When to be ‘ecumenical’ – and when not

With three teenagers kidnapped by terrorists in the West Bank, a huge search operation is underway.  Every branch of Israel’s security forces is involved – from the Border Police to the Air Force, from the Army Intelligence to the Paratroopers Corps.  Even Palestinian Authority policemen reportedly cooperate.  But there is one type of uniform that one does not encounter among those active in the search: the beige vests of EAPPI – the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel.  That’s because help with rescuing three kids whose only ‘crime’ is being Jewish is not within the ‘ecumenical’ remit of that organisation.

EAPPI activist
To be or not to be ‘ecumenical’

Funded by the World Council of Churches and operated by the Society of Quakers, EAPPI “brings internationals to the West Bank to experience [Palestinians’] life under [Israeli] occupation”, but not Israelis’ life under Palestinian terrorism; it aims primarily to “provide protective presence to vulnerable communities [read: ‘non-Jewish communities’], monitor and report human rights abuses [read: ‘Jewish abuses’].  In practice, the EAPPI activists (who can’t speak the local languages and come equipped with little knowledge and loads of preconceptions) are easily manipulated and further indoctrinated by their Palestinian handlers.  Part of the mission is, upon return, to ‘tell others what they saw’; or, rather, what they were shown.

Given the outfit’s title, naïves may assume that this is just one of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programmes set up by the World Council of Churches – the one that acts ‘in Palestine and Israel’.  But it’s not.  It’s the only one.

Aftermath of suicide bombing in Iraq
Aftermath of suicide bombing near Mosul, Iraq

There is no Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Iraq, even while an Al-Qaeda splinter has taken control of large chunks of Iraqi territory and is threatening Baghdad itself.  The ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS) has already conducted hundreds of summary executions of civilians and POWs.    So far, one million refugees have fled from the Jihadists.  And that’s on top of Iraq’s ‘normal’ level of inter-sectarian violence.  Which, according to the UN Mission in Iraq, has killed 10,679 people and injured 23,735 in the last 18 months.

Victims of war in Syria
Victims of war and inter-sectarian violence in Syria. There are at least 162,000 of these, at least 10,000 of them children. But not an ‘ecumenical accompanier’ in sight.

There is no Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for nearby Syria, where the UN has already given up counting the human lives lost – people are simply killed faster than the international organisation can tally.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that over 162,000 people were killed, including more than 10,000 children.  Only God knows how many were maimed, tortured, raped.  There are 9 million refugees.  Palestinian refugees (or rather ‘people born in Syria for generations, but denied Syrian citizenship because they descend from Palestinian refugees’) are abundantly represented among the dead, the maimed and the fleeing.  But Palestinians only qualify for ‘Ecumenical Accompaniment’ when they are wronged by Jews.

There is no Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Egypt, where kangaroo courts sentence people to death, hundreds at a time.

Lest we forget – just like the World Council of Churches – the three countries mentioned above are home to sizable Christian communities.  The ‘are’ in the sentence above is gradually turning into ‘were’, as Christians flee the persecution of Islamists; but there are of course no ‘ecumenical accompaniers’ to “provide protective presence to [those] vulnerable communities”.

Hanging in Iran small
Execution in Iran. Were they ‘enemies of God’ or have they ‘sown corruption on earth’?

There is no Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Iran, where 1,000 people have been executed in the past 18 months, on charges including ‘terrorist acts’,  ‘corruption on earth’, ‘attempt to overthrow the government’ and ‘enmity to God’.

Afghanistan after 13 years of Occupation: infant mortality rate 117 deaths/1,000 live births — worst in the world (West Bank 13, Gaza 15). Literacy ratio: Afghanistan 28%; West Bank & Gaza 95%

There is no Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Afghanistan, a country still under US and UK occupation, where 46 people were killed in just one day (yesterday), in what the BBC calls ‘low level attacks’.

And that’s just a small part of the Middle East.  I could make this list much, much longer, cataloguing all the numerous and painful diseases that trouble our world.  But what would be the purpose?  Who cares?  Certainly not the World Council of Churches, whose one-and-only Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in the whole wide world operates in the West Bank.

According to the (very unfriendly to Israel) United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in the past 18 months Israeli security forces have killed 27 West Bank Palestinians.  That number includes ‘Amer Ibrahim Naji Nassar and Naji ‘Abd a-Salam Naji al-Balbisi, shot while throwing Molotov cocktails at IDF soldiers; Yunes Ahmad Mahmoud a-Radaydeh, shot while bursting with a tractor into an IDF military base; Saleh Samir ‘Abd a-Rahman Yasin and Nafe’a Jamil Nafe’a a-S’adi, shot in an exchange of fire with IDF soldiers; and three armed members of an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group, shot after refusing to surrender.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, Secretary general of the World Council of Churches and -- incidentally -- also co-chair of the Palestine Israel ecumenical Forum
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, Secretary General of the World Council of Churches and — incidentally! — also Co-Chair of the ‘Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum’

The West Bank is, of course, hardly a place of harmony and safety, though it may seem such to many a human being forced to live in much, much worse circumstances; without an ecumenical accompanier anywhere in sight.

I am tempted to ask the leaders of the World Council of Churches and those of the Quaker Movement to explain their choices and priorities, as expressed by the one-and-only Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme.  But I know from experience that all I’d hear would be pathetic and dishonest attempts at post-rationalisation.

So, instead, I’m only going to propose a small change of name.  Why not call it, for the sake of honesty and God’s Truth, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Communities Vulnerable to Jews?

About the Author
Noru served in the IDF as a regular soldier and reservist. Currently a management consultant, in his spare time he engages in pro-Israel advocacy, especially in interfaith environments. He presented in front of Church of England and Quaker audiences and provides support to Methodist Friends of Israel. Noru is the Editor-in-Chief of 'Politically-incorrect Politics' (www.Pol-inc-Pol.com). Translated into Polish, his articles are also published by the Polish portal 'Listy z naszego sadu.'
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