As we listened to the different sides of the stories shared by Christians, Muslims, Jews, political representatives, NGOs, soldiers, and ordinary local people concerning the situation in Palestine-Israel we were starkly reminded, in this time of Advent, that the Christ-child came to bring a message of peace and justice on earth.
We were deeply grieved and appalled that this is not the situation in this Holy Land of God and are concerned that the integrity and credibility of a message of inclusivity and human dignity as expressed in the Gospel is at stake. However we were encouraged by the initiatives undertaken, by Christians, Muslims, Jews and others to find peaceful solutions to the problems of Palestine and Israel.
We were a group of leaders of various churches and church organizations (including women and youth) in South Africa gathered in Bethlehem in Palestine from 2-9 December 2012. our visit was a response to the call of Palestinian Christians to “come and see” for ourselves.
Mindful of our own history and the ongoing need for healing, reconciliation and peace we were able to identify and engage with certain experiences in a deeply meaningful and personal way. We also recognised with sadness our own sense of judgments and complicity as Christians in addressing the realities of God’s people in this part of the world; often out of ignorance and due to misleading information and untested beliefs. It is for these reasons that we wish to humbly share our experience with the South African public and, Christians in particular, during this journey with our friends in Palestine and Israel.
In our days in Palestine and Israel we saw the following for ourselves:
- The infrastructure built to reinforce an apartheid system, for example separate roads for Palestinians and Israelis and especially the Wall which brings limited security to Israelis but ultimately steals land, oppresses, and separates Israelis and Palestinians from each other.
- The different kinds of checkpoints and blockages and how they humiliate, harass and oppress Palestinians psychologically, politically and economically. We were deeply alarmed that foreigners were accorded a far easier passage of travel from one place to another than the Palestinians in their own land.
- Young Israeli soldiers being used to uphold the military occupation of Palestine which also included some former South African young Jews with whom we engaged.
- Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories in direct violation of international law depriving Palestinians of land, natural resources and freedom.
- Christians working together in addressing the issues of the occupation which is evident in the Kairos Palestine initiative and in their broad involvement in non-violent resistance to the occupation.
- Christians and Muslims praying and working together to end the occupation.
- The destruction and demolition of homes inter alia incited by the intention to dispossess Palestinians of their land resulting in a broader picture of ethnic cleansing.
- The economic impact of the occupation as seen in the following: businesses abandoned because of the wall and blockages, the doors of shops wielded and closed, olive fields destroyed, restrictions on movement and the emergence of ghost towns in what used to be thriving communities.
- How believers are restricted and or prohibited from worshiping and visiting places of religious importance to them.
- Water tanks on the roofs of Palestinian home as evidence of restrictions on the use and provision of their water whilst this was noticeably absent from homes in the Israeli settlements.
- In spite of the resentment and even hatred we saw signs of hope, resilience and tenacity of the human spirit in the face of injustice and oppression and commitment to a just peace. In this regard the message of love also for the enemy albeit expressed in non-violent resistance in the Kairos document is a sterling example of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- The arrogance, blindness, insensitivity, self-destruction, and the illusions of security in the use of military might.
We wish to reiterate that our intention is not to take sides with the Palestinians or Israeli Jews or to make statements of judgment but to focus on the perspective of justice and to report on what we have heard and seen from the many different people and sources we have encountered with this in mind.
This matter is not about Jews versus Muslims, or Muslims versus Christians, or any religious group versus any other. Not at all. It is about justice whilst also being sensitive to the injury of self-destruction by those who oppress and destroy in violation of international law.
In this time of Advent we are reminded again that we want to align our consciousness, our beliefs and our actions with what our respective faith traditions teach us about peace, love, reconciliation and justice on earth. In Christianity, we try to follow the example set by Jesus. We ask our fellow brothers and sisters to reflect on his example in these weeks leading up to Christmas.