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Christianity in Crisis: South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and #Palestine_Cry4Hope

We cannot serve God and the oppression of the Palestinians” proclaim hundreds of Christian leaders. Yet in my country the Chief Justice says his Bible tells him to be loyal, above all else, to the State of Israel.

Which of these two options uphold Christian values: the views expressed by South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in the live webinar with the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday 23 June, or the views in the global call and signature campaign, #Palestine_Cry4Hope that was launched on 1 July?

‘Mogoeng should apologise for Israel statements’ – CASAC
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: Gallo Images

Issued jointly by Kairos Palestine and Global Kairos for Justice (the global movement of concerned internationals in response to Kairos Palestine) the authors of #Palestine_Cry4Hope in at least 11 languages ask Christians for decisive action to work for the freedom and human rights of Palestinians.

The authors call upon Christians to reflect critically on how the Bible is used from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in policies and in interfaith relations to deprive the humanity of Palestinians. The matter demands a concerted effort, since

The very being of the church, the integrity of the Christian faith, and the credibility of the Gospel is at stake. We declare that support for the oppression of the Palestinian people, whether passive or active, through silence, word or deed, is a sin. We assert that Christian support for Zionism as a theology and an ideology that legitimize the right of one people to deny the human rights of another is incompatible with the Christian faith and a grave misuse of the Bible.

Israel’s Zionist ideology uses political and military might, racist discrimination and sacred texts to dispossess, transfer, massacre and exploit Palestinians. Numerous resolutions by the United Nations and reports by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other reputable bodies condemn Israel’s unlawful conduct. Hundreds of religious leaders, civil society and advocacy organizations from all over the world have already endorsed #Palestine_Cry4Hope. Yet the Chief Justice made glaring errors when he expressed his views in the webinar. According to Mogoeng, his Bible tells him to “pray for Jerusalem” and therefore he must “pray for Israel”. He added that those who “curse Israel” will themselves “be cursed”. These two points contain fundamental errors:

  • His assumption that all of Jerusalem is part of the Israeli state revealed his inadequate knowledge of history, geography and international borders.
  • His confusion between the biblical Israel and the modern State of Israel is one made by many Christians who are not aware of research in theology, political science, sociology, history and law. I too used to conflate the biblical Israel with the modern state.
  • His loyalty to the oppressor (Israel) at the cost of the oppressed (the Palestinians) implies that Israel is exempt from international laws on occupation, land theft, exploitation, ethnic cleansing and apartheid.
  • Given his stature and role, his public opposition in an international forum to his democratic government’s official position on Palestine and Israel is shocking.  
  • His apparent ignorance of the existence of Palestinian Christians and their suffering under the Israeli regime underscores his fallacious and misguided position.
  • His logic, that people who embrace values of equality, justice and compassion in supporting the Palestinian justice struggle will be cursed by God, crucifies Christ’s message of inclusive compassion and human dignity.

Many may argue that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s views put him in the company of other leaders of our time who do not care about human lives, international law, the contributions of science and the importance of honesty and integrity. The devastating impact of narcissistic, power-hungry, uninformed leadership has become all the more clear in 2020. When Bishop Purity Malinga, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (the church of the late President Mandela) endorsed #Palestine_Cry4Hope on behalf of her church, she connected the matter both with the corrupting influence of the U.S.A. and with the heart of the Christian faith. She wrote as follows:

In the situation of the oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli Government which is intensifying every day due to the support from the United States Government, Christians’ silence and inaction give support to injustice and contribute to the dehumanization and death of the Palestinians. It is for freedom and full life of all – including the Palestinians that Jesus came to the world, died and resurrected! Faith in Christ therefore demands that Christians everywhere preach, work and demand full and free life for all. I cannot then be a follower of Christ and support the oppression of Palestinians or of any other people. All human beings are created in God’s image and deserve to be treated with dignity. It is for that reason that I endorse the call to decisive action![i]

Unlike Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, the authors and the endorsers of #Palestine_Cry4Hope do not ignore documented facts, democratic values, international law, common decency and the universal value of compassion for all. In noting the intersectional nature of the matter, Bishop Luke Pato, the Anglican Bishop of Namibia who represents the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) calls forth the disturbing image of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign when he writes,

Palestinians have been held neckdown for decades. We cannot allow them to suffocate any further. Silence is complicit with suffocation.

Bishop Thami Ngcana from the Council of African Independent Churches (CAIC) makes the connection with international law and the definition of apartheid in the Rome Statute. Their aim is

to honour and defend the rights of the Palestinian people to dignity, self-determination, and the fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees. We, CAIC, reaffirm that it is time for the international community to recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law.

If the words of these Christian leaders and the hundreds of other endorsers do not stir the conscience of the Chief Justice, I ask myself how he will respond to the following words of the South African Jews for a Free Palestine:  

We endorse this call because in the same way that we, as Jewish South Africans committed to universal ethical values, condemn Hitler’s Germany for having implemented the segregation of Jews and Gypsies via racist laws and the implementation of similar racist and murderous codes and structures by Apartheid South Africa vis-à-vis Black people, we condemn the  racism and segregation applied by Jewish Israelis with respect to Palestinian Arabs. We need to condemn what happened to the Palestinian people during 1948 when they were threatened, killed and thrown out of their homes. We need to condemn what happens to them on a daily basis under military rule and in the ‘open air’ prisons that are the West Bank and Gaza. We need to condemn the ongoing theft of land and the administrative detention of Palestinian activists as well as the arrest and incarceration of children. We need to condemn human atrocities, and any justification for atrocities of one person or one nation of another, wherever and whenever they occur.

This is a particularly poignant time, during the SARS Covid 2 pandemic, when the Israeli Government threatens to annex 30% of the West Bank thereby creating a permanent jail for those on the West Bank with even less freedom than the little enjoyed by the residents of Gaza. We call on all those with any moral fibre to act against this looming annexation and join with activists of every culture, ethnicity and religious persuasion to stop it from happening.

Decisive action is necessary. Indeed, #Palestine_Cry4Hope lists seven actions, including theological discernment and pressure on governments and world bodies employ political, diplomatic and economic means to stop Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. Last week the South African Council of Churches erected a huge billboard on a highway in Johannesburg:   

The SACC billboard near the OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg

On 25 June 2020 the office of the South African Council of Churches’ General Secretary, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana called “on the international community to consider comprehensive sanctions against Israel should they continue with the illegal annexation of Palestinian land.” The SACC statement objects in the strongest terms to Israel’s intended breach of international law and the way Israel considers itself

as an exception in terms of international law. The international community must be required to treat Israel like all other members of the international community and compel it to respect international law and the rights of all of humanity.  A Christian leader in Ramallah has cried out: “Now everyone is bleeding; we Palestinians are bleeding physically. Israel is bleeding morally.” A careful reading of Jesus as Lord of history leaves no doubt that He would be the first to say an emphatic NO to the atrocities of the State of Israel.

The issue of the Palestinians and Israel deserves the attention of every person on this planet. Our choice is not one between Jews and Arabs or between Israel and Palestine. The choice we have is between justice and injustice, between equality or inequality, between the spread of false information or integrity, and between the use or abuse of sacred texts. The call opposes also anti-Semitism and any “theology of Empire” which manifests as “a global order of domination manifesting in racial, economic, cultural, and ecological oppression that threatens humanity and all of creation”. From this intersectional perspective #Palestine_Cry4Hope is concerned with the future of both peoples and it

… is rooted in the logic of love that seeks to liberate both the oppressor and oppressed in order to create a new society for all the people of the land. We continue to hold firm to the hope articulated in the Kairos document that Palestinians and Israelis have a common future — that “we can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of love and its power, after ending the occupation and establishing justice.” As followers of Jesus, our response to ideologies of exclusivity and apartheid is to uphold a vision of inclusivity and equality for all peoples of the land and to persistently struggle to bring this about.

To read and sign the call, click on #Palestine_Cry4Hope.


[i] Other South African clergy who have endorsed the call include Allan Boesak (Professor of Black Liberation Theology and Ethics, University of Pretoria);  Frank Chikane (Moderator of the World Council of Churches’ Commission of the Churches on International Affairs), John de Gruchy (Emeritus Professor of Christian Studies, University of Cape Town and Extraordinary Professor of Theology, Stellenbosch University); Thulani Ndlazi (South African Synod Secretary of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa); Moss Nthla (General Secretary of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, TEASA); Mautji Pataki (Chairman of the Ethical Foundation for Leadership Excellence and Former Secretary General of the South African Council of Churches); Edwin Arrison (General Secretary of Kairos South Africa) and Farid Esack (Professor of Religion Studies, University of Johannesburg and a Muslim liberation theologian). The full list with hundreds of endorsers is available on #Palestine_Cry4Hope.

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World Reformed Churches on Palestine: Christianity’s integrity is at stake!

To support the Palestinian oppression goes against Christianity’s understanding of justice. In a bold vote for clear actions, the General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) made it clear that such theology goes against the heart of the Bible.

This global body, representing over 80 million Christians, held its 26th General Council from 29 June – 7 July in Leipzig, Germany. As the WCRC’s highest decision-making body the General Council issued a resolution with meaningful, action-driven solidarity and not only words of support.

The 2017 WCRC General Council in session

Although many Christians in the world still believe Israel’s lies and/or uphold Zionist theology, the tide is turning. The WCRC General Council stated unequivocally that “the integrity of Christian faith and praxis is at stake” since the Christian faith has been used to justify the oppression of the Palestinians. It rejected any use of the Bible “to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another” as it strips the Word of God of its ”holiness, universality and truth”. The General Council agreed to initiate a programme of study and discernment on the theology used to legitimate the oppression of the Palestinian people, recognizing that such a study might result in the need for “prophetic action”.

Leipzig, Germany

Over 30 members from more than 10 countries drafted the proposal that served before the WCRC’s Public Witness Committee. Their proposal was debated and refined by the Committee in several sessions before it served before the delegates in the plenary asking their permission to submit the proposal to a decision making process. This decision was granted and in a next step hundreds of delegates from Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, the Pacific, the Middle East, North America and Europe debated the resolution with its action points in discernment groups before casting their votes in a subsequent plenary session. It was most encouraging that the voting was in favour of all six action points in the resolution. Although there was a fair amount of abstentions, no-one voted against any of the points! This means that no-one raised dissent in public.

 Delegates voted through a show of cards at the 2017 General Council of the WCRC. Orange cards meant “in favour of” and blue cards signified “not in favour of”, or “uncertain”

The General Council has urged its 230 member churches in 109 countries to examine their mission, education and investment relationships with Israel and to disseminate to members educational materials on the Palestinian situation. Moreover, they encourage and support delegations to visit the region to connect with the Christian community in Israel and in Palestine, to witness their oppression and to express support for their desire for freedom and self-determination. The WCRC General Council argued that the continuing denial of Palestinian rights does not only jeopardize the dignity of Palestinians, but it has also “cast a shadow over generations of Jewish Israelis who have borne the social, psychological and spiritual burdens of the role of the occupier.”

German theologian Jürgen Moltmann,
speaking at the recent global assembly of Reformed churches in Leipzig

Among other measures, the General Council instructed the WCRC Executive Committee to respond to the letter of 21 June 2017 from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) indicating what actions can be taken in response to the NCCOP cry for “costly solidarity” (see also Robert Cohen’s brilliant blog on “costly solidarity”). In their open letter to the ecumenical movement, the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine has called the situation “on the verge of catastrophic collapse” declaring that this the “last chance to achieve a just peace… and to save the Christian presence in this land.” They asked for honesty about Israel’s widespread abuse of international law. “We need brave women and men who are willing to stand in the forefront. This is no time for shallow diplomacy.” The General Council committed to respond to this letter indicating what actions can be taken in response to the Palestinian cry.

A South African, Rev. Dr Jerry Pillay, from the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa served as president of the WCRC at the time of the 2017 General Council. Hearty congratulations to Rev. Najla Kassab, a minister in the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) who is the newly elected president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

Rev. Dr. Jerry Pillay

Rev. Najla Kassab

South African churches who sent delegates to the 2017 WCRC General Council include the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa/Verenigende Gereformeerde Kerk in Suider-Afrika, United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, Dutch Reformed Church (DRC)/Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa, Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika/ Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA)/(NGKA), Maranatha Reformed Church of Christ.

The WCRC decision follows a recent call from South African and Canadian Churches at the World Council of Churches’ Jubilee conference in Bethlehem on 20-22 June 2017. At this meeting they publically recognised Israel’s practices of apartheid and colonialism in respect of Palestine.

Bishop Zipho Siwa, President of the South African Council of Churches adding his signature to the South African and the Canadian posters at the WCC Jubilee Conference in Bethlehem

It also follows former prophetic actions by Reformed Churches in response to anti-Semitism, racism, and economic injustice. At the General Council in 1982 in Ottawa, Canada, the then World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) declared a status confessionis, declaring South African Apartheid a heresy, an action with global and ecumenical reverberations for ending that racist system. This led directly to the 1986 Belhar Confession of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa, declaring that individual, racial and social segregation is sin and incompatible with Christian belief. Belhar has been subsequently adopted by churches in the Reformed tradition in the North. In 1997 in Debrecen, Hungary, the WARC called for the initiation of a processus confessionis with respect to the question of global economic injustice. In 2004, the WARC issued the Accra Confession, which called for “a committed process of recognition, education and confession (processus confessionis) regarding economic injustice and ecological destruction.”

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb from Bethlehem in occupied Palestine addressing the
2017 General Council in Leipzig

The resolution of the WCRC’s General Council:

PALESTINE – AN URGENT ISSUE OF FAITH FOR THE WORLD COMMUNION

This year marks 69 years since the creation of the State of Israel, and the General Council can reaffirm its commitment to justice, peace and security for the Israeli people and state. The creation of the State of Israel had a significant consequence: the loss of homeland for the Palestinian people, and the creation of 750,000 Palestinian refugees. It is also 50 years since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. It is time for Israelis and Palestinians to live alongside each other in peace, security and justice.

In an open letter to the ecumenical movement published on June 21, 2017, the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine has called the situation “on the verge of catastrophic collapse” declaring that this is the “last chance to achieve a just peace… and to save the Christian presence in this land.” They have appealed to the world church for costly solidarity with them to end their oppression and gain their freedom, through solidarity visits, reviewing theology, economic actions, and support for their freedom to exercise their religious, social and political rights.

Many of us have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears the painful realities of life for Palestinians. We have been witness to the daily, grinding humiliation of women, men and children; the deaths of civilians; the demolition of homes; the confiscation of water resources; the isolation and ongoing diminution of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem; severe restrictions on freedom of movement, education, commerce, electricity, healthcare, and access to holy places; the unlawful practice of administrative detention, including of children; and the taking of land through the construction of illegal settlements and a separation wall built on Palestinian land. Palestinians who live in the State of Israel, while citizens with the obligations of citizenship, also suffer injustice through discriminatory policies in housing, employment, and more. The re-configuration of Jerusalem in particular jeopardizes the historical place and shared identity of Jerusalem, which is part of its holiness.

We acknowledge and confess that the Christian faith has been used to justify the injustice against the Palestinian people.  Any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, strip the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth. All who suffer share in the groaning of the Holy Spirit for the liberation of all peoples and their joining in one spiritual communion. The ongoing condition of occupation, and the continuing denial of Palestinian rights has cast a shadow over generations of Jewish Israelis who have borne the social, psychological and spiritual burdens of the role of occupier.

The General Council:

  1. Affirms that with respect to the situation of injustice and suffering that exists in Palestine, and the cry of the Palestinian Christian community, that the integrity of Christian faith and praxis is at stake.
  2. Instructs the General Secretary to initiate a programme to
    – Collect studies and materials that speak to the cry of the Palestinian people, and to make them available to member churches.
    ­- Undertake study and discernment, using the resources available from member churches and the ecumenical movement, regarding theology that has been employed to legitimate the oppression of the Palestinian people, recognizing that such a study might result in the need for prophetic action.
  3. Instructs the Executive Committee, with the Secretariat, to respond (before the end of 2017) to the letter of June 21, 2017 from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine indicating what actions can be taken in response to their cry for costly solidarity.
  4. Encourages member churches to examine their mission, education, and investment relationships with Israel and Palestine in light of the witness of Palestinian Christians and to respond as they understand the Reformed communion’s commitments to human rights and the protections of international law.
  5. Instructs the Executive Committee to encourage and support (with practical help from member churches) delegations to visit the region to connect with the present day Christian community – the “living stones”- of the Holy Land, to witness their situation and express support for their desires for freedom and self-determination.
  6. Encourages the Executive Committee to seek to strengthen initiatives for dialogues, civil peace services, mediation, conflict prevention and transformation.
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First South African Church to commit to BDS

In a historic step the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) issued a clear statement in support of the non-violent Palestinian struggle. The church’s national conference approved the resolution on 10 July 2016.

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Rev. Thulani Ndlazi, Synod Secretary of UCCSA, speaking at the conference

The declaration names the danger of Christian Zionism and its literal reading of the Bible which confuses the Old Testament’s Israelites with Jewish Israelis. ‘We hear the Palestinian Christians’ appeal for help,’ they say, and we commit our support to the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign.

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The statement is the first of its kind by a South African church.

Earlier South African Methodists also urged their circuits to “study the Palestinian Kairos Document that calls for divestment of Israel to end the occupation by Israeli in Palestine” (2013 Yearbook, 3.4:93-95). They also encourage those who undertake “Holy Land Pilgrimages” to have meaningful engagements with the Palestinian community. Yet the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) does not ask people to consider the requests of the Palestinian Kairos Document. UCCSA acknowledges their requests, it affirms the call for creative, non-violent resistance and it commits publically.

What makes it even more historic is the fact that UCCSA was the only South African church who publicly supported the now historic South African Kairos call of 1985.  In it South African theologians asked the world to help end apartheid. The world listened and it helped. In recent years the churches of the world have started to speak up about fundamentalist, Zionist readings of the Bible that support Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

The statement by UCCSA on Palestine is a welcome prophetic step. It reads as follows:

We pledge our support to the Palestinian people as follows at this 8th South African Synod Conference of UCCSA in George, South Africa:
  • We recognize that the Palestinian struggle is not simply a conflict, but an asymmetric struggle between an oppressor and the oppressed. The oppression entails a decades’ long institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territories of Palestine and also against those within Israel and those in the diaspora who are not allowed by Israel to return.
  • We hear the call of our sisters and brothers from Kairos Palestine who asked the world and in particular Christians to take a public stand against injustice in ‘A Moment of Truth – a Word of Faith, Hope and Love.’
  • We do not take an anti-Semitism position. However we are extremely concerned about fundamentalist and progressive Christian Zionism which conflate the Biblical Israel with the modern state of Israel. We call on all Christians to read the Bible responsibly so as to not trample on the human rights and the dignity of the Palestinians.  We ask Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land to meet with and to listen to the Palestinians in Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and other cities in the occupied Palestinian territory.
  • We acknowledge with gratitude the support of our Palestinian sisters and brothers in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.
  • With this resolution we join other churches in the world such as the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ in the United States of America as well as the United Church of Canada. With them we stand in public solidarity with the Kairos Palestine’s appeal for help and the Palestinian civil society’s call for creative non-violent resistance.
  • We pledge our support to the international Boycott Divestments Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

UCCSA

The United Congregational Church of Southern Africa is one church in five countries –Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The UCCSA was formed in 1967 but traces its origins back more than 200 years to the arrival of the first missionaries sent by the London Missionary Society to Southern Africa. Today over 500,000 members worship in over one thousand local churches across the five countries.

#WallWillFall: Breaking down the Walls of a Conflict or a Rape?

What do we ask for when praying for Palestine Israel? Do we ask God to end the conflict? Do we ask for reconciliation and strive for a balanced approach? The answer is a definite ‘NO’ to all of these.

I raise these points as we are preparing for the annual World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel (20 – 26 September 2015)

To talk about ‘balance’ or a ‘conflict’ in the context of Palestine Israel presupposes equal sides. Nothing can be further from the truth. David Wildman (Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church) writes as follows:

Too many churches rushed to embrace interpersonal reconciliation projects without any examination of the inequalities in power between the Israeli state and Palestinians. Churches stressed the need for balance when there was nothing balanced about the situation. This is a key value of “church theology” that must be challenged. […] Israel has had a state since 1948 while Palestinians were largely refugees and civilian populations living under military occupation and unending dispossession from their land.

(Click here for Wildman’s full paper: BDS_and_Churches_now_ David Wildman.)

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In this year’s World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel the World Council of Churches asks us to pray, to educate and to advocate around the theme of “God has broken down the dividing walls” (Ephesians 2.14).

My experience in South Africa is that many people do not know what these dividing walls are. They only know of the suffering of Israelis. They do not realise that the analogy is closer to a ‘rape’ than to a ‘conflict’.

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Israel – a military superpower funded by the USA – denies Palestinians basic human rights, they injure and kill Palestinians and their resources in a grand sweep of land theft, displacement and mass destruction. Israel denies six million refugees to return to their homes and have more than 50 laws that discriminate against Arab Palestinian Israeli citizens. The Palestinians scream for help, throw stones and fire some rockets in response to these large scale systemic injustices by Israel. But the rapist wants the sympathy of the world and it gets it! Can we blame a rape victim who scratches her rapist?

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How do we know what to pray for and what to do?

Do we say it has nothing to do with us or is too complex to grasp? Do we question the focus on Israel?

Once more, the answer is NO. More and more people are starting to see the links between global empire systems of greed, power and militarism that are crystallised in Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. Likewise people are starting to realise how we are led by the nose by what Dr Mitri Raheb calls the “software” – the stuff that enables us to think that Israel is untouchable and above international law.

No, we don’t give up. It is wrong to think it has nothing to do with us.

A world system that allows the USA to consistently veto all UN decisions to enforce international law on Israel is a sick society. Does it not warrant our attention? Is it not in our own interest to educate ourselves? When we benefit from Israeli produce and services (think Dead Sea cosmetics, G4S, retailers like Woolworths that claim ethical business but do not apply it to Israel, etc.) then our money support the oppression of the Palestinians. If we ignore the public plea of the Palestinian civil society for non-violent resistance through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) we are complicit in entrenching the Palestinians’ suffering.

If we lie to ourselves about it or blame others, we fool ourselves. We cannot deny it – we are involved in this matter. Yes, there are many other issues in the world, but you are reading this post and therefore right now this matter is knocking on your door.

The segregation wall

Have courage

To embark on a road in the pursuit of love and a just peace is most fulfilling and deeply enriching. The important thing is to START by taking the FIRST STEP.

If you have not yet done so, start by reading the urgent, deeply inspiring appeal (‘A Moment of Truth’) of the Palestinian Christians. It is available in 22 languages (also available in Afrikaans). You’ll find it by clicking here. It addresses not only Christians. It also asks for several practical actions. For facts and figures, go to the United Nations website by clicking here http://www.ochaopt.org

Let us pray for a world where international law, human dignity and equality apply to all. Let us pray for a shift in consciousness and a spirituality that fosters human and all other forms of life on this planet. Let us practice our belief in equality and pray for both the oppressed and the oppressor. Let us educate ourselves and our circles. Let us work with those Jews, Muslims, Christians and the people of other faiths or none who share our values to create a better world.

God,

You ask for our courage to protect the powerless
but we prefer to remain safe, preserving ourselves for future challenges.

You ask us to speak out for justice
but we whisper, in case we are heard.
You ask us to stand up for what is right,
but we would rather blend in to the crowd
You ask us to have faith,
when doubting seems so much easier.

Lord forgive our calculated efforts to follow you,
only when it is convenient to do so,
only in those places where it is safe to do so,
only with those who make it easy to do so.

Together we pray
God forgive us and renew us;
Inspire us and challenge us
So that we might risk the journey, to your kingdom with you,

Amen
(Prayer of Confession as read in 2003 at a service at Cheltenham Races, GreenBelt, UK)

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More about the World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel 2015:

Why a theme on walls? In the figurative sense it is of course about walls that separate classes, ethnic groups, religions and the transcendence thereof. But it is also about the ongoing construction of the illegal, Apartheid Israeli Wall that grabs more and more fertile Palestinian land. Click here to watch a short, shocking video on Israel’s theft of land from the Catholic Church in the West Bank, and here for yet another story of land confiscation – one of thousands of similar tales.

The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) of the World Council of Churches invites churches, faith-based communities, and civil society organizations to join in support of an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine and a just peace for all in Palestine and Israel. For full details go to their website. You can also write to Ranjan Solomon, Consultant for the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum at ranjan.solomon@wcc-cor.org.

#Kairos30: Dare we remember?

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Now that I’m home from our global #Kairos30 conference (titled Kairos as a Dangerous Memory) the question remains: “What do we do with our memories?”

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You see mine are not those of taking a brave stand against apartheid like the theologians who wrote the 1985 Kairos document. Mine are memories of feeling scared, incapable and paralysed. They are memories of apathy and silence about something I clearly knew was wrong. For I was one of those white South Africans who did nothing to end the systemic, legalised injustices in my country.

Thirty years ago a group of South African theologians (listed below) asked the world for help in ending apartheid. Their appeal became known as the South African Kairos document. Since then the Kairos theology has found root in diverse places such as Germany, India, the USA, Swaziland, Palestine, India, Brazil and Nigeria. This week (17-20 August 2015) delegates from these and many other countries gathered in Johannesburg to reflect on what Kairos theology means to us now.

We asked: What can we learn from the Kairos of then? How should we critique it? Are we faced with new contexts that need interventions? How do we go forward? Dare we remember?

I cannot go forward without facing the truth of the past, and without being open, or for that matter public, about my neglect. I have failed to stand with my black sisters and brothers during South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. I have failed calling on my white sisters and brothers to be honest, just and loving. I have failed the Christian principles of love, justice and inclusivity. I have failed (and harmed) myself when I reduced my own happiness by not reaching out to others. For all of this, I am truly sorry. I know I cannot correct your pain and suffering.

Despite all this so many of you receive me with immense, gracious love and warmth. You treat me as if I am one of you despite my failures. You allow me to learn from you and you walk with me.

Often, when we come across so much resistance amongst Jewish and Christian Zionists and other supporters of Israel’s human rights abuses in respect of the Palestinians, I long to hold them tightly. I want to say to them “It’s okay to admit it. Just do it and release yourself from this terrible burden of justifying the modern state of Israel. We too shall welcome you and be there for you. It’s not a scary thing to support the human dignity of the Palestinians. In fact it may make you feel stronger and better!”

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Today Kairos Palestine’s evocative Kairos document A Moment of Truth: A word of Faith, Hope, and Love from the Heart of the Palestinian suffering, for example, challenges Christians worldwide (in 22 languages) to help them in their non-violent struggle.

11024714_10152916108011537_1010922261154685911_n(All four of the above photos on the #Kairos30 conference are by Sid Luckett)

Here is the full #Kairos30 statement as released on 20 August by the conference delegates:

Kairos 30th Anniversary Statement:
Dangerous Memory and Hope for the Future

We gathered in Johannesburg (near Cottesloe) from 17 to 20 August 2015, to celebrate how the 1985 South African Kairos document, “Challenge to the Church,” responded to a moment of truth in the most painful days of Apartheid. That Kairos document inspired three decades of Kairos movements in many different contexts. This 30th celebration has now re-inspired us toward a common humanity and a concern for human dignity and our environment.

The pain of Marikana and the reasons behind it (multinational profit before people and corporate greed) hovered over our conference.

The 2009 Kairos Palestine document, “A Moment of Truth,” a cry from the Palestinian Christian community, carries a disturbing echo of the dangerous memory of the South African story of Apartheid. Kairos Palestine has evoked a powerful global response from Kairos contexts around the world. The catalyzing power of Kairos Palestine was deeply felt in our gathering. We were inspired by this renewed energy. Palestine is the space where our sacred texts are contested.

There was much to celebrate in this gathering. Our Kairos conversations were intentionally multi-generational and broadly international. We were grateful to engage deeply with Muslim and Jewish perspectives. We found much joy in our solidarity and shared struggles. We were particularly encouraged by the inter-generational nature of this gathering and how that can be nurtured and encouraged. We are particularly inspired by the birth Zinzi Kairos Mbenenge during the conference. “… for unto us a child is given”!

A NEW KAIROS
We have reached a new moment of truth, a new Kairos. We recognize how the coming of Jesus and his teaching about a new kingdom and a new reign against the Roman empire of his day has completely passed us by. We lament that, by and large, the church of today has become distracted from this mission of preparing the way for God’s reign.

In our time, we find that various sites of pain and struggle are joined in a Global Kairos, a shared quest for justice. In our discussions, we named our shared struggle against the scourge of this global empire of our times. Empire is an all-encompassing global reality seeking to consolidate all forms of power while exploiting both Creation and Humanity. The empire we face is not restricted by geography, tribe, language or economy. Empire is an ideology of domination and subjugation, fueled by violence, fed by fear and deception. It manifests itself especially in racial, economic, cultural, patriarchal, sexual, and ecological oppression. Empire deceptively informs dominant, white supremacist, capitalist paradigms controlling global systems and structures. Global empire is sustained by weapons and military bases (hardware) along with ideologies and theologies (software).

We rejoice that resistance against empire is manifested in a plurality of struggles throughout the world. Struggles against ecological injustice, gender injustice and patriarchy, landlessness, abuse of people on the move, refugee vulnerability, political and religious persecution, social exclusion, denial of indigenous rights, neglecting children’s rights, harm to LGBTI persons, access for the differently abled, and racial supremacism represent only a portion of the struggles against empire. Since 1985, Kairos documents have expressed resistance to these and other realities in Central America, Europe, Malawi, India, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Palestine. In this conference, we were pleased to receive new Kairos documents from siblings in Swaziland, Nigeria, and the United States. The memory of unjust suffering in all contexts is dangerous to the purposes of empire.

In our listening to one another, we found that the context of suffering and pain created by Israel’s oppression of Palestine contains all aspects of empire. Palestine is therefore a microcosm of global empire, a critical site of reflection that can bring experiences in other locales into sharper focus. Palestine does not eclipse other situations around the globe but instead intensifies the need for greater interconnection and mutual engagement.

All Kairos movements emerge from sites of grave injustice and deep pain. Every Kairos document is a cry to God and to the world. We confess, however, that we have served two masters and preached a gospel that requires nothing of the rich young ruler, even as we build empire on the widow’s mite. We recognize that we and our church institutions have often closed our ears to our siblings’ cries and drowned them out. In many cases, very little action has followed. The church has often been ambiguous and cautious in its response to human suffering. Sometimes, the church has engaged in active opposition to the liberating work of God present in communities of resistance, increasing church complicity in structures of injustice. The church has often provided theologies of domination in the service of Empire. In our discussions, we found that the South African Kairos indictment of Church Theology is as relevant in our time as it was in 1985.

RESISTING IMPERIAL THEOLOGY
The dangerous memory of the South African Kairos document provided a prophetic critique of State Theology, theologies that validate and confirm forms of state terror. It identified as heresy theologies that justify Apartheid. In our time, we are called to expand this critique and rejection of state theology to address Imperial Theology, the ‘software’ that justifies imperial exploitation and oppression. We were encouraged to find that, although Empire seeks to divide communities from one another, peoples’ resistance can unite us across religious, ethnic and culture divides.

Imperial theology is at work in the continued oppression of Palestinians and the crisis now engulfing what is known as the Middle East. Analysis and rejection of the State Theology supporting Apartheid in South Africa was an essential element in exposing and resisting that sinful system. In its dominant forms, Zionism has been used to justify the dispossession, transfer, massacring, ghettoization and exploitation of the Palestinian people. Zionism has become an element within the dominant structures of empire. Politically, we call for an intensification of all economic and political pressures on the State of Israel, including the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). In our biblical interpretation, we strongly distinguish between biblical Israel and the modern State of Israel. Theologically, we declare to be heresy any Christian theologies that support the Zionism informing Israeli oppression.

We now therefore resolve

1) to act and pray, inspired by the dangerous memory of Jesus Christ, God’s siding with suffering and poor communities, aiming to do all we can to return the global and local church to the mission of Jesus to enact the reign of God, opening toward a new way of relating to humanity and the earth;

2) to encourage all Christians to respond to the Palestinian Christian call to “come and see” the living stones of the Holy Land, providing hope to all who suffer under the cross of illegal Israeli Occupation;

3) to advocate that international law must apply equally to all. We reject the imperial dictate that imposes sanctions on some regimes while vetoing and criminalizing popular calls for sanctions on egregious violations of international law;

4) to impress upon our churches, seminaries and theological institutes the need to deepen theological engagement with the pressing challenges of the world, including the global systems and structures of empire and to promote Kairos spirituality;

5) to reflect intentionally on the South African experience of the effectiveness of the BDS efforts and express our full support for an intensification of BDS as an effective, nonviolent strategy against global empire;

6) to create appropriate systems to ensure that young people will be nurtured and mentored in the Kairos understanding of faith, hope, and love and supported in their growth into leadership;

7) to express public support for those working against corruption in South Africa; while we rejoice that political apartheid has ceased in South Africa, we lament that economic apartheid continues; we commit to working toward Kairos Africa to ensure that the hopes of the next generation of the African continent are not dashed by Empire; and

8) to foster and nurture the Global Kairos for Justice movement; we are because you are.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4)

20 AUGUST 2015

FOR COMMENT:

Reverend Edwin Arrison: +27 (0) 847351835 / earrison78@telkomsa.net
Mark Braverman: +14439957882 / mbraverman@kairosusa.org
Ms. Marthie Momberg: +27 (0) 832907742 / momberg@sun.ac.za

Kairos Document: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos_Document
Kairos Palestine: http://www.kairospalestine.ps/content/kairos-document
Kairos USA: http://kairosusa.org

 

11180304_1449819825322050_2669416159281431213_nPreparing for the #Kairos30 conference with Mokesh Morar, Father Albert Nolan, Rev Edwin Arrison, Nonhlanhla Shezi and Vernon Weitz.

Signatories of the 1985 South African Kairos document against apartheid:

1. Dr JC Adonis
2. LA Appies
3. Ms Mary Armour
4. Dr JF Bill
5. Rev N Bixa
6. Rev A Bhiman
7. Rev N Botha
8. Rev A Boer
9. Rev A Booyse
10. Rev AS Brews
11. Rev J Carnow
12. Sis F Cassidy
13. Mr Tony Chetty
14. Rev F Chikane
15. Dr J Cochrane
16. Rev R Cochrane
17. Dr GD Cloete
18. Mr W Cloete
19. Mr Roy Crowder
20. Canon C Davids
21. Mr Mike Deeb
22. Mr S de Gruchy
23. Prof JW de Gruchy
24. Rev J de Waal
25. Dr W Domeris
26. Rev JH Dyers
27. Ms JW Engelbrecht
28. Mr PA Germond
29. Dr B Goba
30. Fr G Gobaiyer
31. Rev S Govender
32. Dr TSN Gqubule
33. Sis Aine Hardiman
34. Sis Clare Harkin
35. Rev A Hendricks
36. Fr Basil Hendricks
37. Rev B Hoorn
38. Rev R Jacobus
39. Dr Lizo Jafta
40. Ms Jave Joubert
41. Mr K Kiefer
42. Rev HM Koaho
43. Rev JNJ Kritzinger
44. Rev C Langeveld
45. Rev T Lester
46. Mr J Liddell
47. Ms L Liddell
48. Rev AM Lindhorst
49. Mr D Loff
50. Rev Wesley Mabuza
51. Archdeacon E MacKenzie
52. Prof SS Maimela
53. Rev JF Mahlaseala
54. Rev CJ Martin
55. Rev PN Mentoor
56. Rev Kenosi Mofokeng
57. Dr KE Mgojo
58. Fr S Mkhatshwa
59. Mr Peter Moll
60. Fr MSL Monjane
61. Dr M Mothlabi
62. Rev M Mpumwlana
63. Dr B Naude
64. Dr Margaret Nash
65. Sis B Ncube
66. Pastor Z Nertuch
67. Rev H Ngada
68. Fr S Ntwasa
69. Rev TW Ntongana
70. Dr A Nolan
71. Mr R Nunes
72. Rev M Nyawo
73. Fr R o’Rourke
74. Rev C Ontong
75. Rev T Pearce
76. Rev GB Peter
77. Ms Debora Patta
78. Mr RE Phillips
79. Rev Robin Peterson
80. Mr VP Peterson
81. Ms Heather Peterson
82. Canon G Quinlan
83. Rev C Sampson
84. Fr L Sebidi
85. Prof G Setiloane
86. Rev JN Silwanyana
87. Rev AL Smith
88. Rev Z Somana
89. Fr Thami Tana
90. Mr S Thaver
91. Mr B Theron
92. Rev M Tisani
93. Rev S Titus
94. Fr B Thlagale
95. Rev M Tsele
96. Rev J Thsawane
97. Rev van den Heever
98. Mr K Vermeulen
99. Dr C Villa Vicencio
100. Rev A Visagie
101. Rev H Visser
102. Rev MR Vithi
103. Dr CA Wanamaker
104. Rev MI Weeder
105. Rev D White
106. Ms J Williams
107. Rev B Witbooi
108. Fr A Winston
109. Mr RG Wortley
110. Rev BB Finca
111. Rev Z Mokhoebo
112. Ms S Britton
113. Rev DN Goga
114. Mr Paul Graham
115. Rev G Grosser
116. Rev B Habelgaarn
117. Rev Frans Kekana
118. Dr W Kistner
119. Rev CT Kokoali
120. Prof Charl le Roux
121. Rev CW Leeuw
122. Rev PT Letlala
123. Rev Gerrie Lubbe
124. Mrs M Mabaso
125. Rev Lucas Mubusela
126. Rev Maake Masango
127. Rev S Masemola
128. Rev TS Farisani
129. Rev O Mbangula
130. Rev GT Mcoceli
131. Rev M Mguni
132. Rev S Mogoba
133. Mr C Molebatsi
134. Rev Sol Jacobs
135. Vicar F Muller
136. Mrs M Mxadana
137. Mrs L Myeza
138. Rev SB Ngcobo
139. Rev D Nkwe
140. Rev PA Nordengen
141. Rev T Nyanela
142. Mrs A Rathebe
143. Prof W Saayman
144. Prof Nico Smith
145. Rev WT Soeldner
146. Rev MA Stofile
147. Fr F Synnott
148. Rev E Tema
149. Rev B Tshipa
150. Rev Stephen Warnes
151. Fr X Keteyi
152. Rev CZ Nevhutalo
153. Rev Lionel Louw
154. Ms V Zweigenthal
155. Rev Sol Jacobs
156. Dr T Kneiffel

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Warm blessings to all – also to those who differ from me

Whether you are non-religious, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or from another faith… please allow me to share with you wishes for goodness, inclusivity, compassion, peace and dignity in this festive time.

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It is true, as Christians we often fail to live these values. But Christmas reminds us of what really matters in life – human dignity, peace, love and life for all. May we remember that we are co-creators of in our lives. How we live matters. Our thoughts and actions participate in the shaping of our realities. May we all experience more justice, peace and love in our lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nativity Church on Manger Square in Bethlehem was built over the place believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

I planned to be in Bethlehem this year for the illuminating of the gigantic Christmas tree on Manger Square, but as you can read in another post, I was denied entry by Israel. I share with you some links I found on the internet:

kersboom 2Click here for Reuters: “We need the solidarity of the world.”

Christmas tree stands in the courtyard of the Nativity Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem after the lighting ceremonyClick here for a short, but great Youtube clip taken by former EAPPI member Hildegard Lenz.

Israel’s “right to defend itself” critiqued by Palestinian liberation theologian, Naeem Ateek

Israel, with support from the US, propagates that its actions in Gaza are carried out only because “Israel has the right to defend itself”. Rev. Dr. Naeem Ateek states in the piece below why he does not agree. Naim

naim 3Naeem Ateek is well known as a Palestinian Christian theologian. He co-shaped the Palestinian liberation theology and was the first to articulate it in his book, Justice, and only Justice, a Palestinian Theology of Liberation.

Sabeel, Jerusalem – For the sake of the burning children of Gaza
July 30, 2014

One of the most common refrains repeated by President Obama and other western leaders since the beginning of Israel’s massive military offensive against Gaza is, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” This refrain is not new and has been declared so often, it has become a cliché. Some leaders parrot it without even thinking. Israel has used such clichés as a justification for its actions as well as an excuse to further its carnage. As of July 29, the death toll in Gaza is over 1100 people, mostly civilians, and includes 243 children (http://www.ochaopt.org). In addition, around 53 Israeli soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians have died.

Under these circumstances, is Israel able to justifiably claim this right to defend itself?
First, we should consider that there is no clear “self” for Israel to defend. Israel steadfastly refuses to define its borders. Israel’s expansionist policies under the pretext of security have extended its “borders” deep into the Palestinian territories and the Syrian Golan Heights, in contravention of international law. Furthermore, as a state that is occupying another state that includes Gaza for the last 47 years, Israel stands in violation of international law and humanitarian law. In light of the fact that Israel has no defined borders and is occupying another state, it is not even possible to define the “self” that Israel has a right to defend.

Second, it is important to note that Israel does not have a moral or legal right to claim that it is “defending” itself so long as it is occupying another state. Let us take the Iraq-Kuwait war as an example. Suppose after Iraq occupied Kuwait, some of the Kuwaitis started firing rockets at Iraqi cities as their way of forcing Iraq to end its illegal occupation. In such a circumstance, would we consider Iraq as having a right to “defend” itself? Or would we rather see Iraq as the instigator and aggressor?

Morally speaking, so long as international law and the United Nations consider Israel as occupying Palestine, Israel is not defending itself, it is defending its occupation and its Zionist project. When the occupation ends, Israel possesses the legal and moral right to defend itself, and with that we can all stand. But so long as it is defending its occupation through collective punishment and disproportionate military might, which is illegal under international law, its claims appear deviously deceitful and hollow. Furthermore, Israel can get away with impunity.

Finally, are Obama’s words about Israel’s security and her right to “defend itself” credible in the presence of the burning children of Gaza? Is the war Israel is conducting credible in light of these children, held captive and unable to leave Gaza, killed for the crime of being born on the wrong side of an arbitrary border, killed while hiding in their homes, playing soccer on the beach, and taking refuge in UN safe spots? Nothing can legally or morally legitimize the indiscriminate killing of a captive civilian population. No statements, no claims, no actions, no matter how profound, can hold up in the presence of the burning and torn up little bodies of innocent children. They are utterly meaningless, reprehensible and blasphemous.

Therefore, it is important to emphasize the following points:

  1. The international community needs to empower the UN to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine. We have been caught in a destructive cycle. Every few years the situation reaches its boiling point, warfare begins, and thousands of Palestinians are killed and injured, mainly civilians – women, children, elderly, and disabled. The international community has been lethargic, impotent, and unwilling to implement its own resolutions on Palestine. The international community has the responsibility to resolve this seemingly intractable conflict. The UN needs to be empowered to do its work.
  2. International law unequivocally gives occupied people the right to shake off the yoke of the occupier through various means including the armed struggle. While this is true and needs to be remembered in considering this situation, Sabeel has always stood for the moral right of liberation through nonviolent means.
  3. The Palestinian rockets from Gaza have an important message that Israel refuses to understand and the western powers, especially the United States, are unwilling to comprehend. The message of the rockets addresses the core issues and the root causes of the problem – STOP THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION AND FREE PALESTINE. If this does not happen, the war will occur again and again and again, and the casualties will be mainly women and children. This conflict will continue to flare up, despite anyone’s best efforts to contain it, unless the systemic injustice of occupation is dismantled. A recent statement from Israeli academics cuts straight to the point: “Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement”( http://haimbresheeth.com/gaza/an-open-letter-to-israel-academics-july-13th-2014/statement-by-israeli-academics-july-2014/).
  4. Our plea is to all people of conscience in Israel. You need to become engaged. The present political course is driving Israelis and Palestinians further apart and is leading us to an impending disaster worse than we are witnessing today. We all must stop nurturing extremism. Israelis and Palestinians have to live together in this land. God has put us here, we need to share it. The alternative is untenable.
  5. A stable peace can only be realized when justice, in accordance with international law,is achieved for both Israel and Palestine.Source: http://necefsabeel.ca/?p=713

Dr Mitri Raheb: Losing the Sting of Empire

What can unlock victimhood? What can break the cycle of oppression? A visit by a Palestinian theologian to South Africa’s wintery Western Cape gave me some insights.

Dr. Raheb comes from Bethlehem in the West Bank of Palestine – a city under a harsh military rule. Israel’s occupation has a daily effect on the lives of its citizens as minute by minute Israel violates countless human rights laws as opposed to administering the land on behalf, and to the benefit of, the Palestinians as specified by international law. “Occupied” in Bethlehem, as in all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem means “oppressed”. But this is not what I want to talk about.

Did we listen to Raheb because he is the most widely published Palestinian theologian to date? Or because he has received many international awards for his work? We listened to him, almost spellbound, but for different reasons. He was invited by the Centre of Christian Spirituality and Kairos Southern Africa to conduct the third Steve de Gruchy memorial lecture in Cape Town, and also held talks at Stellenbosch University and at  the University of the Western Cape. He visited the construction site of the Palestinian Museum – a first for the world, preached to an Anglican congregation in Athlone and shared a meal with members of Cape Town’s Jewish Board of Deputies and some members of the Muslim and Christian communities.

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328Raheb (left) in conversation with Dr Anwah Naggia (right) at the building site of the world’s first Palestine Museum. The panels in this representation of the Israeli Wall are precise replicas of the originals in the Israeli Wall. They were erected on Saturday, 7 June 2014 in Cape Town.

Why be spell-bound if he sketched a situation where all seems lost? Almost everything is taken by Israel whilst the world powers keep silent. Hope seems almost gone. Israelis and Palestinians have failed to achieve the state project on which they worked so hard to achieve. That is, if they are frank with themselves. The Israeli apartheid system, the Palestinian mini-state in Gaza and the ‘Palestinians ‘holes in the cheese’ of the West Bank are not the dream for which people fought. It is necessary to admit this hard and painful truth and to start looking for new models of co-existence. (Raheb 2014:84). Many of us are already familiar with this depressing story.

And yet….

The art of survival and starting anew is a highly developed from of expression in Palestine, and one I see daily. People’s lives, businesses, and education are interrupted by wars and the aftermath of wars over and over again, and yet I witness people refusing to give up, taking a deep breath, and beginning again. Logically, it is foolish, and yet there is deep wisdom in such a course of action. I’m often asked by visitors how I can keep going…..The answer to that is not psychological but theological: There is no way to understand and face the status quo but at the logic of God. (Raheb 2014:89)

To have a political solution that entails full and equal citizenship for Palestinians in a state where their rights and dignity are protected and valued, is a long overdue and a practical necessity he argues. But the question “When will we have a state?” is by far not the only one. More important is to envisage what will bring peace and dignity that outlasts any empire or any state. This answer he finds in his interpretation of the Bible. Although Raheb explains his perspective in Christian terms, I would like to think that the principles may also apply to those from other faith traditions who aspire to human dignity.

Through his interpretation of the Bible, Raheb transcends victimhood. By not defining defeat by the empire as the ultimate defeat, the sting is gone and a new beginning is possible. To Raheb Jesus’ mission was to restore a sense of community and to empower people to become ambassadors of his much wider kingdom. This is the territory we should aspire to! Such healing of the self, on a very deep level of existential belonging, is the very thing that creates space within oneself and for others. If we have enough space to both receive and give grace, we can stop the vicious cycle of oppression.

324This statue at the University of the Western Cape depicts the joy and pride of a mother (a domestic worker) at the graduation of her son. It is symbol of defeating systemic oppression (apartheid).

It is almost impossible to convey all that he said in a few words here. If you decide to order his latest book Faith in the Face of Empire, you will not be disappointed. It is available on Amazon and on Kalahari (for South Africans).

More about Dr Raheb:

I first met him in April 2011 when he formed part of the Kairos Palestine delegation that launched the Afrikaans version of their statement: A Moment of Truth and in December 2012 I listened to his address at the Kairos for Global Justice conference. His publications include 16 books of which the latest Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes (2014, Maryknoll: Orbis Books) is a challenging view of how the reality of empire shapes the context of the biblical story and the ongoing experience of Middle East conflict.

Dr. Raheb’s work has received wide media attention from major international media including CNN, ABC, CBS, 60 Minutes, BBC, ARD, ZDF, DW, BR, Premiere, Raiuno, Stern, The Economist, Newsweek, and Vanity Fair. He has also received several awards for his work. For his interfaith work towards peace in Israel-Palestine he received the “International Mohammad Nafi Tschelebi Peace Award” of the Central Islam Archive in Germany (2006); for his ‘distinguished service to church and society’ the Wittenberg Award from the Luther Centre (2003); and for his ‘outstanding contribution to Christian education through research and publication’ an honorary doctorate from Concordia University in Chicago (2003).

Dr. Raheb is the President of Diyar Consortium and of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem, as well as the president of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in addition to being the Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, Palestine.

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Christmas 2013 – is it over?

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My images of a newborn child in a modest manger on a silent night are shattered.

This despite the sounds of carols, the aroma of home-baked cookies, my colourful Christmas tree and the joy of dear ones that uplift my being. My senses want me to believe that all is well and that Bethlehem is a place of holiness….

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Alas, no longer can I be so naive to view Bethlehem only as a place of wonderment.

2013 years later the Israeli Wall (an illegal one, higher and longer than the one in Berlin during the Cold War) cuts through the city.

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Houses (and just about everything else) are demolished there and in East Jerusalem, in Jericho and in many other places in the West Bank (also illegally, of course).

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Tourists flock to these cities believing that they are in Israel…..  but they are ignorant of the Living Stones – the People of Palestine – many who are the descendants of the first Christians.

Gaza remain under siege, children are still being killed by Israel and the living conditions are beyond terrible. Millions of Palestinian refugees may not return home for holy days, for family visits, to unlock their front doors or for any other reason. Tourists may continue to go there, of course.  And Israeli settlers thrive in occupied Palestine (once more, illegally).

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As I decorated my tree with trinkets from the Netherlands, from Germany, China, South Africa and Palestine at the end of 2013, I listened to Christmas carols differently. How can it be that I have sung these lyrics all my life without hearing how they perpetuate the continuing of injustices if we confuse the modern nation-state with the Biblical entity of Israel? How could I have been so insensitive to hail Israel and its newborn King without a thought for the immense suffering of the Palestinians at the hand of its oppressor, Israel, who is funded by a world power (the USA)?  What has been redeemed and what is there to celebrate if we perpetuate an illegal and inhumane oppression through our carols, our ignorance and our silence?

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Bishop Zipho Shiwa recently led the sermon at former President Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Qunu. He was one of the group of twelve South African church leaders who visited Palestine in December 2012.

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On their return home this delegation declared that entering occupied Palestine “felt like walking into another apartheid ambush”. Israel’s occupation of Palestine must end…. and there will still be a journey ahead.

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As South Africans we may no longer have apartheid, but we know all too well that we all still suffer from the injustices created under the oppressive system.  Our task in South Africa is not complete.

My 2000-year old, almost romantic images of Christ’s birth are replaced by my increased yearning for an inclusive peace on earth that honors the dignity of all.  This at least, is how I understand Christ’s message. What would Jesus (who was a Palestinian!) do?  Celebrate the past by ignoring the present? We need to problematize the concepts of “Bethlehem”, “King of Israel”, “Jerusalem”, etc. so that we do not hail the events of more than 2000 years ago by ignoring what happens in Palestine today. And perhaps we need to re-look our hymns, or at the very least, resist simplified interpretations of their words.

The joy of Christmas will fill every fibre in my being when we – people from different traditions and cultures – co-create a world where we do not diminish one another or engage carelessly with our planet.

May we allow all of ourselves to be free, in peace and joyful. May we know what it feels like to experience the blessings of the Christmas message every day of the year – forever and ever.

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Al-Nakba: Three Times Over

What struck me most that morning in Jerusalem was her serenity. Listening to the 77 year old Christian woman somehow felt like spring water in a desert – this despite her traumatic experience of three interwoven Nakbas.

She talked about the human catastrophe of being displaced by Israel, the identity catastrophe of no longer knowing where you fit in or may live; and a theological catastrophe since your own religion (Christianity) is used to justify your oppression.

Al-Nakba is Arabic for “The Catastrophe” referring to the widespread death, destruction, dispossession and displacement of Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel. Today Nakba day is annually commemorated on 15 May.

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I was listening to her at Sabeel, an Ecumenical Centre for Liberation Theology in Occupied Palestine.

The woman was only eleven years old on Sunday 30 November 1947 when the Irgun, a clandestine Zionist armed group, first shelled the Arab sections of Haifa, her city.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaifa today – an Israeli city.

  1. A human Nakba

Haifa was not the only place under attack. In March 1948 David Ben Gurion announced a program for destroying and depopulating Arab areas and eliminating any resistance. By then already 30 Arab villages had been depopulated.

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By April 1948 Haifa’s indigenous Arab residents fled to the harbour with what little they could carry. Many drowned as their overloaded boats capsized.  Since the woman’s family are Christians they fled to Nazareth.

refugees near tulkarem, summer 1948

Clandestine Zionist forces dispossessed 531 Arab towns or villages and 11 Arab urban areas with almost complete looting of Palestinian property and wealth, including the banks, property, businesses, fields and orchards. 

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A comment by the then head of the International Red Cross delegation in Palestine on the massacre of Deir Yassin is particularly chilling.  On 10 April 1948 he drove into the village outside Jerusalem and came across a detachment of Zionist Irgun members.  They came from Deir Yassin which was wiped out the previous night:

All of them were young, some even adolescents, men and women armed to the teeth: revolvers, machine-guns, hand-grenades, and also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained.  A beautiful girl with criminal eyes showed me hers still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy.  (Dimbleby1979:79).

Israel’s Irgun museum refers to the Deir Yassin massacre as an “operation” that was “a key point in the War of Independence”.

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The display in the entrance proudly displays the following words in its entrance:

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Other Zionist troops – Haganah and Palmach – carried out dozens of operations. They blew up as many houses and killed old people, women and children where there was resistance.

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As the Arabs moved out, the Zionists moved in…several hundred thousand Palestinians were on the move, criss-crossing Palestine or fleeing towards neighbouring countries, dodging the Zionist army, sleeping in olive groves and in mountain huts, or swamping villages not yet under attack.  (Dimbleby:89).

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Israel declared itself a state on 14 May 1948. Nazareth and many other places was under military control. The world stood by. No-one came to their rescue:

 We are a burden on Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, we are a burden…

She repeated her words, and briefly turned her head away. I cringed.

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2.     An identity Nakba

Israel became a state, but Palestinians were not welcome there:

We woke up in Israel.  Who are we? We were not allowed to say that we are Palestinian.

Suddenly 750 000 Palestinians were refugees. Many of them still have the keys to their houses, but Israel does not allow them to return to their properties (homes, agricultural land, etc.) as allowed for in Resolutions 194 (1948) and 237 (1967) of the United Nations. Displaced Palestinians do not have access to civilian courts that could provide effective remedies and reparations.

Today more than 50 laws enshrine the status of Palestinians in Israel as second-class citizens based on their ethnic and religious identity. Palestinians within occupied Palestine face daily violations of human rights, economic rights and political rights.

post-traumatic stress in gaza

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We recognise Israel as an Israeli state, but it is a state only for its Jewish citizens.

3. A theological Nakba

She grew up as a Christian and attended missionary schools.

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After they fled they realised that in the land of the Bible and just as in the days of Joshua, they experienced ethnic cleansing:

We couldn’t pray anymore.  When we most needed hope, to pray and to read our scriptures, we could not.  People stopped going to church.

The Biblical Israel used to be our spiritual ancestor, now it was our oppressor. We did not know what to think.  The churches gave us a lot to address our physical needs.  To them we were a bunch of refugees who needed aid, wherease we were actually a people with spiritual needs and an identity crisis.

She concluded on an inspirational note:

But the Bible has good news and we as Palestinians are trying to find it. This is why we started with a liberation theology. Jesus lived as a Palestinian under the Roman oppression. As Palestinian Christians we believe in standing up for our rights – but non-violently. We want to rise up over the ways of the world without abandoning the poor and the oppressed or losing sight of the humanity of the oppressor.

It is this compassion with Israel as the oppressor that inspires me so much. For despite everything they go through in an ongoing Nakba of occupation, destruction and dehumanisation as, for example, Gaza in 2014 and in ongoing, daily human rights violations in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, the majority of Muslim and Christian Palestinians still acknowledge the humanity of  Jewish Israelis.

Our task is to take the lead from these Palestinians in a mutual quest to overcome hatred and division between people. It is as applicable to other contexts as it is to the Palestinians and Israel.

Earlier in May 2015 a group of mainly South African Jews publicly acknowledged how Palestinians have been displaced and dispossessed. Their message was that there are Jewish people who support their struggle. Heidi Grunebaum, one of the organizers of the ceremony in Lubya told The Electronic Intifada:

Given what South Africa’s history has been, there’s something abominable and unthinkable in Israel proclaiming a South Africa Forest not only on stolen land, but on land where there used to be a village. It’s almost another level of erasure.

Lubya used is one of the 530 Arab Palestinian villages that Israel destroyed during the Nakba. Today it is planted over with a forest with money South African Jews donated.  Many donors to the South Africa Forest in present-day Israel probably do not realize that they are helping to cover up the results of ethnic cleansing. The Jewish National Fund website promoting the Lower Galilee project as environmentally sound and offering a certificate to anyone who finances the plantation of at least two trees does not mention these critical details.

 

For more on the Nakba, see http://www.palestineremembered.com/

For more on Lubya, including a film on it, see https://marthiemombergblog.com/2013/06/07/new-film-peels-layers-of-truth/

Reference: Dimbleby. 1979. The Palestinians. London: Quartet Books.

Photos on Nakba from ICRC and UNRWA archive.