Viewpoint: World Council of Churches is not 'anti-Israeli'

Ecumenical Accompaniers in Hebron

Ecumenical Accompaniers in Hebron

Source: WCC

A Jerusalem Post report of 20 February 2019 by Hagay Hacohen titled: "World Council of Churches exposed as biased, anti-Israeli group" is inaccurate and riddled with false innuendo.

The description of the report as a "1 minute read" indicates how superficial an effort the Jerusalem Post editorial team made to substantiate the allegations it reported as facts.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is not "anti-Israeli" as the headline claims in a bald and unjustified accusation.

The Jerusalem Post sub-heading "The World Council of Churches spent years gathering information on IDF operations, with activists masquerading as tourists," needs fact checking. As it stands, it is false and overblown, seeking to imply a conspiracy by the WCC.

EAPPI targeted for harassment and threats

The World Council of Churches (WCC) established the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) in 2002 in response to an appeal from Palestinian church leaders. It is a programme in which participants from WCC member churches and partners around the world spend up to three months in the region gaining first-hand experience of the reality of life in the occupied Palestinian territories, and providing a protective international presence for members of the communities they visit. WCC rejects violence and terrorism, and seeks to work only with partners who are also committed to non-violent means of resolving disputes. WCC seeks a just peace for both peoples of the region, and considers the ongoing military occupation of the Palestinian territories to be an obstacle to the realization of that hope.

However, EAPPI participants have been the subject of increasing harassment and threats - including threats of physical violence - by members of settler communities and other reactionary groups. In particular, the levels of such harassment and threats in Hebron resulted in the temporary withdrawal of Ecumenical Accompaniers from the H2 area, as announced on 29 January.

A campaign to eliminate international presence in Hebron

Among the organizations targeted for similar attacks has been the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), now excluded from the Hebron area as a result of a very regrettable decision by the Government of Israel not to renew TIPH's mandate. TIPH was set up more than 20 years ago under the Oslo Accords to help safeguard Palestinians in the Hebron area.

"The non-renewal of this mandate and the intensified harassment of WCC's programme and other NGO presences threatens to eliminate any international monitoring and protective presence from one of the most volatile situations in the occupied Palestinian territories, at a time when the vision of a secure and sustainable peace in the region seems more remote than ever," the WCC said in a 28 January statement.

False innuendo against EAPPI

The Jerusalem Post, in its story, cited unspecified "reports" that the WCC sent foreign nationals to pose as tourists to gather information about IDF operations and training in Jerusalem and Hebron.

The EAPPI programme has always operated openly, and not covertly as the report appears to suggest. On the contrary, EAPPI is a publicly acknowledged programme of the WCC, and transparent about its activities. Detailed information on the programme is available on the EAPPI website and elsewhere in the public domain.

The Jerusalem Post wrote, "Working alongside Israeli human rights groups; the volunteers wore official-looking brown vests with EAPPI written on them with a dove-shaped logo, lending them a false air of authority seeing as the organization doesn't enjoy an official status in Israel."

The brown vests cited in the newspaper report and video are intended to identify EAPPI participants ('Ecumenical Accompaniers') during their stay and while they try to provide a protective presence often where local West Bank residents have faced harassment from Israeli settlers.

It is clear from the photograph and video used in the report that there is no attempt to hide the vests or the nature of the programme in which the persons wearing them are participating.

Tendentious allegations of antisemitism

The Jerusalem Post quotes settler Amit Barak: "'They then returned to their home countries offering to speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict using theological terms that are 'loaded with antisemitism' said Amit Barak, one of the main activists in exposing the group."

There is no evidence presented in this report to substantiate the key accusation regarding the use of theological terms loaded with antisemitism.

"They would also use graphics such as a 'star of David bleeding on Palestinian children'," Barak is further quoted as saying.

Again, the report does not provide any details regarding the context in which these graphics are alleged to have been used, or by whom.

It should be noted that since 1948 the WCC has categorically and repeatedly condemned antisemitism as sin against God and humanity. Most recently, on 29 January, WCC said it "would welcome a sufficiently precise and sufficiently widely accepted definition of antisemitism to clearly identify instances of condemnable hatred of Jews as Jews, while protecting legitimate criticism of the actions of individuals, groups or of the government of Israel from being falsely characterized as 'antisemitic'."

"Take the gloves off"

The Jerusalem Post report goes on to say, "Barak, a resident of Nokdim in Gush Etzion, met EAPPI activists near his home. After several weeks in which they came 'to bother us, to make provocations' he decided to 'take the gloves off'."

In fact, in the video Barak says nothing about meeting EAPPI participants, but simply says that he decided to "take the gloves off," an expression that implies a violent intent, after he observed EAPPI participants in the vicinity. The report says that the EAPPI group along with Israeli and Palestinian peace groups kept coming back. The report does not bother to examine why the reason why. In fact, EAPPI and its Israeli and Palestinian peace group partners routinely accompany and support Palestinian women having difficulty accessing their farmlands in this area. They have not harassed Barak's community; on the contrary, it is Barak and other settlers who have repeatedly harassed and threatened EAPPI participants undertaking peaceful non-confrontational accompaniment of Palestinian people in this area.

Stressing that WCC only operates this sort of accompaniment programme in Israel and Palestine and not in any other conflict area in the world, NGO Monitor representative Itai Reuveni says that "it's a political project in disguise of human rights."

In fact, the WCC accompaniment programme is a response to a specific call from Palestinian church leaders in the region. The programme was established to address circumstances that are specific to the region, though a similar methodology has been trialed in the context of conflict and widespread human rights violations in Colombia.

Falsely imputing terrorist links, illegal activities, promoting anti-EAPPI paranoia

The report also alleges that "EAPPI was working with Hassan Breijieh, spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group."

This bald statement of purported fact, without any substantiation or context and scurrilously implying terrorist links, is evidently designed to promote anti-EAPPI paranoia. Once again, WCC categorically denounces terrorism and all armed violence against civilians, and is committed to working only with partners who share its commitment to non-violence and peaceful means of dispute resolution.

WCC is however concerned about the injustice and illegality of the collective punishment of the families and communities of perpetrators of terrorist attacks, at the same time as maintaining its categorical condemnation of terrorism and armed violence against civilians.

The WCC is confident that its activities in Israel are in no way illegal under relevant Israeli laws. Certainly there has been no court ruling or official sanction against EAPPI or its activities by Israeli authorities.

Self-determination and security

The WCC has long affirmed - and takes this opportunity to do so again - the right of the State of Israel to exist, within its internationally accepted borders, in full sovereignty and free from the threat of violence. We denounce categorically all violence based on religion, ethnicity, race or any other dimension of a person's identity or belonging.

With the situation of many Palestinian Christians very much in mind, WCC equally affirms the right of Palestinian people to freedom from military occupation, to self-determination within their own state alongside Israel, and to live their lives in peace. To the extent that specific policies and practices of the Government of Israel obstruct and impede the realization of these rights, we will continue to express our criticism of such policies and practices.

Tags: WCC, Holy Land, Israel, World Council of Churches

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