The following analysis is from Volume 3, Issue 2 of the Peace Science Digest
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) was the first international non-governmental organization (INGO) to practice sustained third-party nonviolent intervention (TPNI)—also referred to as unarmed civilian protection/peacekeeping (UCP)—in the West Bank. CPT has played an important role in shaping the activities of subsequent organizations that have also come to the West Bank to stand with Palestinians in the face of Israeli occupation. As a faith-based organization committed to standing with the oppressed, CPT brings a distinctive character to its work, combining the international protective presence and accompaniment work most associated with TPNI and UCP with the solidarity work more often associated with partisan nonviolent resistance activities. The author examines CPT’s efforts to “reduce violence and foster justice” in the West Bank since 1995 and is especially interested in exploring this tension between its accompaniment work and its more partisan solidarity work in support of the Palestinian struggle.
Drawing on numerous CPT documents, along with interviews with former team members and previous analyses of CPT’s activities, the author outlines the establishment and evolution of its Palestine Project from 1995 onward. Through an examination of its two teams—the Hebron Team (1995 – present) and the At-Tuwani Team (2004 – 2011)—the author categorizes CPT’s work in the West Bank into three areas: accompaniment activities, solidarity activities, and its support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli occupation. She finds that CPT has generated real trust and acceptance in the Palestinian communities where it works and has provided a greater level of safety through its accompaniment of community members, who thereby have been able to carry on with their daily activities in the face of Israeli settlers’ intimidation. For instance, starting in 2003 CPT provided direct accompaniment for school children who faced attacks by Israel settlers on their way to school in At-Tuwani, the route to which passed between two Israel settlements. In large part due to the presence of international accompaniers, one particular attack by masked settlers on school children and CPT team members in 2004 triggered such an outcry that the Israeli Knesset was obliged to address the issue. CPT also accompanied shepherds and farmers in At-Tuwani to provide the protection they needed to reclaim their land amid settler intimidation and attempts to drive them away from it.
In addition to direct accompaniment, CPT has also provided more general protective presence for whole communities at risk. For instance, CPT team members—whose apartments happened to be located in the middle of Hebron’s Old City, which came under Israeli control in 1997—provided a constant presence and went on daily patrols, “act[ing] as a deterrent to the IDF practice of randomly detaining Palestinian shoppers and pedestrians” and providing a measure of security for the Palestinian community. On those occasions when soldiers did stop or detain Palestinians, CPT could be easily contacted to monitor the situation. In other words, CPT’s presence in that particular location has supported the ability of some Palestinians to remain in their homes and shops amid otherwise inhospitable conditions.
At the same time, CPT has leveraged its international status and connections to contribute to Palestinian nonviolent resistance, including BDS, often effectively putting pressure on Israel in specific cases—but not without often “antagoniz[ing] Israeli settlers, soldiers, [ ] government authorities,” and even some moderate Israelis, which has arguably jeopardized CPT’s ability to effectively carry out its protection work. Nonetheless, these solidarity activities have brought some successes. For instance, following Israel’s closure of Hebron University in March 1996, CPT, in consultation with faculty and students, “physically removed barricades placed by Israeli soldiers to a pedestrian gate and a vehicle entrance” to the university and “accompanied approximately 200 students onto the campus.” After two weeks of student sit-ins at the university’s front gate—and CPT urgent action alerts that mobilized international pressure—Israel re-opened the university. CPT also became active in efforts in 2013 to challenge the Israeli military’s use of land in the South Hebron Hills for “live fire training,” despite the presence of twelve Palestinian communities in the area, many of whom were put under eviction orders. In collaboration with other organizations, CPT sponsored a petition on behalf of these Palestinian communities, pressuring the Israeli military into a “court-ordered mediation process…[with] the villages” and in early 2017 resulting in a Supreme Court decision “requiring the State to provide alternative propositions.”
CPT’s decision, however, to take on this solidarity role in conjunction with its protection role has come with mixed results. Despite CPT’s contribution to substantive outcomes like those just noted, as well as to greater safety for the Palestinians it has accompanied in many instances, there is evidence that CPT’s solidarity activities may sometimes bring with them greater vulnerability for CPT team members as well as those they accompany—as when one headmistress requested that CPT no longer accompany her school children due to settler threats or as when CPT team members have been attacked by settlers or detained by security forces.
When civilians are at risk, subject to widespread mistreatment and sometimes even killing, concerned global citizens may support a military intervention for civilian protection purposes, whether a NATO-led intervention supported by the United Nations or a “robust” UN peacekeeping force with a civilian protection mandate. Likewise, when people rise up against an unjust government or foreign occupier, concerned global citizens, unaware of nonviolent options, might again support the arming of rebels against an authoritarian and/or repressive regime—as many countries have done in the case of Syria—based on the assumption that strengthening armed resistance is the only way to confront such an unsavory adversary. The Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) model provides an alternative to both military strategies—whether for civilian protection or in solidarity with some larger political project. An international presence, either in the form of accompaniment or in the form of participation in nonviolent resistance, can provide an added dimension of deterrence against violence (the former) or greater publicity and leverage for a movement (the latter). There is, however, a tension between these two kinds of activities—protection and solidarity—that needs to be explored and carefully considered, as one may come at the expense of the other; in particular, the additional pressure an international presence may contribute to locally driven nonviolent resistance campaigns may so antagonize the adversary that this international presence may itself become subject to attacks and/or detentions, thereby diminishing its ability to protect those it wishes to.
- Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) combines accompaniment work to protect vulnerable Palestinians with solidarity activities to support Palestinian nonviolent resistance movements.
- CPT has generated real trust and acceptance in the Palestinian communities where it works and has, on the whole, provided a greater level of safety through its accompaniment of Palestinian community members.
- Unlike some other organizations involved in unarmed civilian peacekeeping (UCP) who maintain a nonpartisan stance, CPT has stood in solidarity with Palestinian communities against the Israeli occupation, leveraging its international status and connections to contribute to Palestinian nonviolent resistance—but, in the process, arguably also jeopardizing its ability to effectively carry out its protection work.
The tension explored here in the context of Christian Peacemaker Teams’ (CPT’s) work in the West Bank—that between its protection activities and its solidarity activities—is instructive for any other organization wishing to support both peace and justice in at-risk communities around the world. On one hand, privileging nonpartisanship and relationship-building with all parties may increase an organization’s protective capacities but in turn diminish its ability to effectively challenge the underlying structural imbalances and injustices at the heart of the conflict—in effect, acting as if there is parity between the parties when there is none and leaving intact the oppressive systems that make people vulnerable. On the other hand, privileging partisan solidarity activities in recognition of existing power imbalances and structural inequalities, though it may create important sources of leverage for nonviolent resistance campaigns, also implicates the organization directly in resistance activities that may place it, and those it wishes to protect, at risk, as any involvement in nonviolent resistance can. Therefore, organizations interested in supporting vulnerable and/or oppressed communities should deliberately think through their priorities and their strengths, as well as the trade-offs between different types of activities. Do the organization’s identity, purpose, membership base/reach, and reputation better position it for protection work or for solidarity work? If an organization sees itself as suited to both kinds of activities, is it willing to sacrifice its capacities in one area for the sake of the other? What measures will it take to mitigate the risks associated with taking on both sets of activities? Although organizations—and the individuals who comprise them—may wish to contribute to both protection and resistance against injustice—and rightly see a continuum between the two—they should be prepared for the possibility that it may not be feasible for them to effectively contribute to both at the same time.
Leppert-Wahl, M.A. (2017). Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel/Palestine: Beyond accompaniment. Journal of Global Peace and Conflict, 5(2), 1-14.
- Nonpartisanship, Interventionism and Legality in Accompaniment: Comparative Analyses of Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the International Solidarity Movement By Patrick Coy. International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 16, No. 7, 2012. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13642987.2011.642144
- A Christian Peacemaker in Palestine By Bud Courtney. Waging Nonviolence, January 20, 2010. https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/a-christian-peacemaker-in-palestine/
Christian Peacemaker Teams: https://www.cpt.org/