evaluation report. We will start now, the week before Christmas! We will explore the communication work together the next six months. We will focus on storytelling, share glimpses of local life, the reality in for example Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron. We will focus on social media and the web.

I believe communication belongs at the heart of the work and being on a pilgrimage of justice and peace together. We cannot give account of the reality around us, or articulate our hope if we are not communicating this to one another and to the world. To share is to inform, but also to bring a challenge and a motivation into different contexts and reflect on the role of communication in building just and peaceful communities. Communication for peace creates chances for people to consider and value nonviolent responses to potential and actual conflict.

Communication for justice and peace reveals backgrounds and contexts, listens to all sides, exposes hidden agendas and highlights peace initiatives, regardless of religion, sex and gender – no matter their origin.

For me the prophetic communication opens alternative horizons not limited to the perspectives imposed by the dominant culture, and empowers individuals and communities to tell their own stories and to craft their images and gestures. Communication is also a peace-building tool.

Communication is also vital in confronting threats to life. It affirms life by promoting truth-telling, fairness, participation, security issues, dialogue, openness and inclusion. Communication that threatens life is characterized by censorship, misinformation, hate-speech, lies and exclusion.

Communications from the World Council of Churches must have participation and hope at their core. Specifically, our task is to provide hope for a different world in which human dignity is strengthened. The equal value of all people is at the heart of its culture.

As a closing, I’ll use the words by Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear… That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind… The time is always right to do the right thing… Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

The World Council of Churches is to inspire and invite its member churches and ecumenical partners to work together, actively lending weight to the churches’ common voice – for a world with peace and justice at its heart. Its communication should reflect this. I try to summarize my experience in three words – peace, love and respect – three small words or 16 letters – but they are able to change the world! Sometimes, could words become the real barriers in the world?

God of life, lead us to justice and peace in the Holy Land.

Peace,
Marianne

WCC Christmas Message 2016

WCC Christmas Video 2016

WCC statement on Israel and Palestine 28 June, 2016

In the darkness of Yanoun reality changes on the hilltops

By the Yanoun team, 

My watch tells me it is just after 2am as I lie awake listening to the unmistakable sound of a digger moving rock after rock, being the only noise breaking the silence in the early hours of this September morning. Every once in a while, the sound of the digger is overpowered by the sound of barking dogs, brought down from the hilltop by the wind. With the darkness as shelter, the invisible work on the hilltop continues. It is impossible, after sunset, to know for sure what is happening amidst the houses and barns little more than a stone’s throw away from my bedroom. What will be changed when the first sunbeams strike the olive trees?

12.10.2016 Pictures for blog, Palestine EAPPI-RW (8 of 10).jpg

12.10.2016 The first beams from the sun hit the olive trees in Yanoun. EAs show their presence by morning and evening walks around the village. EAPPI/R.W

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