When does learning take place? When behaviour changes.
BUT – which way do we choose?
I am inspired by the USA Christians’ recent Kairos statement and their confession of their country’s role in the oppression of both the Palestinian and the Jewish people:
We begin with a confession of sin to Palestinians in the State of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the diaspora and in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. As U.S. Christians we bear responsibility for failing to say “Enough!” when our nation’s ally, the State of Israel, violates international law. Our government has financed Israel’s unjust policies and has shielded its government from criticism by the international community. At the outset of the current U.S. administration, our government led Palestinians to believe that at last we would pursue a political solution based on justice. But the “peace process” has continued to be no more than a means for the continuing colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the imprisonment of Gaza and the intensification of the structures of oppression.
As Christians addressing the Palestinian cause we must also acknowledge our shameful role in the historic persecution of the Jewish people. We recognize the dehumanizing and destructive power of doctrines and theologies that denigrated Judaism. Our predecessors perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes, practiced scapegoating and cloaked prejudice, hostility and murder itself in the robes of our religion. We confess that our churches failed to resist, and sometimes even aided and abetted pogroms, mass dislocations of Jews, and the calamity of the Nazi Holocaust itself. In so doing, they betrayed the teaching and example of the one we claim to follow…
In light of these tragic failures, we must repent. We must work and even suffer for peace, filled with a heart of love for both Israelis and Palestinians. We must work and even suffer for peace, filled with a heart of love for both Israelis and Palestinians.
They continue by asking USA Christians to overcome their prejudices and myths, to engage with Palestinians, to listen to their stories, to examine their biblical interpretations, to actively participate in non-violent action as a means to end the illegal occupation and to advocate.
More and more I start to think that my “tribe” does not only consist of my family, my friends and my nation. I feel connected to, and draw inspiration from the actions and support of like-minded people all over the world which include people from different religious backgrounds.
When I look at the list of people who already pledged their support for the USA Kairos statement, it doesn’t matter all that much that I don’t know most of them. I still sense a warmth of recognition since we all want a better life on this planet through non-violent means.
In fact only three names on the current (19 June 2012) list who support the USA Kairos statement sounds familiar to me –
- the well known theologian Walter Brueggemann (Professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary),
- my EAPPI colleague from Team 41 Rev. Andrew E. Larsen (Evangelical Covenant Church in Seattle, Washington) and
- Tom Getman whom I met through Kairos for Global Justice.
What matters, is that we stand, and work, together. (We at Kairos Southern Africa wrote a letter of support for this new initiative.)
The people from Goa, India also enthuse me through their letter to the Christians in Palestine:
We acknowledge our own indifference and inaction in the past and deeply regret this. Three years ago, for the first time, we sprung into action when we decided to study the issue of Israelis who had completed their term in the IDF and who turned up on the shores of Goa to overlook and disregard their actions while on military duty. Our study revealed how dehumanized these young people had become and how, because of an oppressive and cruel system of illegal military occupation, even the victimizers had turned casualties and victims of their own cruelties.
Read the full letter here: Letter_of_Solidarity_Goa
But many kinds of people are like-minded.
It saddens me immensely to read about fellow South Africans, in fact the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) who under its leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe came out strongly against the South African government’s planned relabeling law (Government Gazette Notice 379/12). The ACDP criticised Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies for (what they call) “singling out” Israel for censure.
Meshoe claimed that there is no such state as the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories” and therefore holds no ground within the law:
Section 24 of the consumer protection act says the importer of any goods must disclose the country of origin. I am disputing that the Palestinian territories are not legally and officially recognized in the world
Backing up its words with action, the ACDP organised a protest march, from the Union Buildings in Pretoria to the offices of the Department of Trade and Industry for Thursday morning 28 June 2012 and another protest in Cape Town on Friday 29 June in front of the Parliament Buildings. So we at Kairos SA responded again – with an urgent and a passionate plea in an open letter to Rev Meshoe to reconsider his position.
Don’t march, we asked. Don’t fall prey to Israeli propaganda. Don’t use the name of God to justify a crime against humanity. Allow South African consumers to know that “Produce of Israel” often actually means “Produced in the occupied territories of Palestine”. Do you know the pain and injustices, we asked:
Do you know, Rev Meshoe, that Jerusalem Christians are being displaced, that their homes are being taken over by settlers and that many Jerusalem Christians
and other Jerusalemites have had their citizenship taken away from them through a mere administrative act?
Do you know the pain of families whose land is confiscated for the illegal wall or an Israeli-only road? Have you looked into the eyes of a scared child who is held captive or searched by soldiers? Have you seen the faces of farmers whose water wells or
cisterns were destroyed by bulldozers, or a woman who wanted to save her furniture before her house was leveled to the ground? Do you know what the weariness of workmen who queue up from 2:00 at a check point to get to work on time look like?
Have you seen fields of Palestinian olive trees destroyed at the hands of Israeli settlers? Do you know the fear of rural people who were held at gunpoint and instructed to flee from their village? Do you know that whole Palestinian towns are threatened with demolition and how your words of support for the present state of Israel provide oxygen to the fire of violence?
Do you not know, Rev Meshoe, how hope is being sucked from young Palestinian Christians by the illegal Occupation and how they rather choose to emigrate with their young families than live in Palestine, thereby robbing Palestine of one of its
most important natural resources?
Why do you not support the right to own property, the right to equality, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to freedom of movement, to self-determination and the right to live free of harassment and violence for all in Israel and Palestine? Are you not aware of these illegalities and many other inhuman abuses by the state of Israel? If you are genuinely not aware of the things we write in this letter, we are more than willing to supply you and your party with all these facts.
On the same day that we sent the open letter to Rev Meshoe (21 June 2012), I also got an e-mail from Jewish voice for Peace who, unlike our Christian brother, work for a just peace:
We learned that retirement giant TIAA-CREF has dropped all 73 million dollars in Caterpillar stocks from their socially responsible investment fund.
This is a watershed victory: we’ve been campaigning for this change because Caterpillar bulldozers have been used to destroy thousands of Palestinian homes and orchards.
But we can’t stop here. The movement to pressure Israel to be accountable to international law is now on the verge of a historic breakthrough at the Presbyterian General Assembly in Pittsburgh next week.
The Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the largest Protestant denominations in the US, will be meeting to decide whether to divest from Caterpillar and a few other companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. This is by far the most contested divestment vote in the US, and our pro-occupation opponents will be out in full force.
There is a very good chance we’ll win, but we’re not taking any chances. We need your help to send a large delegation of Jewish activists—including myself, Rabbi Alissa Wise, and many of our Young, Jewish and Proud leaders— to Pittsburgh.
We don’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars for paid ads or celebrity speakers that our opponents have—but we do have committed, knowledgeable and dedicated Jews who can walk the aisles side by side with our Palestinian allies and tell Presbyterian voters face to face to go with their conscience and vote on behalf of justice for all people.
Let us live, and act, in Light and in Love, no matter what our culture or religion is.