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They keep watch

Accompaniers walk with those who seek peace, not walls, in Palestine

Tammie Danielsen spent a cold 2012 winter in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, keeping watch. She is the 36th ELCA member to serve the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which began 10 years ago.

Danielsen, a member of Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas, and three other volunteers kept watch at checkpoints Palestinians must pass through to get to work or their neighborhoods that are near Israeli settlements — or even to pray at Hebron's Mosque of Abraham.

On a regular basis, Danielsen and the other volunteers walked with the children, who show identity cards before passing through X-ray security at checkpoints on their way to and from school.

ELCA member Tammie Danielsen leads
ELCA member Tammie Danielsen leads students from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on a tour of Hebron. Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel volunteers like Danielsen help with community safety by walking children to school, accompanying people through Israeli checkpoints and more.

As EAPPI volunteers, they wore vests printed with the image of the dove of peace and the cross transcending barriers.

After one "checkpoint watch," Danielsen said, "I wondered how humiliated these workers must feel, going through this process day after day. ... And yet they are somehow able to keep their dignity and their faith."

Hebron has been divided into two zones since 1997. The area under the control of the civilian Palestinian Authority is populated by some 120,000 Palestinians. The zone under Israeli military control is home to 30,000 Palestinians and 500 Israeli settlers.

Some 1,830 shops in the city center have closed due to restrictions on Palestinian movement, curfews and the sealing off of entire streets by the Israeli military. Many Palestinians have moved away, and the area has become a ghost town.

Ten years of EAPPI

EAPPI began with a call for help. In 2002, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem called for Christians to come and stand with Palestinians. EAPPI was the World Council of Churches' response. Participants — more than 900 in all — have come from churches in Europe and other parts of the world.

The EAPPI's goal is to work with Palestinians and Israelis to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Its strategy is accompaniment followed by advocacy. Accompaniment means walking with people through their struggle. The EAPPI provides a protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitors and reports alleged human rights abuses, and supports Palestinians and Israelis working together for justice and peace.

The ELCA reportedly has provided more accompaniers than any other U.S. denomination. The Southwestern Texas Synod has sent four of those, including Danielsen.

In 2005, Danielsen first traveled to the Holy Land as part of an ELCA group that visited holy sites, Palestinian Lutherans, Lutheran ministries, human rights groups and a refugee camp. After that experience, "I dreamed of returning one day to work and live amid such history and rich culture ...," she said. "I also wanted to learn what it is like for those living under occupation and how I might become a better, more effective partner in peace and advocate for them."

She invited her pastor, Karl Gronberg, to join her at a conference held by the Southwestern Texas Synod's "Peace Not Walls" task force.

Peace Not Walls is an ELCA campaign that calls for efforts toward a viable, contiguous Palestinian state; a secure Israel at peace with its neighbors; and a shared Jerusalem with equal access and rights for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The campaign is a result of the Middle East strategy adopted by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly.

The ELCA campaign works against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories through accompaniment, education and advocacy, especially with its companions, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the Jerusalem program of the Lutheran World Federation.

After the conference, Danielsen joined the synod task force as well as Austin's Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights. She also brought news of the struggle for justice and peace to Gethsemane, "to the community of faith, the Christian community and others, finding common ground for appreciation and respect of each other," Gronberg said.

In 2006, Danielsen helped organize a student dance troupe visit from the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah. When Gronberg saw the size of the venue Danielsen planned to rent, he didn't know if they could fill it. "But she had the vision," he said. "The night of the performance was standing-room only. These young people prod us to look at possibilities for peace from other traditions, other cultures."

Danielsen explained: "In addition to dancing, troupe members told their stories and how the conflict had affected their families. [This] was an interactive way to educate my community about the daily effects the conflict has on ordinary citizens."

The Palestinian dancers went on to take part in the ELCA Youth Gathering in San Antonio and a Global Mission Event in Amherst, Mass.

In 2010, Danielsen left her job as executive director of Samaritan Health Ministries in Austin. Faced with the challenge of raising the $6,000 fee for EAPPI participation, plus airfare, she turned to her congregation for support. Gethsemane agreed to match the funds she raised and allowed her to live rent-free in an unoccupied parsonage while she did it.

EAPPI 'an honor'

"As a Christian it is an honor to carry out my faith in action in a place that is sacred not only to me but to thousands of others all across the globe," Danielsen said. "[I'm] very thankful to have so many people at home supporting me through thought and prayer." (Read her "Living Stones of Palestine" blog).

Sharon Wiggins, a pastor from Victoria, Texas, served with Danielsen on the synod's Peace Not Walls task force. Now retired, Wiggins served with EAPPI in Bethlehem from June to September 2011.

"Being an ecumenical accompanier is not all about checkpoints," she said. "It is about visiting with the many people who have stories."

Speaking about the program, Israeli peace activist Angela Godfrey-Goldstein said the presence of the ecumenical accompaniers "as living proof that oppression ends, that truth and reconciliation, nonviolence and dialogue, negotiation, justice and respect of the other are all part of the way forward, was for me, as an Israeli, a source of spiritual comfort. ... Thank God for people such as Martin Luther King [Jr.], who said: 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.'"


Comments

Christine Cowan

Christine Cowan

Posted at 8:02 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/23/2012

As an ecumenical accompanier, I saw every day the effects of the Occupation, and heard many tragic stories about human rights abuses.  There is no doubt about the deep suffering that the systematic violence of Occupation inflicts on the Palestinian people, not only in deeply conflicted cities like Hebron, but also in the more rural areas. I was also very blessed to work with many people of good will, Christian, Jewish, Moslem, and secular; international, Israeli and Palestinian; who are giving sacrificially of their time, energy and resources to find peace with justice for this area.

As eyewitnesses in the West Bank, ecumenical accompaniers continue their work once they return home by public speaking to share what they have seen, and by continued advocacy on behalf of the people they served while in their field placements.  Perhaps you would like one of us to speak in your congregation; if so, let us know!

Scott Thams

Scott Thams

Posted at 11:02 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/27/2012

I too have had the blessing of serving as one of the many Ecumenical Accompaniers who have proudly represented the ELCA in the Holy Land. I was stationed in Jerusalem. Day after day I personally observed the violation of basic human rights and daily suffering the occupation has imposed on people on both sides of the conflict. What became clear to me is that the vast majority of people of all faiths living in the region simply want to live in peace. I met Christians, Jews and Muslims who work tirelessly to that end. Unfortunately a small minority on both sides of the conflict continue to  perpetuate the suffering. For more information on my experience as an accompanier, I encourage you to read the blog I wrote while I was there.  Here is a link:  http://www.scottsholylandpeacemission.blogspot.com/

Note: Scott Thams edited this post at 11:05 pm on 3/27/2012.



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