Quakers celebrate sixty years of working for peace

 On 10 December 1947, the Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their relief work with displaced people and those facing poverty in Europe in the years before, during and after the Second World War. Sixty years on, the world has changed but needs have not. Today Quakers are continuing to work for peace, by sending human rights observers to the Holy Land, in response to calls for help from the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and from Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations. Quaker Peace and Social Witness manages the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine - a joint project of members of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Christian Aid, initiated by the World Council of Churches. Since August 2002, 426 'Ecumenical Accompaniers' from Christian denominations in 14 countries, have served in the region. 45 were from Britain and Ireland. A further 14 from Britain and Ireland are currently serving. The Ecumenical Accompaniers offer protection through their non-violent presence. Their role includes:monitoring and reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law; supporting acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Palestinian and Israeli activists; engaging in public policy advocacy; and standing in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the Occupation. Floresca Karanasou, Middle East Programme Manager for Quaker Peace and Social Witness said: ""While the conflict continues it is really important that we witness what is happening and speak about what we see, which is why we remain committed to our work in the Middle East on behalf of Churches in Britain and Ireland. It is very clear the people we offer protection to very much want us to continue the presence. More and more people in the Occupied Territories at checkpoints and barrier gates, as well as Israeli peace activists, recognise the jackets worn by the Ecumenical Accompaniers." Five EAs who returned recently are keen to share their experiences with meetings and gatherings around Britain and Ireland. They all speak of the dehumanising effect of the Israeli Occupation and the effects of the security barrier built by the Israelis on Palestinian land, inside internationally recognised boundaries. All the EAs speak hopefully of peace activists who are both Israeli and Palestinian. The EAs include: Hayley Kemp, a Quaker from Plymouth who monitored Palestinian farmers, desperate to grow food and separated from their land in Tulkarem. Dwin Capstick, who has recently been a parish minister for the Church of Scotland on the Isle of Jura, and served in Bethlehem where Palestinians "live like prisoners" enclosed by the security barrier. John Friend-Pereira from County Offaly, Eire. He was based in the West Bank city of Hebron divided to accommodate 500 Israeli settlers among 180,000 Palestinians. Movement restrictions have led to the closure of 850 Palestinian businesses there and children's journey to school entails long delays at checkpoints. John took time to listen to Israelis in Sderot, an Israeli town frequently hit by rockets fired by Palestinian militant groups. Ryan Moore from Ballycastle in Northern Ireland, and of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, who stayed among Palestinians harassed by Israeli settlers. Paul Mukerji, from Birmingham, who stayed in Hebron and Jerusalem and says he saw how the Occupation dehumanises both Israelis and Palestinians. In the midst of the daily conflict the accompaniers meet Israeli and Palestinian peace campaigners. They include groups like the Israeli Women in Black who maintain a weekly silent vigil in Jerusalem. One of them is 98 years old Holocaust survivor Anna Colombo. Her surname in Italian means "dove". Anna said: "My entire family was killed in Auschwitz: I am revolted by the notion that we are causing suffering to others that I myself experienced...that is why I stand at Women in Black." For more information, or to have a speaker come to your church or group, contact: annev@quaker.org.uk Anne van Staveren, Quakers

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