The World Council of Churches (WCC) announced on January 29 that it was pulling its “ecumenical accompaniers” from Hebron due to “security concerns.”
The WCC’s flagship project, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), sends activists to Israel to “monitor” and “report human rights abuses.”
By: Aryeh Savir
The program involves some 25-30 participants known as Ecumenical Accompaniers (EA) who operate on the ground for periods of three months, during which they work with fringe political anti-Israel organizations such as Be’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. EAPPI’s “extensive advocacy” includes sharing “first-hand experiences to open the eyes of their communities, churches and governments to the realities of occupation.”
The WCC’s activities have recently surfaced in the media, drawing fire from pro-Israel organizations over its illegal anti-Israel actions.
The exposure of the EAPPI’s illegal actions is the result of years of meticulous work and documentation.
Amit Barak, a resident of Nokdim in Gush Etzion and one of the Israeli operatives behind the EAPPI’s exposure, remembers first encountering them one Saturday in 2015.
It was on a Sabbath, and his wife called his attention to strangers in their backyard. Some he recognized as Israeli left-wing activists, but then he noticed foreigners wearing the EAPPI’s signatory brown vest.
They came every Saturday for five consecutive weeks, “to bother us, to make provocations, together with Israel radical left-wing organizations, together with Palestinian organizations,” he recalled.
After several such instances, “we decided to take the gloves off,” he said.
A local security official recalls receiving notification about suspicious-looking foreigners, possibly tourists, who were roaming around with maps. He arrived on site with IDF and police forces. The EAPPI activists presented themselves as “pilgrims” who were in the area for tourism. However, the maps they were carrying exposed them. They had detailed maps of the Israeli communities in the area with all sorts of markings and additional information, not tourism maps.
A search of their car exposed them as EAPPI activists, who had already gained a reputation as provocateurs. They were detained by the police.
Itai Reuveni, an NGO Monitor expert on anti-Israel activism, puts EAPPI into context.
Reuveni explained that “EAPPI is a project of the World Council of Churches, one of the biggest church organizations in the world.” EAPPI, Reuveni noted, is a project that sends “accompaniers” to areas of conflict in the world, but in practice, sends their activists exclusively to the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
While the stated goal for these activists is to observe and document human rights issues and report back to the church, “it’s a political project in disguise of human rights,” said Reuveni. EAPPI activists enter Israel on tourist visas, then dress in uniforms marking themselves as an official organization.
After following and documenting interactions between the Israeli army and Palestinians, these activists return to their home countries and lead anti-Israel campaigns, “most of the time with theologically anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
NGO Monitor, an independent research organization that tracks other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that use the humanitarian banner as cover for anti-Israel activities, found a filmed lecture since deleted from the internet, of an EAPPI activist comparing Israel army actions in Hebron to Nazi gas chambers.
Reuveni adds that NGO Monitor documented two EAPPI activists using “extreme anti-Semitic” rhetoric on their social media accounts.
According to Reuveni, “This program is fully funded by European governments and European church organizations. All the organizations and governments know exactly what this program is doing.”
After the weeks of harassment from EAPPI activists, Barak founded the DMU project, a volunteer-based organization which is dedicated to exposing and documenting the illegal activities of anti-Israel operatives and providing the information to Israeli decision-makers and to the public.
Their reports show that EAPPI activists were involved in displays of support for terrorism. For instance, only days after the brutal terror attack at Halamish in July 2017 in which Omar al-Abed murdered Yosef Salomon, his daughter Chaya and son Elad, EAPPI activists visited the terrorist’s family.
In Gush Etzion, they work with Hassan Breijieh, spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group.
They know their activities in Israel are illegal, and deceive the authorities by portraying themselves as tourists and pilgrims, “using the name of Christianity,” as Barak explained.
Their activities to collect intelligence on Israeli security in the Jerusalem area were also exposed. From Jerusalem, they branched out to Hebron, where they documented the IDF’s operations.
“It’s very important to understand that they are [in Israel as] tourists, and for tourists, it is illegal to collect intelligence of military operations,” Barak underscores. “That’s what we found out they were doing in Hebron.”
“They are not a recognized organization in Israel, but they hire people, local informants, and in order to hire people they need some type of permits, and they get their permits through other organizations,” Barak added.
The reports were submitted to Israeli ministers and security officials.
The combined activities of the Israeli groups pressured the WCC into pulling its EAPPI activities out of Hebron, Barak said, while calling for their complete ban in Israel.
The WCC did not respond to TPS’ request for a comment. (TPS)