Status

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.

 

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South Africans: Christmas Message from Bethlehem

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories in direct violation of international law depriving Palestinians of land, natural resources and freedom.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • How believers are restricted and or prohibited from worshiping and visiting places of religious importance to them.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • The arrogance, blindness, insensitivity, self-destruction, and the illusions of security in the use of military might.

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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.

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Bold statement by South African clergy on their return from occupied Palestine

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We did not expect the extent to which Israel violates international laws to oppress the Palestinian people.  Our exposure to East Jerusalem and the West Bank was overwhelming, one which traumatised us.  However, even though we experienced that the Palestinians live in open-air prisons, they were still able to inspire us with their dignity and their commitment for a just peace based on human dignity for both themselves and the Israelis.  “We want more than human rights,” they told us, “we want our human dignity and reconciliation”.

These are the first words from a  media statement issued by twelve South African Christian leaders who visited the occupied state of Palestine from 2 – 9 December 2012.

The delegation included the country’s heads of the Methodist and the Uniting Presbyterian Churches, the Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance, the Vice Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church and a representative of South African youth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARev Moss Nthla, Secretary General of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and Chairperson of Kairos Southern Africa and Dr Braam Hanekom, Vice Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, addressing an audience of Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem

The statement continued as follows:

Being South African, it felt like walking into another apartheid ambush.  We witnessed violations of the international human rights law and the international humanitarian law on so many levels – the multiple house demolitions, the discriminatory legal system, the daily intimidation, the Apartheid Wall and its associated regime of restrictions on movement and access, the damage to olive groves, the imprisonment of a large percentage of Palestinians including children, the confiscation of water and land, the closure of previously bustling streets and businesses, separate pavements and a system whereby the colour of Palestinian vehicles’ number plates restrict them to certain roads.

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Our visit was undertaken in direct response to the Palestinian Christians’ invitation to come and see for ourselves what their circumstances are.  We heard from Christians how they have experienced a political and an identity catastrophe (the Nakba) since 1948 when the State of Israel was declared and 750 000 Palestinians became refugees.  Moreover, they experience a theological catastrophe as Christianity is being used to justify the oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people.

What we have discerned is in alignment with what the Palestinian Christians propose in their document called “A Moment of Truth. A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering.” This urgent appeal to the international community proposes resistance to Israel’s occupation as an act of love.

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We affirm the right to security, self-determination and dignity for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Real security is only possible through the exercise of justice. We are conscious how a literal reading of the Bible, one where the Israel of the Old Testament is confused with the State of Israel, can result in the oppression of people. We confirm that the crisis in the Holy Land is in essence not a religious conflict, but a political crisis brought about by the violation of international law.  As South Africans we believe we have a moral obligation to speak up and to stand with the oppressed.  We do not want to side against the Israelis, but we do want to uphold international law and fight against any form of injustice.

We support the Palestinians’ call for non-violent resistance. They ask for responsible tourism whereby pilgrims who visit Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem also visit Palestinian Christians.  They ask the world for economic, cultural and other forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions – a strategy that helped to end apartheid in South Africa.  We believe that maximum pressure must be put on Israel to abide by international law.  This should be done on the basis of “equality and sharing, not on superiority, negation of the other or aggression, using the pretext of fear and security” as stated in the Palestinian document “A Moment of Truth”.  

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We went on a guided tour by a Jewish Rabbi (previously from Canada) and we had intense discussions with him over dinner in Jerusalem.  From him we did not hear the message of reconciliation or that both peoples were created in the image of God and have the right to dignified lives.  He talked a lot, but he did not answer our questions.

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The  Vice Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, Dr Braam Hanekom who was part of our delegation, emphatically stated:

“It was a tremendous privilege to visit Palestine in this time of Advent.  I am more convinced than before that the non-violent alternative of faith, hope and love that the Palestinian Christians show us is the way forward.”

Our statement concludes as follows:

Whilst we remain intensely and painfully aware of the weaknesses and the prevailing injustices in our own South African context, we are inspired to work against these and other injustices. In these weeks leading up to Christmas we want to show our full solidarity with all those who suffer in the Holy land where Christ was born.

Issued by:

  1. Bishop Zipho Siwa, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa
  2. Dr Jerry Pillay, General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa and President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches
  3. Rev Moss Nthla, Secretary General of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and Chairperson of Kairos Southern Africa
  4. Dr Braam Hanekom, Vice Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church
  5. Ms Nonhlanhla Shezi, President of the Anglican Youth of Southern Africa
  6. Ms Theresa Ramphomane, Coordinator of the SACC Women’s Ecumenical Conference
  7. Ms Nobuntu Madwe, General President of the Women’s Manyano (Union) of the Methodist Church of South Africa
  8. Fr Michael Deeb, coordinator of the Justice and Peace Department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
  9. Fr Zweli Tom, Anglican Priest and Secretary General of the Nelson Mandela Bay Consultation of Christian Churches
  10. Nonqaba Esther Dlula, Eastern Cape Anglican Church
  11. Dr Stiaan van der Merwe, Kairos Southern Africa
  12. Ms Marthie Momberg, Kairos Southern Africa

 Jerusalem, 8 December 2012.

We do not take sides between countries, but we are not impartial when it comes to the upholding of international law and human rights.  We are just as concerned about the psyche of the oppressor as we are about the devastating effects of denying people dignity.  Israel’s occupation of Palestine must end.