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Maureen Jack writes:

I’ve been asked to blog for World Mission about my involvement with EAPPI.  For this first post, here’s some background on the programme, its links with the Church of Scotland, and Kirk members who have taken part in it.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was established ten years ago by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in response to a call from the heads of churches in Jerusalem to stand in solidarity with the churches and people in the occupied Palestinian territories.  EAPPI brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.

There are close links between the Church of Scotland and EAPPI.  The Kirk, together with Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) and Christian Aid, made a financial contribution so that the first group of EAs could go out in 2002; in the UK and Ireland the programme is administered by QPSW.  The Kirk has remained an EAPPI partner and is represented on the EAPPI Britain and Ireland policy making Group.   With Rabbis for Human Rights and a children’s centre in Jayyous, EAPPI was one of the Guild’s projects from 2009 to 2012.

Andrew McLellan, Convener, World Mission Council, said recently: ‘The Church of Scotland is proud of its share in EAPPI, an international ecumenical programme which sends volunteers from all over the world to Israel and Palestine to take their stand for peace. Literally to take their stand, since it is by being actually present, on the street corner, at the check point, where trouble and violence may explode at any time, that they help prevent trouble and violence. They go to protect the weak, and by doing that they do good for us all and they do good on behalf of us all.’  As one of its suggestions on how to ‘invest in peace’ in Israel/Palestine the World Mission Council report to the 2011 General Assembly urged Kirk members to give three months of their life to serve as an EA.

Over the last ten years, a number have done just that.  One of them, Dwin Capstick, who served in Bethlehem in 2007, sadly died in 2010.  I’m grateful to all the others for their helpful responses to questions about their involvement in the programme: Donald Maclauchlan (2002, Jayyous and 2004 Yanoun), Neil Cavers (2003, East Jerusalem), Iain Connon (2004, Jayyous), Ian Alexander (2006, E Jerusalem), Kate Aspinwall (2008, E Jerusalem), Colin Douglas (2008, Jayyous, Yanoun and E Jerusalem), Fraser Ritchie (2009, Jayyous), Cynthia Gunn (2010, Jayyous), David Mitchell (2010, Jayyous) and Rosamond Robertson (2011, South Hebron hills).

These Church of Scotland EAs come from various parts of Scotland: David, Donald and Iain from Argyll, Neil from Kirkcudbright, Ian from Galloway, Kate from Ayrshire, Colin from Edinburgh, Fraser from Fife, and Rosamond from East Lothian.  And then there’s Cynthia, who’s a member of the Church of Scotland congregation in Lausanne.  The majority have significant church involvement: Ian and Colin are ordained Ministers and Ian had served in the World Mission Council as Middle East Secretary; Iain had worked as a researcher with the then Church and Nation Committee; and most of the others were Elders or Board members, sometimes also holding other positions such as Session Clerk, Treasurer or Presbytery Elder. 

How did they hear about EAPPI?  Ian was involved with the programme from the very beginning, as Middle East Secretary at the time that the Kirk gave that crucial initial funding; a few heard about the programme through personal contacts or presentations; but most learned of EAPPI through Life and Work, a great reason to encourage QPSW to keep advertising there!

What got them interested in the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories?  In general, their interest was longstanding.  Ian had been steeped in Palestinian/Israeli issues in his earlier work with World Mission and had visited the region on a number of occasions.  Kate visited the area in the late 1960s and was ‘appalled at the way Palestinians were being treated then.’  Donald had been involved in the Middle East since 1956, whether through his service in the army or through business.  Colin had heard Ian Galloway talk about Palestinians on Iona over 25 years before.  Cynthia had heard about the Middle East when Hugh Kerr was Interim Minister at her church in the early 1980s. 

Fraser comments of a visit shortly before he applied to EAPPI, ‘It impressed on me the serious injustice being suffered by Palestinians.’   Others noted the witness of others who knew the situation at first hand.  David and Rosamond both had family members who spent time in the region and whose letters home told the story of what was happening on the ground.

Some noted that their views had changed over time and with increased knowledge:  David writes, ‘In my youth and early adulthood I greatly admired the many military and political achievements of the nascent Israeli nation, but in later life came to understand more of the costs to indigenous Palestinians and neighbouring Arab states.’  Iain reflects that when he was younger ‘my view of the “situation” was based on movies that I saw of young people going to a Kibbutz in the early ‘50s and creating a new life in a new environment,’ but that his perspective changed while working for Church and Nation as ‘reports by Christian Aid and B’Tselem assisted in my understanding.’  Neil dates his interest back to the 1967 war: ‘At that time I suppose I was very pro-Israel thinking that its existence was being threatened by its Arab neighbours without really understanding how things got to that situation.  However, over the years as I got to know more my perception changed.’ 

Amidst their varying accounts of their interest in the situation is the common thread of concern for the humanitarian situation for Palestinians and the human rights violations that they were experiencing. 

Given these concerns, it is not surprising that EAPPI would be of interest, but what led them to volunteer?  Several noted that they had the time available with which to do something worthwhile, and David mentioned his confidence in WCC and QPSW and the pre-service training.  Rosamond identifies a powerful spiritual experience when she had a sense of Christ’s sharing in our suffering world and ‘has come . . . to redeem his people, which was an important part of her journey to EAPPI.  Neil cites his pacifism, and being influenced by ‘the thought that I could play a small part in resolving the problem by peaceful means;’ David also referred to the ‘opportunity to contribute in a non-violent way towards a just and equitable peace.’  Cynthia spoke of being ‘passionately interested in peace and justice issues.’

Though I didn’t ask about this, several commented on the effect that being an EA had had on them.  Everyone has written and given presentations on their experiences, and some sell Palestinian crafts and products.  Ian subsequently worked on the EAPPI programme for the WCC in Geneva, then for Sabeel Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem, and now is Council Secretary for the World Mission Council.  Several are involved in local groups related to Palestinian issues.  Rosamond hopes that working for peace and justice will remain central to her Christian faith.  But let’s leave the last word to Colin, who speaks for them all: ‘Life hasn’t quite been the same since!’

I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt teresap@quaker.org.ukfor permission. Thank you.