Tuesday, October 24, 2006

10080 Minutes in Paradise: Reflections from an ecumenical accompanier

Dear sisters, brothers, friends,

This reflection comes from Michael Oliphant, a member of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel ( http://www.eappi.org/). EAPPI has as its mission
"to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation. Participants of the programme are monitoring and reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, supporting acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offering protection through non-violent presence, engaging in public policy advocacy and, in general, standing in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation."
If you are interested in a bit more information on EAPPI (a program of the World Council of Churches), you can find it under Michael's reflection.

Are there violations of human rights in your own setting that need to be monitored? What might "nonviolent presence" look like in the neighborhoods where you live, work, or worship?

May the people of God incarnate God's body in our times.


Matt Guynn
On Earth Peace

You can find many photos of EAPPI's work at www.eappi.org-- click on "Photo Gallery" in the lower left

9 October 2006

10080 minutes in paradise
Michael Oliphant, South Africa

If your wonder years were during the seventies, you would remember Mike Batt of Tubular Bells fame. One of his less popular songs was ‘The Ride to Agadir’ which stirred my imagination and evoked images of battles in the desert and rides on caravans of camels - rides that we all have needed to take - risky rides into the unknown ‘for the ashes of our fathers and the children of our sons’. Since then I have dreamed of making such a journey and then I was in the middle of it. This time though, the journey was the ride to Tulare - a name which evoked in me similarly exotic locations in the desert.

The ride to Tulkarem started my journey of 10080 minutes in paradise. From Jerusalem travelling north, the journey is uneventful until one hits the mountainous region surrounding the city. It is then redolent of Agadir and journeys and battles for honour. Anyway I was on a bus and there was no enemy but it felt good to live a childhood dream. The beauty is breathtaking and the bus ride hair-raising. There are villages on every hilltop. People are living here. The city itself is alive! It vibrates at its own speed and moves to its own rhythm. Many journeys were undertaken from here, most notably to the Mediterranean Sea not 15 kms away. The ubiquitous Wall has put an end to that. The cruellest thing of all is that the sea continues to render the city unbearably humid. So residents suffer the humidity without the option of heading seawards to counter it with a splash in the ocean. I am told that if Tulkarem is alive now, it was positively bristling not too long ago. Israelis and Palestinians cooperated economically as Tulkarem provided services and goods, and Israelis provided New Israeli Shekels. The Wall has put an end to that too.

I visit a Dabkha studio and see young boys ranging in age from 6 or 7 to 19 and 20. As they increase in age, they grow in dexterity. The dance is technically exacting and physically demanding and they add variations which set their moves apart from others. I see that Dabkha is a key marker and maker of identity. It is also a group thing and they move as one on and off the Dabkha floor. As they dance to the exotic rhythms, we who watch are mesmerized and seduced into joining – if only to make fools of ourselves. Dabkha is not simply about steps and moves. It is a substitute for the sea, and freedom and life opportunities - so like our own experience of, and our obsession with, dance in South Africa. Dance makes life bearable however bad that life is. They push themselves harder and further in their quest to feel alive - truly alive - and to find meaning and advantage, finally falling to the floor in exhaustion – laughing, demanding water from the little ones who rush to serve their heroes!

On Thursday night I am to celebrate the Mass in a Greek Orthodox Church – the only church in Tulkarem. There is only one Christian family in the city and the church was completely run down. Then Dawood and his family and his friends who were almost exclusively Muslim, lovingly restored the church. The electrical engineer was Muslim and proudly showed me his work. The hall is still not restored and looks like the church once looked. The restoration was not simply cosmetic. The walls were stripped down to the stone and re-plastered, the ceiling redone and the woodwork restored. That night at six, I believe the kingdom was advanced just a little bit as an African Anglican celebrated the Mass in a Greek Orthodox church that the Patriarch had celebrated the Mass in the Sunday before, to a truly ecumenical congregation including a contingent of Muslims. That night, news filtered in about the Pope’s speech in Germany and on the Sunday morning following this moment, we would receive news that the church had been razed to the ground. I cannot begin to describe my personal devastation, so I could only just begin to imagine theirs. There is a good news end to this, however. That day the community, predominantly Muslim, met in solidarity with Dawood and his family and the leaders pledged to raise funds personally and to rebuild the church. Ecumenism had triumphed over stupidity.

I left Tulkarem overwhelmed by the Palestinian hunger for life and the pockets of hope which I find as I go about this country. They have so little to be grateful for, yet they are grateful and drink deep of the little stream that flows their way.

On Tuesday we meet with the Arab Education Institute (AEI) - the new graduates/employees group. They meet weekly for reflections on non-violence and then talk about their difficulties in the work place. A number of the attendees are employed within institutions that fall within the ambit of the Palestinian Authority. They are teachers, healthcare workers, and municipal workers and have not been paid for seven months.

At this point I want to introduce an important word in the Palestinian lexicon: Sumud. It is important in that it describes the Palestinian spirit or geist. Regardless of the situation, Sumud kicks in and regulates the response to the threat or danger. Humanity kicks in and lifts the communal spirit and makes coping possible – coping at all costs. This has the effect of presenting a deception that ‘all is okay’. More importantly, it also engenders sharing widely amongst family members: better to have 20 families sharing 3000 shekels than 19 families going hungry. You would instantly recognize this as ubuntu. It is the Palestinian people’s greatest blessing and greatest curse. I have known about the withholding of funds to the PA, but I have never seen the evidence on the ground. Today in this meeting for the first time I hear of the hardships families are experiencing because Hamas won the election. So as you look from the outside in, everything is fine, yet it is not and has not been for seven months. And here is the rub: they have all continued to work in spite of that.

Later the same night we go on to the Alternative Information Centre in Beit Sahour and tonight, instead of the usual format of a speaker, we have music; traditional instruments, traditional songs, but with a new found zestness and a baseline to die for. The audience is mostly women, all dressed up and made-up, enjoying an evening of cultural intercourse. All of the difficulties are subsumed for a moment, and beauty reigns. Sumud kicks in. People are living here! This is paradise and I have had 10080 minutes of it. God is good!

EAPPI Overview

The EAPPI is an initiative of the World Council of Churches under the Ecumenical Campaign to End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine: Support a Just Peace in the Middle East. Its mission is to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation. Participants of the programme are monitoring and reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, supporting acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offering protection through non-violent presence, engaging in public policy advocacy and, in general, standing in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation.


While the programme's mission is to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation, its detailed objectives are to:
    • Expose the violence of the occupation
    • End the brutality, humiliation and violence against civilians
    • Construct a stronger global advocacy network
    • Ensure the respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law
    • Influence public opinion in home country and affect foreign policy on Middle East in order to end the occupation and create a viable Palestinian State
    • Express solidarity with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists and empower local Palestinian communities/churches
    • Be an active witness that an alternative, non-violent struggle for justice and peace is possible to end the illegal occupation of Palestine

Further to the call by the local churches of Jerusalem, as expressed to the Ecumenical Delegation to Israel and the OPT in June 2001, and at the International Ecumenical Consultation in Geneva in August 2001, the WCC Executive Committee meeting of September 2001 recommended to "develop an accompaniment programme that would include an international ecumenical presence based on the experience of the Christian Peacemakers Team".

After extensive consultation with the churches and ecumenical partners and following the initial phase of assessment and feasibility (October 2001 - January 2002), the WCC International Relations team convened a meeting of the Accompaniment Working Group on February 1-2, 2002, in Geneva in order to develop the framework of the accompaniment programme for the approval of the WCC Executive Committee in February 2002.


Based on its agreed framework, the EAPPI is based on principles of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, including resolutions of the UN Security Council, General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights. It is a programme developed as a response to Israel’s violation of internationally accepted norms and principles of human rights and the rule of law, in particular the IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights whose Article 1 requires that parties to the Covenant protect the rights of all individuals subject to its jurisdiction, that is individuals under its effective control.


Including the 16 new accompaniers who recently arrived in Jerusalem, the total number of people to have participated in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme since its inception is now 304.

The latest group includes one from Germany, one from Kenya, five from Norway, three from South Africa, four from Switzerland and two from the UK, including two EAs who are returning for a second term.

The group consists of twelve women and four men, who are serving in five placements: Bethlehem, Hebron, Jerusalem, Tulkarem and Yanoun.

Ecumenical accompaniers, who serve a minimum of three months, work in various capacities with local churches, Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, as well as Palestinian communities, to try to reduce the brutality of the Israeli occupation and improve the daily lives of both peoples.

Since the programme was launched in August 2002, accompaniers have participated from more than 30 churches and ecumenical partners in 14 countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the USA

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was launched in August 2002. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestianians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy and stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation. The programme is coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC).



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