Last week the Church of England voted overwhelmingly and with much controversy, to endorse the activities of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). I say controversially as the Jewish community lobbied very hard indeed to prevent the General Synod of the Church of England from doing so though, clearly, to no avail. TOI’s Miriam Shaviv wrote a great piece explaining all about it at the time which you can read here.
The role of these Ecumenical Accompaniers is described on the website in the following way (the italics are added by me):
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.
The first sentence is the most important as it really explains just what kind of people will be arriving here in Israel. These are people looking for an experience, they’re looking to “experience life under occupation” and then go home and tell stories about how awful it is. How on earth they can be expected to provide a “protective presence” remains unclear. What is clear is that there is a presumption that they are needed here and that there is something that they can do to help. When it comes to reporting human rights abuses one simply needs to go to Google and look up the masses and masses of reporting done by dozens of organisations covering the longest running and least bloody conflict in the world.
I dealt with these kinds of volunteers a great deal during the Al Aqsa Intifada and every single one of them proved to be utterly out of their depth and with zero knowledge of the environment to which they had inserted themselves. The implication of sending these people into the West Bank is that they, somehow, will be more effective than Palestinians themselves in dealing with the IDF.
That’s a very dangerous presumption to make and it is based on a lack of understanding of the situation out here. Palestinians have grown up with the IDF all around them and have a dynamic with them. Volunteers from Europe and the USA have no conception of a dynamic and only preconceived ideas of what the occupation is. Usually it’s akin to IDF = enemy.
This means that invariably when they come across soldiers they are uncooperative and tend to exacerbate situations rather than make them better. In short they are attempting to end the occupation on their own, one situation at a time. What will invariably end up happening is that one of their Palestinian friends will end up having to extricate them from trouble of their own making.
Usually that happens with looks of utter incomprehension on the face of the volunteer and words such as “but I’m helping you”.
They are not.