Ten years since the successful but violent transition from apartheid to democracy, South Africans continue to advocate for human rights in the face of conflict and oppression, but this time a bit further from home.
Ten years since the successful but violent transition from apartheid to democracy, South Africans continue to advocate for human rights in the face of conflict and oppression, but this time a bit farther from home.
Of the thirteen new accompaniers who joined the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine (EAPPI) last week, four come from South Africa – making them the first group from the South.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was launched in August 2002. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy, and stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation.
The new group, which comes from the SACC with the support of the Christian Council of Sweden, is the first belonging to churches with direct experience of conflict and non-violent resistance.
“It is too easy for us to forget the dark and terrible days of our own struggle, but the world has not forgotten, and our mere presence stands as a sign of hope to others,” said Canon Luke Pato of the South African Council of Churches (SACC).
The SACC has a strong history of political activism and ecumenical fellowship with the WCC through the Ecumenical Monitoring Programme in South Africa (EMPSA). This programme, which served as a model for the EAPPI, was active between 1990 and 1994, bringing over 400 volunteers to the anti-apartheid movement.
“We wouldn’t have survived without international support,” notes one new accompanier, a student during the EMPSA days. The ecumenical family “helped us cope with the realities of the situations we were facing,” he adds. “They were there for us, and it is important to be here for them now.”
The four South African accompaniers, who include a social service worker, a legal officer and two members of the clergy, one a professor, come with nine others from Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK to join two accompaniers staying on from previous groups.
The complete group comprises six women and seven men ranging in age from 26 to 72. They will work with the churches of Jerusalem, Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations, and Palestinian communities, in various capacities such as accompanying children going to school and people dealing daily with the effects of Israel’s separation barrier.
“South African churches joining the EAPPI marks a turning point in the international ecumenical solidarity and advocacy efforts to end the illegal Israeli occupation,” says Salpy Eskidjian of the World Council of Churches. “The legacy of WCC and SACC in the struggle against apartheid is a concrete manifestation, demonstrating that when we join forces, we can bring about change. Now, through the EAPPI, the ecumenical fellowship has the chance to do it again.”