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

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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

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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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Shepherding under occupation

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By the Jordan Valley team,

We arrived early, just after sunrise. We met with Abu Sami* and his family along with members of Ta’yush, an joint Israeli and Palestinian organisation. Abu Sami lives close to a settlement in the North of Jordan Valley and his family looked very afraid of the consequences of the land action that was about to take place. Abu Sami and his family were preparing to graze their sheep on land that the settlers have taken control of in Khirbet Tell el Himma. The land is privately owned by a Palestinian family and Abu Sami rents it from them to graze his sheep, however, because of frequent harassment from settlers, the family are no longer able to use it. Today was going to be different… Continue reading

A school route lined with soldiers

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 by EA Josefin, Yanoun team,

It is just before 8 AM. Large groups of children rush past us (Ecumenical Accompaniers), on their way to school. Colourful school bags bob up and down on the children’s backs. For some of the smallest students, the bags look almost bigger than the children themselves. Some students giggle and look away shyly when we greet them good morning. Others happily shout out our names; which they have learned off by now. All give us a smile in acknowledgement. Then they look almost unconsciously at the the shrubs further up the path. Their fears are confirmed, in the shade stand two soldiers with weapons pointed in their direction.

EAs monitor soldiers that are following schoolchildren from As Sawiya Al Lubban school on their way home. Photo EAPPI/J. Lamas. 08.04.16.

EAs monitor soldiers that are following schoolchildren from As Sawiya Al Lubban school on their way home. Photo EAPPI/Josefin. 08.04.16.

I try to imagine my village when I was twelve and think back to what my journey to school was like. I remember I was terrified of the older students, especially those in high school. How would I have felt if instead of high school students the route to school was lined with fully armed soldiers that stood around in groups or lurked in the bushes? How would I have felt knowing that I could be stopped at anytime to have my schoolbag searched?

At the end of May this year the Israeli military intensified its presence at two of the schools in Nablus that we (EAs) regularly visit to monitor access to education. An Israeli officer informed us that they would patrol the route to school as long as they (the Israeli army) considers it necessary.

The schools are located along a major road so hundreds of students pass along the busy road side every day. The Israeli military patrols along the same road every morning and afternoon when the children are walking to and from school. The soldiers sometimes walk in the midst of the student or stand next to us. Other times, we have observed them hiding in the bushes along the road side or standing on the hill behind the houses across the road. The children seem to have a built-in radar for locating the soldiers. By following the children’s eyes, it is easy to see where the soldiers are.

Palestinian schoolchildren on their way home from As Sawiya Al Lubban school. A boy looks over the railing to see four Israeli soldiers further down the road. Photo EAPPI/P. Lämås

Palestinian schoolchildren on their way home from As Sawiya Al Lubban school. A boy looks over the railing to see four Israeli soldiers further down the road. Photo EAPPI/Josefin

While accompanying children to schools in Nablus we saw Israeli soldiers take children aside to search their school bags on a number of occasions. One afternoon we saw a soldier chase a group of schoolchildren whenever they stopped too long by the road side. He ran towards them with his arms raised and shouted at them until they moved on. I asked him why he did so. “I have to scare them. They must not stop, they have to move on,” he says, pointing with his gun toward the house where a group of soldiers are posted.

In the last week in May, the Israeli military set up a tent on the roof of a house where a Palestinian family lives. The family’s house is strategically located next to the intersection where school children have to pass every day to get to school. On several occasions we talked to the soldiers, they said that the reason they are patrolling the school route was to deter the children from throwing stones at Israeli cars. I asked one morning if they had ever seen the schoolchildren throw stones. The answer was no, but they said that they had “seen it on film”.

Another day I asked the children in one of the middle classes what they think of us “in the vests”, (meaning EAs) who monitor the route to school throughout the year. “You save us from the soldiers!”, exclaimed one of the boys. “I feel less afraid when I see you,” said another. “We wish you could be here every day, always!” they shouted finally running.

My heart melted when these brown, eager and curious eyes expressed it so clearly. And with that, I felt quite clear that our presence makes a difference. We can not make the soldiers leave, but we can stand for something else. By accompanying these children to school we deter soldiers and settlers from harassing them and make the children feel safer. In addition our team’s presence – giving a “high five”, a handshake or a smile – acts as a counterbalance to the stress that these children face on daily, living under military occupation. We hope that our presence allows the kids to focus on us more than on the rifle butts.

But it is unlikely that when I go home to Sweden that I will be called a hero who saved the children from the soldiers. Being an accompanier is no hero tale. It is to witness the harsh realities of daily life under military occupation. We offer protective presence to vulnerable communities and monitor and report human rights abuses; we hope that someone hears. To wear the vest is not an easy task because you wear the vest knowing that international presence is needed to deter attacks on other civilians. It is a tragedy that children need to zigzag between soldiers, accompanied by human rights monitors, just to get to school.

EA monitors children's access to As Sawiya Al Lubban school which is often patrolled by the Israeli military. Photo EAPPI/M. Andrén. 30.04.16.

EA monitors children’s access to As Sawiya Al Lubban school which is patrolled by the Israeli army. Photo EAPPI/M. Andrén. 30.04.16.

We wish you could be here every day, they told us. Yes, I wish that we could be here every day also, but for completely different reasons than why we are currently here. I wear the vest with pride because I want to believe that it stands for something else.  I hope that the day comes when we are no longer needed and that we can eventually put away our vests. When that day comes just peace will not only a be dream but a reality.


International law says the occupying power should be protecting children and schools. The right to education is protected under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social And Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (1979), and the Convention On The Rights of The Child (1989).

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 Please take action today to demand that Palestinian schoolchildren have immediate, unhindered and safe access to education

  • Share this story and update media agencies in your country about the systematic restrictions imposed by the Government of Israel on Palestinian schoolchildren’s access to education.
  • Inform your representative in parliament and media agencies about the implications of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine on Palestinian schoolchildren’s right to education.
  • Write to your elected representative using our advocacy resources here. (You can use our SAMPLE LETTER to contact your elected representative or draft your own.)

*Originally posted on EAPPI Sweden: http://foljeslagarprogrammet.se/reserapport/en-skolvag-kantad-av-soldater/

More information:

UNICEF/EAPPI Education Under Occupation

UNRWA Schools in the Front Line; the impact of armed conflict and violence on UNRWA schools and education services

UNOCHA: Protection issues affecting access to education in the West Bank

UNICEF: Bedouin schools fighting for survival in Area C

UNICEF 2015: Education Under Fire: How conflict in the Middle East is depriving children of their schooling

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“Susiya, it’s finished!”

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By the South Hebron Hills team.

Before us about 20 tents mostly made out of black or white tarpaulin sheets are nestled into the rugged landscape. The only sounds that can be heard are the faint sound of a television in one of the furthest tents, sometimes the bleat of a sheep, our footsteps, and the wind lifting up the dust earth beneath us; it barely alleviates the stifling summer heat. A number of small water cisterns are scattered amongst the tents. It looks like a makeshift camp even though it has been here for decades. We are in the Palestinian village of Susiya, in the south of the West Bank. Here there is no proper infrastructure, no running water or electricity supply. It stands in stark contrast to the Israeli settlement nearby, which looks like your average 21st century housing estate (settlements are fully integrated into Israel’s national power grid, water and telecommunication systems).

Susiya village with settlement in the background. Photo EAPPI/ L.l. Pianezza 28.6.2015 -

Palestinian village of Susiya in the foreground and the Israeli settlement of Susya in the background. Photo EAPPI/ L.l. Pianezza 28.06.2015

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Visualising Access to Education under military occupation

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School is in recess for the summer months. For many children living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, this break from school means more than just a break from school work and exams.

Paths to schools and obstacles to education. Continue reading