‘Passing on the Light’ is a ceremony that participants in the EAPPI program (Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel) partake in when one team of Ecumenical Accompaniers hands over to the next team.

It is a symbolic affirmation of the role the outgoing team played in the Holy Land and the hope they carry with them to their countries of origin. By receiving the light the new team agrees to walk in the light with the people of Palestine and Israel, offering kindness, hope, patience and love. 

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Street blocked off in the Old City of Jerusalem on Good Friday. PICTURE: Supplied.

 

"The long wait for restorative justice and peace in the Holy Land is far from over. The Israeli military block access of main thoroughfares to Palestinians to allow Christian tourists and Jews to have passage through. The sad irony is that many Palestinian Christians living in Bethlehem, a mere 15 minute drive from Jerusalem, have never experienced Easter celebrations in Jerusalem due to restrictions placed on them from the Israeli military."

On a balmy summer’s evening just before last Christmas, Christian church leaders from four denominations, Palestinians from the local community, returned EAs and other invited quests, came together for a ‘Passing on the Light’ dinner which had been prepared by a refugee family. It was hosted on the forecourt of Pilgrim Uniting Church in the heart of Adelaide. 

Over the course of the evening, returned EAs spoke about what they had encountered and witnessed during their time in the West Bank. There was also an opportunity to hear from an EA in placement who shared their experiences via video. 

Stories were told of how a mother, at an overcrowded Israeli controlled checkpoint, entrusted her infant to strangers as they gently passed the baby overhead from person to person until it arrived safely in the arms of a stranger at the front of the queue who held the infant until reunited with its mother. 

On another occasion an EA met with a family whose house had just been demolished by the Israeli military. The family were obviously traumatised. What made matters worse was the distraught two-year-old boy who had been, just moments before the EAs arrived, picked up by a soldier and literally thrown out of the house. His little body carried the cuts and scratches. Who knows how long the psychological scars will last?

Another EA told how, when they walked children to school, they would carry an onion in their pocket. The locals showed them this was the best remedy to counter the effects of tear gas, which is randomly and regularly fired by the Israeli military at children on the way to and from school. 

These type of events often occur in the West Bank. Stories of daily discrimination, abuse, segregation, and humiliation were also echoed by a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem as she shared an encounter at a checkpoint via a video recording. 

As Christian Churches celebrate Easter, we affirm the mystery of God's saving grace, born out of suffering, destruction and death. We celebrate that the light of resurrection life shines, no matter how impenetrable the darkness may seem (John 1:5). 

International pilgrim tourists flock to the old city of Jerusalem at this time of year to participate in the Palm Sunday procession, follow the stations of the cross and to share in the passing of the Holy Fire on Easter Saturday. At 2pm on Holy Fire (Easter) Saturday, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch emerges from an enclosed area into the Holy Sepulchre Church with a small fire, with which he lights waiting worshippers’ bundles of tapers. The fire is passed from one to another until the Holy Sepulchre Church is filled with light. People wait outside with their tapers and gradually the streets of the Old City become a river of light. People pass the light to those around them, joy shining in their faces as they celebrate – Christ is risen! The long wait was over.

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'Passing on the Light' at the EAPPI dinner outside the Pilgrim Uniting Church in Adelaide last Christmas. PICTURE: Supplied.

The long wait for restorative justice and peace in the Holy Land is far from over. The Israeli military block access of main thoroughfares to Palestinians to allow Christian tourists and Jews to have passage through. The sad irony is that many Palestinian Christians living in Bethlehem, a mere 15 minute drive from Jerusalem, have never experienced Easter celebrations in Jerusalem due to restrictions placed on them from the Israeli military.

Is visiting the Holy Land at Christmas or Easter on your bucket list? If so, what are you going there to see? This is a question posed by Palestinian Christians, descendants of first century Christians, who have continually inhabited these holy lands. Sadly their voice is overlooked! Those local Christians ask that visitors don’t just go to walk where Jesus walked and visit the ancient stones, but also look to meet with the "living stones" and learn about the military occupation and how they find hope amidst this daily injustice.

At the closing of the Christmas dinner in Adelaide, EAs lit tapers and then passed on the light to the guests, extending an invitation for the guests to carry peace with them, and to share what they had learned about Palestinian people living under military occupation in the West Bank. This is an invitation we extend to all. Hear the voices of the "living stones" who are crying out for us to listen and act. 

“Christians need no longer to wait for direct divine intervention because the intervention has already taken place. The Messiah has come and there is no need to wait for another. He said what needed to be said and did what needed to be done. The ball is in the court of humankind to engage the world, challenge the monopoly of power and live the life of an already liberated people.”  - Rev Mitri Raheb, Bethlehem Lutheran Church

EAPPI is a program of the World Council of Churches and has been operating since 2002. EAs from all age groups aim to offer a protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitoring and reporting human rights abuses. They join Palestinians and Israelis who work in nonviolent ways for peace. 

The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network (PIEN) is a network of Australian Christians who are seeking a lasting peace in Palestine and Israel. They work closely with the National Council of Churches in Australia as well as with the heads of churches in Jerusalem. Nell Potter is the executive officer of PIEN.