Religious Leaders unify Palestinians in Faith with WCC Ecumenical Program

Three heads of churches in Jerusalem – the Roman Catholic patriarch, Michel Sabbah, Lutheran bishop, Munib Younan, and Greek Melkite archimandrite, Mtanios Haddad - have visited three principally Muslim Palestinian communities, showing their support and appreciation for the work of the members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

During visits on 2nd August to the West Bank, communities of Tulkarem, Jayyous and Nablus, the three bishops met with Christian and Muslim religious and civil leaders, demonstrating the collaboration between members of both faiths, and the fact that the Palestinian people are one and unified.

The delegation and local community leaders praised the work of the EAPPI accompaniers for demonstrating clearly the positive role that churches play in Palestinian society, both towards Muslims and Christians.

The EAPPI accompaniers’ duties include monitoring and reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and support acts of non-violent resistance.

The three communities were chosen because the accompaniers have worked in all three places. The church leaders also wanted to demonstrate solidarity with those communities which have suffered the effects of Israel’s "separation wall", and its policies restricting freedom of movement.

Latin Patriarch Sabbah showed appreciation for EAPPI's efforts in an address to a group of Christian and Muslim religious and secular leaders in Nablus.

"The love of Christ is not only for Christians; it is for everyone, and to the ecumenical accompaniers from the World Council of Churches, we called upon you and you came. We have put faith in you and we are always with you. This is an occasion to thank you, and also to thank the churches you represent and the World Council of Churches," said Sabbah.

Bishop Younan viewed the EAPPI as helping to prove how all people of faith can work together towards a common goal of peace.

"It is not true that there is a struggle between Christianity and Islam. We are communicating to the world that we are one nation, one cause, seeking justice and reconciliation - Christians and Muslims. The programme (EAPPI) proves this, as it is not only in Palestine but in Israel as well. We work with everyone who works for justice and reconciliation - Christians, Muslims and Jews. This programme works with people of all three faiths who work against injustice and for reaching a solution as members of one human family," Younan said.

Archimandrite Haddad supported his two colleagues: "This programme is important. It shows that the church is working for justice, without worrying about whom we are helping. I am very happy that Muslims accept the ecumenical accompaniers without worrying about religious divisions. This shows that it is not a religious problem; it is a political problem. This programme is a Christian testimony to peace."

Land Defence Committee member in Jayyous, Abu Azzam was one of many in the local communities who expressed their gratitude to the churches:

"We are one people, Muslims and Christians. We are together against the occupation. This visit not only confirms that, but shows the support we get from the churches and that we are not alone. They have supported us all the time. The ecumenical accompaniers show that as well. ...They are good friends to this community, and we are all one family."

"It's an honour to have them come and see what we're doing here, and the village people's reaction," said Ann-Catrin Andersson from Sweden, one of the accompaniers in Jayyous. "It is very important to see the commitment to us of the people who invited us. It is gratifying to see that they appreciate us. ...There are strong relations between the church and the community, a fruitful cooperation. I think that the work of the ecumenical accompaniers here has helped as well."

EAPPI was established after calls from Jerusalem Church leaders for an ecumenical presence in the area. Accompaniers join communities throughout Palestine and Israel, and carry out work with others who protest non-violently against the occupation.