Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

World Christians Volunteer Ministry of Accompaniment for Palestinian Church

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

World Christians Volunteer Ministry of Accompaniment for Palestinian Church

Article excerpt

Christianity and the Middle East

"Come over to Macedonia to help us!" With those words, addressed first to Paul the Apostle in the book of Acts, Jerusalem Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan wrote to partner churches throughout the world, setting in motion the idea of a new accompaniment program which would provide encouragement and support for the Palestinian church.

For decades, hundreds of thousands of Christians from all over the world typically made a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem, where they would worship in the churches and encounter Christians in their daily lives. The pilgrims were a sign of encouragement and a voice on behalf of Palestinian Christians to the rest of the world. With the outbreak of violence in September 2000, however, tourism came to a standstill, and the flow of Christians became a trickle.

Local church heads frequently voiced the need for U.N. peacekeepers or impartial observers to stand between warring Palestinians and Israelis. But the pressure of Western politics vetoed all such proposals. Again the Jerusalem Heads of Churches appealed to their partner churches throughout the world, requesting "protection for all our people to assist the reestablishment of mutual trust and security for Israelis and Palestinians" (Appeal from the Churches of Jerusalem, March 24, 2001).

In response, the World Council of Churches organized the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Its mission is straightforward: Accompanying Palestinians and Israelis in nonviolent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation.

First EAPPI Group

February marked the completion of the work of the first group of 17 accompaniers (EAs) from Demark, Germany, Sweden, Norway and the United States. Ranging in age from 23 to 67, they brought with them a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. With Augusta Victoria Hospital on East Jerusalem's Mount of Olives serving as their base for biweekly meetings and regular debriefing, the individuals have spent the last three to six months assigned to various churches and NGO agencies in Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the Gaza Strip.

"The accompaniment program so far has done some excellent work on documenting, reporting, and raising awareness, particularly on the devastating aspects of the wall being built on the Green Line around greater Jerusalem," reported Rebecca Johnson, program coordinator in Jerusalem. "But some of its most important work is simply to be present as a symbol of international solidarity and hope that a just peace can be found."

In designing the accompaniment program, the World Council of Churches chose to follow the model of the Christian Peacemaker Teams that have had a successful presence in the city of Hebron over the last decade. Participants undergo extensive training and preparation for the task. The scope of the program includes four major parts:

1) to monitor and report on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law;

2) to offer protection through nonviolent presence;

3) to support acts of nonviolent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists;

4) to advocate in home countries.

Regular reports of the EAs' work are posted on the World Council of Churches Web site, , as well as the Web site for Peaceful Ends through Peaceful Means:

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