Seeking a just peace in the Holy Land: World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel
September 13 to 21 is the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel. In this blog Cheryl Kipping, a member of Beckenham Baptist Church, shares insights from visiting the Holy Land and introduces EAPPI – the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel – and the actions it's taking to promote a just peace
Visiting the sites of the Biblical stories can be a moving experience for people that have been to the Holy Land. Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, and Rebecca are buried, is rarely included in pilgrim itineraries. It has been described as a ‘microcosm of the devastating impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on civilians’ by Human Rights Watch, an international organisation that investigates human rights abuses around the world. Visiting Hebron can be distressing and troubling. It is the largest town in the West Bank, which, with Gaza and East Jerusalem, have been identified as territories which could form a Palestinian state under the two-state solution. The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. The occupation is illegal under international law (Article 42, Hague Regulations).
Since 1997 Hebron has been divided into two areas: H1 and H2. H1 is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. H2 is under the control of Israel. H2 includes most of the old city of Hebron including what was the market and commercial sector. About 700 Israelis live in settlements in H2. Settlements are communities inhabited by Israeli citizens built on occupied Palestinian land. They are illegal under international law (4th Geneva convention). In addition to the 700 settlers, there are a similar number of Israeli soldiers in H2 to maintain the settlers’ safety.
About 33,000 Palestinians live in H2. Their movements are severely restricted and enforced with check points, road blocks (gates and concrete walls), watchtowers and the use of photo recognition technology. Many Palestinians need to pass through checkpoints to access their own homes. In some parts of H2 Palestinians are not permitted to drive or even walk, yet these same areas are freely accessible to settlers. Shuhuda Street, one of the main streets, has been designated a ‘closed military zone’ resulting in shops and businesses being closed, either because they have been shut down by military orders or because their owners have abandoned them because of the restricted access for customers and suppliers (see United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Human Affairs - UNOCHA).
Zidane, a Palestinian who lives on Shuhada Street, said, ‘When I walk out my front door, I can walk to the left but I am not allowed to walk more than 20 metres to the right. I can barely remember what some of that part of Shuhada Street looks like.’
Palestinians in H2 are often harassed and they, and their property, physically attacked by settlers. A 2018 survey of Palestinians conducted by UNOCHA found that over a three year period nearly 70 per cent had been affected by settler violence. Furthermore, the homes of 75 per cent had been searched by Israeli forces. These searches often involved intimidation and threats.
Salwa and her children, who live in H2, have been physically attacked by settlers, their grape vines and olive trees have been poisoned and their home invaded by soldiers during military exercises.
Many Palestinians, international observers and some Israelis believe ending the occupation is essential to achieve a just peace in which all can live with freedom and dignity in Israel and Palestine.
This is also one of the aims of EAPPI - The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. EAPPI is a World Council of Churches initiative. It was set up in 2002 in response to requests to the international community from church leaders in Jerusalem to provide a protective presence for Palestinian civilians. In the UK and Ireland the programme is co-ordinated by the Quakers on behalf of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. The Baptist Union, as well as several other denominations and charitable organisations, are partners of the programme.
EAPPI sends Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) to live in Palestinian communities for three month placements. They work alongside Israeli and Palestinian groups seeking a just peace: monitoring human rights, providing a protective presence and passing on information about the situations they encounter to international organisations such as the United Nations. EAs are not pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian but pro-human rights.
The situation in Israel/Palestine is complex and the conflict long-standing. So do EAs make a difference? Many Palestinians report that if EAs are present they are less likely to be harassed by settlers or intimidated by Israeli soldiers, their treatment at checkpoints is likely to be more humane, and they receive practical and emotional support at times of challenge such as when their home has been demolished. EAs work closely with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. This allows them to feel that they are not alone. Many of the Palestinians and Israelis EAs work with want them to tell their stories when they return to their home countries.
So what can you do? You can read eyewitness blogs from EAs to learn more about the stories of people in Palestine and Israel – blogs about Zidane and Salwan’s experiences are here: Zidane; Salwa. You can follow EAPPI on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (@eappiukireland) and sign up to its email newsletter. Once international travel is possible again you could visit Israel/Palestine with an organisation that enables people to gain a different perspective on life in the Holy Land eg Amos Trust, Zaytoun, ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions).
You can find out more about applying to be an EA at www.quaker.org.uk/applyeappi.
Further information about Hebron is available from B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation.
During the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, an initiative of the World Council of Churches, people of faith are encouraged to pray and take action to promote a just peace in Palestine and Israel. Here is a prayer you may want to use during this week.
Image (top) | EAs accompanying children to school down Shuhuda Street
Cheryl Kipping is due to serve with EAPPI next year. She has visited Israel/Palestine several times initially volunteering on a kibbutz, and subsequently going on an ‘Alternative Pilgrimage’ organised by Amos Trust. It was on this trip that she learned more about the realities of the conflict for Palestinians and Israelis.
She says ‘Having seen the impact of the occupation on the ground I wanted to do something about the situation. God requires us to act for justice and we know that faith without works is dead. As a Christian who has recently retired from full time work it seemed that this was the time and opportunity to put my faith into action and serve with EAPPI.'