Keeping peace in Palestine

MARQUETTE – Sometimes a little moral support can go a long way.

The Rev. Nancy Amacher, a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor and former senior pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, recently returned from Israel and Palestine – a region of the world not exactly known for peace and harmony – as part of a special program devoted to fostering accord.

“It’s in the best interest of everybody, because I don’t believe this kind of situation is sustainable for the long term,” Amacher said.

Amacher spoke about her time spent in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel last Monday at Messiah Lutheran. As part of a team sponsored by the World Council of Churches, Amacher and others provided a protective presence at demolitions, schools, checkpoints and demonstrations.

Amacher showed pictures of her with fellow volunteers and the people they helped during her time in Palestine and Israel, which began last December and lasted through February.

The area has long been filled with conflict for a number of reasons, including land rights as well as ethnic and cultural clashes.

The hope is that the EAPPL program will help provide some stability.

“They call it a protective presence, although I don’t know how much protection you can actually afford somebody who’s being harassed by a soldier with a gun, but you can be there,” Amacher said. “And then it’s to work for peace and justice, and to apply whatever humanitarian law there is, that we can say, ‘This is a violation of humanitarian law.'”

Amacher said she paid most of the expenses for her recent trip – about $10,000 – although she received some help from supporters.

That trip involved tasks ranging from walking kids to school to dealing with demolitions of Palestinian buildings by Israeli forces, including the house of one family in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, whose home was invaded by police early one morning.

The house contents, frozen food to toys to furniture, were put out in the road and the home demolished.

“Palestinians often receive demolition orders because they build without permits, but the problem is permits are almost impossible to receive or to obtain, and they are very costly,” Amacher said. “In fact, in 2014, only one permit was issued to a Palestinian family. “So, they often build them without permits and they receive demolition orders, and then they never know exactly when they might be the subject of a demolition.”

It’s a disheartening situation, especially for the people losing their home. The family, Amacher pointed out, not only received no compensation, but likely will receive a demolition bill, plus 18 people were displaced.

Ecumenical Accompaniers, she said, keep in touch with the people to make sure they receive references to agencies that can help.

Another situation involved structures of a school taken apart after midnight, with nothing left but a chair.

“Who stole our school?” was the “priceless” response the children gave when faced with no facility that morning, Amacher said.

Even thought the structures were gone, classes still took place – a great sign of their resilience and determination, she said.

“The communities really want their kids to get an education,” Amacher said.

The photo of the lone chair resonated with Kathy Soltwisch of Marquette, who attended the presentation.

“I cannot get that lonesome chair out of my head,” Soltwisch said.

Ecumenical Accompaniers, Amacher said, also work closely with the United Nations, sending information to the UN.

However, Amacher acknowledged they sometimes questioned their effectiveness.

“I would venture to say that every one of us, at least once a week if not once a day, wondered what the heck we were doing and whether we were doing any good at all because we have no authority to make any changes,” Amacher said.

Every once in a while, though, something showed them that, well, maybe they were doing some good after all.

A man who saw the volunteers dressed in their special vests approached them to ask what they did, Amacher said. They told him they went to demolitions and checkpoints, and tried to meet with people who whose human rights possibly were being violated – basically being on site to show they cared.

“I thought to myself, I bet he’s going to say, ‘Yeah, a lot of good that does,'” Amacher said.

So, what was the man’s response?

“Thank you for being here,” Amacher said. “So, I guess we have to believe that makes some difference.”

People who aren’t Ecumenical Accompaniers can help, she said, through educating themselves on the subject and purchasing products that benefit Palestinian families at places like www.folkartmavens.com. They also can contact their elected representatives to advocate for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel since settlements are illegal under international law.

As for Amacher, she plans to continue working with her “passion.”

Amacher said: “I plan to pursue this until I can’t pursue anything else.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.