Tonight, or tomorrow, in a Church near you, before an audience that usually runs close to 30 congregants, an Ecumenical Accompanier will return from three months in the West Bank, with a tale that never made the headlines. “I recently was privileged to attend a presentation given by two Quaker Ecumenical Accompaniers who had returned from Palestine” writes Ms. King of Matlock in an impassioned letter to the Chief Rabbi. “In particular, they showed a photograph of a boy whose face I will never forgot for the rest of my life…he was clearly screaming as were his parents as the Israeli soldiers dragged him away. He was taken and abused, being forced to kneel for 48 hours without food and water.” A damning report, and an outright lie.
An acquaintance who is not afraid to speak openly, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, Director of Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for Rabbis for Human Rights, tells me that he has never seen nor heard of such a tale in his six years of daily involvement in the territories. He asserts that three hours is the maximum that the army can hold anyone without charge, and that the tale of the screaming youth has no precedent, and indeed would have made for a scandal in the Israeli created ‘Committee against Torture’.
It’s not the only lie that the returnees tell with straight faces. In Twickenham in February, an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) told the titillated crowd, that she know on good authority, that male soldiers routinely strip-searched Palestinian girls at the crossings. False again, adds Rabbi Grenimann, women soldiers always conduct searches on women to preserve their dignity. And no such case had emerged in his six years at the border.
An on. At the United Reformed Church in Winchester, the EAPPI speaker told her audience that it was ‘Israeli government policy to grab all the land clear to the Euphrates” And on. In St. John’s Church in Newcastle another EA warned the 60 strong audience that if you ‘took a wrong turn in Palestine the IDF will shoot you’.
Where do the lies begin? From my growing experience with the Accompaniers themselves, I am disinclined to doubt their commitment to telling over their experience in Palestine as plainly and honestly as possible. They simply report what they see and what they hear. But what they hear during their three month tour in Hebron and Jenin and west Bank refugee camps is a narrative that requires a filter between facts and frustration.
The Palestinian people have not cast an electoral ballot in seven years and counting. They have no other expression of radical protest beyond the stones they cast, and their words that will be carried to far flung sympathizers half way around the globe. Can you blame them for bending the truth for the eager EA’s?
Someone-the boy, his parents, perhaps-told the Accompanier an exaggerated tale of horror, and the Quaker EA listened attentively and now repeats this misinformation in church halls across England to aghast audiences, with a slide-show for effect.
But it is not the lying itself that frightens me, what should frighten us all, is that the lie has no end.
The lie could have ended with the EA trip leaders. These Quaker professionals vet each presentation before the EA’s take it on the road. Why, then, do they allow these lies to enter into the presentations in the first place? And even more worryingly, when the Board of Deputies of British Jews writes to these same leaders saying: “Please stop these stories, they cannot be verified, they may be lies.” These organizers respond that the returnee EAs have the right-nay the obligation-to simply report what they heard. And the presentations continue unchecked, the lies continue for another night, and another church listens rapt to the horrific untruths of the boy who kneeled, famished for two days, and the leering Israeli soldiers stripping young girls.
Perhaps, the fact that these lies continue unabated is not so hard to comprehend. We intuitively grasp that Immanuel Kant got it wrong when he demanded absolute honesty in every scenario. Even when the victim is hiding in your theoretical house, and the murderer knocks on your theoretical door, demanding “Is he here?” Only a sadist or a Kantian moral philosopher would suggest that we answer, “Yes he is”. And so, I imagine the Quakers envision themselves as the housekeeper, the Palestinians as the victim they shelter, and a few well told lies as the best option against the murderous Israeli entity at the threshold.
But if you feel that that the ends may not justify the means, that the truth must ring out in a church hall near you, than may I suggest another possibility? Join the Board of Deputies in urging Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the oversight group for the EAPPI programme in this country, to immediately create a committee comprised of those who care about the Israeli people, care about the Palestinian people and care about the truth, to listen and guide every EA presentation before it ever graces a public slide-show, or incites a church audience.
For when honesty no longer lies as the cornerstone of our dialogue on the Holy Land, what now will fill the gap left between us by truth’s absence?