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Second Group of Ecumenical Accompaniers to Start Work in March 2003

Jan 21, 2003 06:37 PM EST

National coordinating committees for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) are finalizing their recruiting and selection of participants for a second group of ecumenical accompaniers scheduled to begin service in March. The EAPPI is coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The first group of 17 international ecumenical accompaniers - from five different countries: Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Norway and the United States - began work in August 2002. They have been serving in East and West Jerusalem, the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus, and in the Gaza strip.

Rebecca Johnson has been appointed WCC/EAPPI program coordinator in Jerusalem, and began work on 20 December. Johnson, a Canadian, is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), and has participated in delegations and CPT active duty missions to Hebron in the West Bank. "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," Johnson states. "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."

The first phase of the EAPPI is now being assessed. "Our local partners, the churches, keep saying: 'Stay with us. Don't leave like other delegations'," reports Salpy Eskidjian, program executive for WCC International Affairs. "The accompaniment program has produced many expectations internationally and locally. We have raised a lot of hope, and that gives the international ecumenical family a lot of responsibility."

Eskidjian visited Jerusalem in December and talked with local hosts as part of the initial assessment. A local women's group stressed the importance of the accompaniers working and living with them. "Here is tangible proof that someone cares for them, that they are not alone. When they need to tell their stories, they trust the accompaniers to write what they see and feel. They know that someone is feeling their pain and is able to say it in ways that others outside can see it too."

As one accompanier explained, "Now I believe more than ever before that we don't see clearly what is happening here, and we don't say it clearly. Churches must say very clearly and concisely that 'the occupation is inhuman'."

Eskidjian has no illusions about the difficulties ahead. "I think we're going to have a lot of bloodshed for a long time to come. There is rigidity and fear on both sides. Each side dehumanizes the other. This makes efforts like ours - to continue to build bridges and highlight non-violent actions that address the occupation as the root cause of the violence - so vital."

By Albert H. Lee
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