Lies Near You: Examining Stories told by Returning Ecumenical Accompaniers

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?

About the Author
Rabbi Natan Levy is the Interfaith and Social Action Consultant