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Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on ecumenical accompaniers

05 April 2013


From Linda Pitt and Canon Trevor Pitt
Sir, - How soon disillusion sets in! Days after his enthronement, the Archbishop of Canterbury "regrets" casting a positive vote on ecumenical accompaniers at Israeli checkpoints ( News, 28 March). He is not the first bishop to draw back under pressure from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, as you also reported when north-eastern bishops withdrew from a conference last October for the same reason.

Yet, in his first Thought for the Day (Radio 4, 29 March), he said: "What you see depends on where you stand." We hope he can stand unannounced at a military checkpoint himself when he visits Israel/Palestine in June.

We have visited the Holy Land many times, and have seen how things really are at checkpoints, even when people are permitted to travel to work and return home, which is not always the case. Just a few weeks ago, we saw a young Israeli soldier all smiles for British visitors at one checkpoint, only to turn threatening when she discovered a resident of Bethlehem among us. Her permit was demanded and examined at length, and then brusquely thrown back at her when, after a lengthy search, no infringements were found in her record.

Permits are very difficult to obtain if you are not an Israeli Arab, and the risk of confiscation for the slightest infringement of any kind (and therefore permanent loss of livelihood) is a constant daily threat. I hope that the Archbishop will have conversations, as we did, with some of those who, like her, live in such constant hopelessness. Bethlehem under the present occupation is now little more than an open prison.

We doubt that Archbishop Welby will ever see what goes on that the authorities do not want him to see. The work that EAPPI does is to bear witness at these checkpoints - that is all. Of course, the historical and political aspects of the situation are complex, and none of us should be taking sides. We hope that the Archbishop will visit Bethlehem Bible College and explore its work on "Christ at the Checkpoint". What you see depends on where you stand indeed.

Greenview House
Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland
Co. Durham DL13 3QF

From the Rt Revd Richard Llewellin
Sir, - I was deeply saddened to read your report that the Archbishop of Canterbury, in an interview with The Jewish News, has said that he regrets that he did not vote against the motion supporting the work of ecumenical accompaniers in the occupied West Bank.

He is, of course, right in saying that the situation in the Holy Land is so complicated; but complexity should not blind him or any of us to the plain truth that the Israeli occupation is both illegal and increasingly harsh. The work of ecumenical accompaniers is simply to live alongside Palestinians in their continuing plight, to monitor and report abuses of international humanitarian law on both sides, and to press for an end to this 45-year occupation, which is not only paralysing Palestinian society, but doing grave harm to Jewish Israelis.

The Archbishop is looking forward to meeting some of his "Jewish cousins" when he visits the Holy Land later this year: absolutely admirable. But I hope that he will also seek out some of his Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters, and listen to their remarkable stories of exactly the kind of "holy courage" that he advocated so strongly in his enthronement sermon.

An ecumenical accompanier
193 Ashford Road,
Canterbury, CT1 3XS

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