Building foundations for justice and peace
Advent reflections from Ecumenical Accompaniers in Palestine and Israel
November 21, 2023
The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network (PIEN) has released an Advent resource with week-by week reflections from Ecumenical Accompaniers (EA) who have been deployed in Palestine and Israel.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) sends volunteers to live alongside vulnerable Palestinian communities. Over a three-month deployment, the EAs monitor human rights and document the experiences of those communities. As impartial witnesses, their aim is to provide a protective presence, report violence and human rights violations and build foundations for justice and peace. EAPPI works in partnership with an international Christian network standing in solidarity with people of all faith.
Despite the war, the EAPPI program has continued to operate and EAs are reporting increasing violence against Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7.
“In Bethlehem, we anticipate the arrival of Christmas season, which brings joy to our souls, both young and old. However, the continued absence of justice in the Holy Land leaves little room for celebration or joy.”
The WCC reports while the most recent deployment was evacuated, the EAs remain in touch with residents.
Uniting Church minister Rev Dr Helen Richmond recently returned from an EAPPI deployment in Bethlehem and has heard disturbing reports from communities she visited while in the region. She is particularly concerned for residents in the village of Kisan where main roads have been cut off and there have been reports of unprovoked attacks.
With the world focused on the situation in the Holy Land, the PIEN Advent resource is an invitation to deepen your understanding of the context to this current crisis.
For each week of Advent, the guide includes first-hand accounts from recently returned EAs as well as bible readings, further resources and prayers to offer.
In her reflection, Helen writes, “It was an intense time. Every evening was spent writing up incidents of violence and abuse being directed at Palestinian people including children. One heartbreaking incident was seeing the demolition of Jubbet ad-Dhib school, one of a number of schools in Area C which had requested EAPPI to provide protective presence…Staff and students of the school continued to hold classes in small groups under the olive trees.”
Local churches in Jerusalem have expressed their sadness and pain at the local situation as the community approaches the season of Christmas.
Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem have called upon their congregations to stand with those facing afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities.
A Bethlehemite writes “the Municipality have removed Christmas decorations that adorned the city's neighbourhoods for years, as a gesture of mourning for the lives lost and in solidarity with the people in Gaza. In Bethlehem, we anticipate the arrival of Christmas season, which brings joy to our souls, both young and old. However, the continued absence of justice in the Holy Land leaves little room for celebration or joy.”
The Uniting Church has joined calls from the WCC and the National Council of Churches in Australia for an immediate ceasefire, a cessation of violence in Palestine and Israel, the unconditional and safe release of all hostages and the opening of humanitarian corridors.
During Advent we encourage Uniting Church members to pray for those suffering in the Holy Land and for a lasting peace with justice for all people who call these lands home.
Photos: taken by EAPPI volunteer Rev Helen Richmond on her recent deployment in Bethlehem. "Justice" artwork by Catholic Palestinian artist Ghassan Salsa based in BeIt Sahour.
Helen Richmond has shared the following poem reflecting on her experiences
In the distance the waters of the Dead Sea, Al Bahr Al Mayyit, glisten
The shepherds of Kisan lead their sheep and goats though the hillsides as their grandparents did stretching back through the generations.
But now the hillsides have been transformed.
Once they were free to wander the hills of Kisan.
But no longer.
Settlers have come encroaching on their land.
The ever expanding settlements of Ibei Hanahal and Ma’ale Amos (ironically named after the Prophet Amos), bring new rules about where they may graze their herds.
The soldiers turn a blind eye but not only that, they join in harassing and intimidating the shepherds of Kisan, letting off sound bombs,
in their village and near the herds
goats miscarry, livelihoods are threatened,
their houses, school, mosque threatened with demolition. In the face of odds stacked against them the community hopes to survive and not be erased.
They want to continue to use the wells of their ancestors to water their herds.
Like the goats of Kisan that find nourishment from the red berries of the Natesh bush despite the thorns, the people of Kisan are nourished by their land.
But will the sons and daughters of Kisan be allowed to live on the land gifted by their forebears?
Will their grandchildren be able to graze their sheep and goats on the hills of Kisan?
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