Local congregations in the land of Israel/Palestine are looking to the broadest and most inclusive ecumenical group of churches to play a stronger role in supporting their struggle for peace.
During a visit to the area last month, the World Council of Churches (WCC)'s general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, and a WCC delegation, found that the fellowship's Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was strongly backed as a concrete way for churches worldwide to get involved in the struggle for a just peace.
"The visit allowed us to confirm that the WCC does have a role to play in strengthening and supporting the churches in Palestine/Israel," said WCC delegation member Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, head of the Church of Norway's Council on Ecumenical and International Relations, according to the WCC.
Furthermore, the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum, which WCC recently launched in Jordan, was welcomed by the heads of churches in Jerusalem.
It will be "a privileged tool to facilitate greater involvement of the WCC member churches in advocacy efforts for a just peace in the region," said Kobia, as reported by the WCC. "It will enable our member churches to increase the work in awareness raising as well as in education both of their constituencies and the public at large."
The World Council of Churches – which groups 347 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing over 560 million Christians in more than 110 countries – has been an outspoken voice for the people of Palestine, whose human rights they say Israel has violated.
Last Monday, the ecumenical group said it would launch a global initiative to have churches worldwide rally for an end to Israel's occupation of Arab lands seized in the 1967 Mideast war.
"The initiative aims at calling on all churches to work seriously for putting an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands," the WCC said in a statement.
On their visit to the land of Israel/Palestine, the Kobia-led delegation got a first-hand introduction to the work of EAPPI "accompaniers," who the WCC general secretary described as "the eyes and ears of the ecumenical family in the midst of the conflict on the ground."
An initiative of the WCC under the "Ecumenical Campaign to End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine: Support a Just Peace in the Middle East," the EAPPI states that its mission is to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and to bring about a just and durable solution to the conflict, with two viable and secure nations living side by side in peace.
During the June 21-26 visit, the delegation saw EAPPI volunteers at work in Jayyous, a small West Bank town that has been cut off from its farming lands; Hebron, a Palestinian city of 160,000 inhabitants whose center has been invaded by some 400 radical Israeli settlers whose presence has killed what used to be the city's vibrant commercial life; Aida, a refugee camp of some 4,600 people from families displaced by the 1948 war; and Bethlehem, which the WCC described as "a community encircled and being suffocated by the government of Israel's 'separation barrier.'"
The delegation also met the mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, as well as the two chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger (Ashkenazi) and Shlomo Amar (Sephardi). According to the WCC, issues of education for peace and reconciliation, inter-religious relations and dialogue as well as common values were discussed.
"An education founded on solid moral ground needs to replace the propaganda-type education that demonizes the other and encourages hatred," Kobia said. "If extremists on both sides are allowed to define what it is to be Palestinian or Israeli, then we are in trouble."
Other sites visited by the delegation included Christian holy sites in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, as well as Augusta Victoria Hospital of the Lutheran World Federation on the Mount of Olives.