By Sue Beardon
October 08, 2017
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI) was founded by the World Council of Churches in response to a call from the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. Since 2002 over 1,500 international volunteers from 22 countries have served as ecumenical accompaniers – EAs. In the UK and Ireland it is coordinated by British Quakers on behalf of 16 churches and NGOs.
“With the continuing impunity for the perpetrators of violence against children and attacks on schools, EAPPI is considered one of the cornerstone responses in supporting highly vulnerable communities.”
– UN official
The mission is to witness life under occupation, engage with local Palestinians and Israelis pursuing a just peace, and work to change the international community’s involvement with the conflict, urging them to act against injustice in the region.
Sue in her mountain guide role
EAPPI recruits ordinary people from the UK and Ireland to live alongside communities working nonviolently against the military occupation. The project uses the internationally recognised model of “accompaniment” as the framework. This model is guided by International Humanitarian Law and requires both a strategic local presence and international pressure in order to be effective.
First and foremost, EAs witness life under occupation. They are on the ground 24/7 and are often the first to respond to human rights violations. EAs live with local communities and participate in daily activities. EAs monitor and report human rights violations, bringing eyewitness accounts to the world’s attention. EAPPI has more international human rights monitors on the ground than any other organisation in Israel and Palestine.
EAs engage in protective presence. Their very presence protects vulnerable communities. It deters the Israeli military and armed settler groups from violating the human rights of civilians and makes local communities feel safer. EAs stand in solidarity with local churches and Palestinian and Israeli peace activists, upholding them in their nonviolent resistance to the occupation.
EAPPI requires EAs to advocate for change through a broad international network of churches and civil society. When they return home, EAs use their witness to open the eyes of the world to the realities of occupation. They campaign in their local communities and at a national level for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on international law.
I served as an EA through the last quarter of 2010 in a small village near Nablus called Yanoun, famous for having been forcibly evacuated by nearby Israeli settlers and the IDF in 2002. Of the original 500 inhabitants, 100 had returned, with the help of Ta’ayush, Rabbis for Human Rights and other Israeli human rights organisations. EAPPI agreed to provide round the clock presence from that time.
There were six placements for EAs then – Yanoun, Jayyous, Tulkarem, Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem. Teams of four or five were international, with English as the common language. I was placed with Norwegian, Swedish, South African and Swiss colleagues. To give a flavour, here’s a small piece of what I wrote of my first impressions. Although written in 2010 it is depressing how much it describes the situation seven years later.
Yanoun is quiet, very quiet, at the moment. Here we have no checkpoints, house demolitions, demonstrations, arrests in the middle of the night. And thank God for that. Our challenge is to be here, experiencing the day to day ordinariness of life under occupation. Every vehicle is scrutinised, every sound responded to every appearance of strangers feared.
As I take a morning walk around to ensure our visibility to the surrounding settlers and army, I am overcome with an exquisite sadness. As a mountain guide I imagine bringing a group here, to this beautiful place, watching the gazelles chase across the wheat fields, negotiating herds of sheep, catching the darting of a gecko across a wall, passing small boys on donkeys. How they would love it. But this will not happen, not here, not now or in the foreseeable future.
We sat with Yasser and his family watching two settlers and a dog parading above us. Yasser is poor. He has 25 sheep and some olive trees. The harvest is poor this year. When he had access to all his trees he could produce 60-70 gallons of oil. Now he is lucky to get five or six.His oldest son is at University in Tulkarem – his daughter will go to Nablus University next year. He pays 3000 shekels (£600) every term plus food and rent for his son. When he runs out of money he sells another lamb.
We met with Project Hope in Nablus on Sunday. They provide many educational and other activities for children using local and international volunteers. Hakim who runs the project as well as holding down his own paid work, is an inspiring young man. I ask him if they ever use Israeli volunteers on the project. He gives an emphatic “no”.
“I could not guarantee their security,” he says “and if
anything happened they would shut us down, besides, while there is the occupation on principle we will not work with them.” He is also scathing about the projects bringing Israeli and Palestinian children together in expensive hotels. “They go home and continue as before, nothing changes” he says.
He makes a splendid joke. “The Israelis are so generous” he says. “We asked for one state only, they give us eleven”.
He is referring of course to the way small “bantustans” are carved out of the Palestinian territory by the Israeli occupiers.
In Burin yesterday, a town much plagued with settler violence and destruction, we watch the army patrolling just across the settler only road. Our driver Ghassan tells us that when settlers attack the village the army closes off the Palestinian road to all Palestinian drivers.
Everyone is perplexed as to the reasoning. Also, arbitrary rules state that any building in the village must only take place 100 metres or further from the road. The new mosque just fell foul of this regulation and is under threat of demolition.
A house high above the village has Stars of David daubed all over it. Today the electricity has been out for hours. An Israeli electricity company is fixing cable by the road. Beside them there is a guard with an M16 gun. We also visit a huge new water tank at the top of the hill above Aqraba, paid for by USAid. The village now awaits funding for pipes in the houses so that they can use the water. Settlers have been to the tank but have not damaged it. Our driver says that they think they will take over this splendid tank at some point.
I am now on the group that oversees the work of EAPPI in the UK and Ireland. We support the small and hard-working staff who recruit, train and support around 20 EAs a year, as well as supporting and monitoring their advocacy work. Our work involves liaison with the international offices in Geneva and Jerusalem and keeping abreast of developments which affect the work and safety of EAs.
British and Irish EAs receive 2 weeks of training prior to service, a comprehensive reading list, further training in Jerusalem on arrival, as well as a mid-term week spent in Israel and training to aid their presentation and advocacy work on return. We do our best to ensure that our EAs are kept up to date and well equipped to work alongside and advocate for those opposing the occupation.