A motion is coming before the General Synod asking it to endorse the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This scheme sends human rights monitors to the West Bank to observe what goes on at checkpoints, agricultural gates and to aid children getting to school. It is a World Council of Churches project run by Quaker Peace and Social Witness in Britain and Ireland.
Some articles have appeared in the Jewish Chronicle and on other websites saying that this motion should be opposed as it will whip up anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli feeling. And a campaign has been launched to that end.
Unfortunately the criticism on these sites is based on inaccuracies.
It is claimed that Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) are anti-Israeli, that they have almost no knowledge of Israeli perspectives, that they spend only one day in Israel proper and that they peddle their “skewed views”.
I have served twice as an EA for whom a week hearing a variety of Israeli perspectives was programmed. We spent a day at an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. We also visited a kibbutz and many of us travelled down to Sderot, a town where the Qassam rockets rain down from Gaza. Every EA takes an extensive tour of Yad Veshem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum.
We are encouraged to spend our 12 days’ leave in Israel where many of us stay with Israeli friends and relatives – one flatmate stayed on a (legal) kibbutz in the desert with Israeli Jewish friends. We stay in tourist resorts and have plenty of opportunity to absorb the Zionist narrative.
The article states that we receive only two hours’ education about Israel during our two weeks’ training in London. Again this is not the case – we have to read an enormous amount of historical material before we even begin training and the whole of the first week is devoted to the conflict, listening to speakers with a variety of perspectives.
As an EA I am well used to the charge of being anti-Israel and even at times anti-Jewish. This is certainly not how EAs see themselves. We aspire to practise principled impartiality which means we do not take sides in the conflict.
We are not neutral when it comes to human rights abuses, however, and all our work is predicated on international (IL) and international humanitarian law (IHL). I hope I don’t even need to say that we deplore human rights abuses per se, including those carried out on Israelis by Palestinians.
As for “peddling skewed views” the selection procedure, training and de-brief are all very rigorous. Great care is taken to make sure that we do not give our own views or step outside of the very circumscribed remit of an EA. Our presentations are based on our own experiences underpinned with IL and IHL. We quote facts and figures overwhelmingly from either Israeli sources or bodies such as the UN, Defence for Children International and Amnesty International.
The motion before Synod must stand or fall on its own merits but it would be a pity if it fell because people were misinformed.