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Accompaniment solidifies pastor’s pursuit of nonviolence

After eight years of encouraging members of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Goldendale to go out and do ministry in their daily lives, the Rev. Kimberly Meinecke joined a three-month ecumenical team to accompany Palestinians and Israelis and witness their relationships.

Kimmy Meinecke
Kimmy Meinecke

Since returning from the April-to-June 2010 experience with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), she has shared what she witnessed in presentations across the region and nation, and has contacted members of Congress.

In February, she began as interim minister at Messiah Lutheran Church in Spokane.

Kimmy said that in sermons at Christ the King, she would encourage the congregation to look out the north window of the sanctuary to the town of Goldendale, as she invited them to do ministry in their lives as teachers, parents and business people, “reminding people of God’s forgiveness and God’s presence with the poor.”

Those themes were part of her search for ways to build nonviolent communication in an area where violence seems to be the way of life.  In Palestine, she observed violence and human rights violations, but also found Israelis and Palestinians forgiving and walking in solidarity with each other.

Her interest in nonviolent communication emerged as Kimmy grew up Lutheran, living around the world with her father’s moves in the Navy.  As a social work major at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, she went on study programs to the Soviet Union and India. A 1997 graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School, she spent 1995-96 at Holden Village, a retreat center in the Cascades.

“I am just one voice encouraging people to connect.  As a witness, I present what I saw and heard—the story of a woman I met in a village, what it’s like for a Palestinian to go through a checkpoint or the story of a young man in prison,” Kimmy said.

“As I collected stories and statistics, I realized much came through filters,” she said, “so I share information and let people come to their own conclusions.

Many Americans are confused by what is happening in Palestine/Israel and by the history.  Some don’t know where they are, or that Palestine is a separate entity.  As an ecumenical advocate, I give background to help people make sense of the situation that started when the United Nations created the state of Israel in 1948,” she said. 

What to Israel was a war of independence, is known to Palestinians as the “Catastrophe,” framing their two perspectives of events that have followed, she said.

Other factors were set 1) by Jordan losing the West Bank in 1967 and its becoming part of the Israeli Occupied Military Zone, and 2) the Geneva Convention setting standards for human rights in an occupied zone.

Kimmy—one of 26 Quaker, Anglican, other Protestant and some agnostic EAPPI participants from Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and South Africa—lived in Bethlehem, one of six locations for EAPPI teams on the West Bank. 

Teams met for dinner most days, shared experiences once a week, and set time for worship and prayer.  The teams had a mid-term orientation in Haifa.

She monitored a nearby checkpoint for going through the 27-foot-high concrete separation wall, and she visited schools, farmers, villagers, community leaders, Palestinian organizations, women’s and children’s groups.  She joined in nonviolent demonstrations and educational events, such as teaching women about nonviolent communication.

Other teams worked with school children in refugee camps, families whose homes were being demolished and with both Israelis and Palestinians.

“Part of accompaniment is just being with Palestinian and Israeli partners to help them do what they do,” she said, noting that she had a visa and could go readily through the checkpoint, while Palestinians needed permits.

“We were there to support both Palestinians and Israelis who are working for justice and peace,” she said. “EAPPI is neutral, neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israeli, but pro-human rights.”

They monitored human rights violations, such as building permanent civilian housing in occupied-zone areas, the expropriation of land and the demolition of Palestinian homes and businesses. 

“Monitoring also included helping people get along in ways that honor the people’s culture and perspectives,” Kimmy said.

Palestinians and Israeli partners include the Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch; the B’tselem Israeli human rights organization; Ta’ayush, Legal Rights for Arab-Israelis and Palestinians; Breaking the Silence—former Israeli Defense Forces speaking on human rights violations they have seen or participated in—and the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions.

Other violations include Israeli army members taking photos of Palestinians in nonviolent demonstrations and going at night to their homes to arrest them, she said. 

“Many Palestinian teens and children are in prisons, along with adult political prisoners,” she said, telling of talking with a 13-year-old arrested in a nonviolent demonstration with his 16-year-old brother.

The international presence is intended to deter actions.  EAPPI volunteers wear vests to identify them, so those violating human rights will know their actions will be reported to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the U.S. State Department and the Red Cross.

Eleven percent of West Bank Palestinians are Christians and the rest are Muslims.  About 30 percent of the people in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are Christian—mostly Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Episcopalian.  The wall keeps people from attending worship in Jerusalem, while Christian pilgrims from other areas of the world freely visit sites of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Most Palestinians have lived in the area their entire lives.  Their families have been there back before the Ottoman Empire, Kimmy said.

Many Israelis also trace their ancestry to family who lived on the land before the Ottoman Empire,” she said.  “A significant percentage of Israelis are also refugees from Ethiopia, Russia and Eastern Europe, where they were persecuted for their faith.  The first wave of immigrants to the modern state of Israel came from Europe after the Holocaust.

“Israelis move to settlements, which are located in Palestinian territory, for many reasons—from having cheap, government-supported rent to reclaiming the land of Zion,” she said.

“Among Israelis, there are doves, who support peace, and hawks, who support the military actions,” she explained.

As a Christian, I hope there will be a way for people there to figure out how to live together,” Kimmy said. “Military occupation is always a temporary solution.  It needs to end to allow for a political solution through nonviolent communication, resistance, protests, action and discussion.

“The nonviolent movement is key to open, honest communication,” she said.  “The underlying problem is that many Palestinians and Israelis are unable to see each other as human beings with value and valid perspectives.  Seeing the other as fully human is fundamental for nonviolent communication and for just, peaceful solutions.”

One model is Family Forum, a support group for families who lost members in the conflict.  Families of Israelis killed by Palestinians and families of Palestinians killed by Israelis talk about their losses, grief and lives wasted because they don’t get along. Members go in pairs to schools and groups to tell their stories.

“One Israeli said, ‘It’s wrong for us to kill Palestinians and for Palestinians to kill Israelis.  Although it happens, this Palestinian is my friend,’” Kimmy reported.

Palestinian and Israeli students wonder how they can be friends because of propaganda by both.

Kimmy said solutions there are “over-militarized,” as they are “in our own country.”

“Nonviolent communication involves recognizing the other as fully human, with worthwhile opinions to hear.  Our responsibility is to respect people and be curious to learn about them.”

Kimmy said that some in the United States promote economic pressure through individuals boycotting goods, organizations divesting or governments setting sanctions.  She said the World Council of Churches has not taken a position on those measures.

Her preference is to converse to find common ground and build bridges.  For example, on the way home from Tel Aviv, she sat by an American Jewish woman on a birthright trip. 

“She asked what I did there.  When I told her, she asked if I was pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian.  I said, ‘Neither, I’m pro people.’ 

“To be pro-one is to be anti the other.  Life is not either-or,” Kimmy said.  “It’s more complex.  I’m pro-peace and anti-war.

“There are violent Palestinians and violent Israelis, and there are nonviolent Palestinians and Israelis,” she said.

In her ministry at Messiah Lutheran, Kimmy continues to pursue nonviolent communication as she seeks to help the congregation create an environment where people can talk with and listen to each other.

“Jesus on the cross,” she believes, “is the bridge over the chasm that divides people.”

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