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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.

South African church delegation: Why we’re going to Palestine

Press release issued on 6 December:

A group of South African Christian leaders and members will be in the occupied territories of Palestine on a one week solidarity visit till the 9th of December to visit the Palestinian people, and particularly the Palestinian Christians.

Delegates include the Southern Africa heads of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, the Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and a senior member of the Dutch Reformed Church. Some of the delegates are:

1.    Bishop Zipho Siwa (Head of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa)
2.    Dr Braam Hanekom (Western Cape Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church)
3.    Dr Jerry Pillay (Head of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa)
4.    Reverand Moss Nthla (Secretary General of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and Chairperson of Kairos SA)
5.    Father Michael Deeb (Director of the Roman Catholic Justice and Peace Commission)
6.    Father Zweli Tom (Secretary General of the Nelson Mandela Bay Consultation of Christian Churches)
7.    Dr Stiaan vd Merwe (Kairos Southern Africa)
8.    Ms Marthie Momberg (Kairos Southern Africa)
9.    Ms Nonhlanhla Shezi (Anglican Church, youth leader)
10.    Ms Theresa Ramphomane (South African Council of Churches, Women’s Desk)
11.    Ms Nobuntu Madwe (Methodist Church, Women’s and Children’s Desk)
12.    Nonqaba Esther Dlula (Anglican Church, Eastern Cape)

This South African Christian solidarity visit has been undertaken in direct response to an invitation by Palestinian Churches and Christians through their 2009 Kairos Palestine call, which asked the world’s Churches to “come and see” the reality on the ground, to come “as pilgrims” and to pray together in the spirit of “peace, love and reconciliation[…] Our appeal is to reach a common vision, built on equality and sharing, not on superiority, negation of the other or aggression, using the pretext of fear and security.  We say that love is possible and mutual trust is possible.  Thus peace is possible and definitive reconciliation also.  Thus, justice and security will be attained for all”. It is in this spirit that the solidarity visit takes place.

The South African Christian delegation will also listen to various voices in the Occupied Palestinian territories. As South Africans we feel that we have a moral duty to listen to those who are systemically oppressed as our country was a recipient of the world’s solidarity during the struggle against apartheid – a crime against humanity.  We can never forget how we benefitted from the world’s support when we cried out for help.  Whilst we remain intensely and painfully aware of the weaknesses and the prevailing injustices in our own South African context, our delegation will also share with the Palestinians the Church in South Africa’s experience of opposing apartheid and our challenges in helping to build a reconciled democratic state for all people. Moreover, we expect to learn from the Palestinian people and also to be re-inspired by them to work against injustices in this and in other contexts.

We also come with the understanding that all humans – Jews, Muslims, Christians and all others –are created in the image of God, and that, as phrased by the Palestinian Christians, “this dignity is one and the same in each and all of us.  This means for us, here and now, in this land in particular, that God created us not so that we might engage in strife and conflict but rather that we might come and know and love one another, and together build up the land in love and mutual respect.” 

As Africans we in turn bring our understanding of the spiritual concept of “ubuntu” whereby a person is a person through others, thus recognising the interconnectivity between all people and which expresses the value and meaning of life and of relationships.  As such we recognise the humanity and the dignity of both the oppressed and the oppressor. We resist fundamentalist, exclusivist theologies and ideologies, but we do not do so from a perspective of hatred, violence or separateness.

Finally, we look forward to join in the celebrations of the third anniversary of the launch of the Kairos Palestine call/document and to reflect together with Palestinian Christians on the meaning of Christmas.

Issued by:  Kairos Southern Africa on 6 December 2012

Like-mindedness – but it cuts both ways

When does learning take place? When behaviour changes.
BUT – which way do we choose?
I am inspired by the USA Christians’ recent Kairos statement and their confession of their country’s role in the oppression of both the Palestinian and the Jewish people:

We begin with a confession of sin to Palestinians in the State of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the diaspora and in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. As U.S. Christians we bear responsibility for failing to say “Enough!” when our nation’s ally, the State of Israel, violates international law. Our government has financed Israel’s unjust policies and has shielded its government from criticism by the international community. At the outset of the current U.S. administration, our government led Palestinians to believe that at last we would pursue a political solution based on justice. But the “peace process” has continued to be no more than a means for the continuing colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the imprisonment of Gaza and the intensification of the structures of oppression.

As Christians addressing the Palestinian cause we must also acknowledge our shameful role in the historic persecution of the Jewish people. We recognize the dehumanizing and destructive power of doctrines and theologies that denigrated Judaism. Our predecessors perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes, practiced scapegoating and cloaked prejudice, hostility and murder itself in the robes of our religion. We confess that our churches failed to resist, and sometimes even aided and abetted pogroms, mass dislocations of Jews, and the calamity of the Nazi Holocaust itself. In so doing, they betrayed the teaching and example of the one we claim to follow…

In light of these tragic failures, we must repent. We must work and even suffer for peace, filled with a heart of love for both Israelis and Palestinians. We must work and even suffer for peace, filled with a heart of love for both Israelis and Palestinians.

They continue by asking USA Christians to overcome their prejudices and myths, to engage with Palestinians, to listen to their stories, to examine their biblical interpretations, to actively participate in non-violent action as a means to end the illegal occupation and to advocate.

Read their full statement and list of actions (and why acting NOW is important).

More and more I start to think that my “tribe” does not only consist of my family, my friends and my nation. I feel connected to, and draw inspiration from the actions and support of like-minded people all over the world which include people from different religious backgrounds.

When I look at the list of people who already pledged their support for the USA Kairos statement, it doesn’t matter all that much that I don’t know most of them. I still sense a warmth of recognition since we all want a better life on this planet through non-violent means.

In fact only three names on the current (19 June 2012) list who support the USA Kairos statement sounds familiar to me –

  • the well known theologian Walter Brueggemann (Professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary),
  • my EAPPI colleague from Team 41 Rev. Andrew E. Larsen (Evangelical Covenant Church in Seattle, Washington) and
  • Tom Getman whom I met through Kairos for Global Justice.

What matters, is that we stand, and work, together.  (We at Kairos Southern Africa wrote a letter of support for this new initiative.)

The people from Goa, India also enthuse me through their letter to the Christians in Palestine:

We acknowledge our own indifference and inaction in the past and deeply regret this. Three years ago, for the first time, we sprung into action when we decided to study the issue of Israelis who had completed their term in the IDF and who turned up on the shores of Goa to overlook and disregard their actions while on military duty. Our study revealed how dehumanized these young people had become and how, because of an oppressive and cruel system of illegal military occupation, even the victimizers had turned casualties and victims of their own cruelties.

Read the full letter here: Letter_of_Solidarity_Goa

But many kinds of people are like-minded.
It saddens me immensely to read about fellow South Africans, in fact the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) who under its leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe came out strongly against the South African government’s planned relabeling law (Government Gazette Notice 379/12). The ACDP criticised Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies for (what they call) “singling out” Israel for censure.

From cii broadcasting:

Meshoe claimed that there is no such state as the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories” and therefore holds no ground within the law:

Section 24 of the consumer protection act says the importer of any goods must disclose the country of origin. I am disputing that the Palestinian territories are not legally and officially recognized in the world

he said.

Backing up its words with action, the ACDP organised a protest march, from the Union Buildings in Pretoria to the offices of the Department of Trade and Industry for Thursday morning 28 June 2012 and another protest in Cape Town on Friday 29 June in front of the Parliament Buildings.  So we at Kairos SA responded again – with an urgent and a passionate plea in an open letter to Rev Meshoe to reconsider his position.

Don’t march, we asked. Don’t fall prey to Israeli propaganda. Don’t use the name of God to justify a crime against humanity. Allow South African consumers to know that “Produce of Israel” often actually means “Produced in the occupied territories of Palestine”. Do you know the pain and injustices, we asked:

Do you know, Rev Meshoe, that Jerusalem Christians are being displaced, that their homes are being taken over by settlers and that many Jerusalem Christians
and other Jerusalemites have had their citizenship taken away from them through a mere administrative act?

Do you know the pain of families whose land is confiscated for the illegal wall or an Israeli-only road? Have you looked into the eyes of a scared child who is held captive or searched by soldiers? Have you seen the faces of farmers whose water wells or
cisterns were destroyed by bulldozers, or a woman who wanted to save her furniture before her house was leveled to the ground? Do you know what the weariness of workmen who queue up from 2:00 at a check point to get to work on time look like?
Have you seen fields of Palestinian olive trees destroyed at the hands of Israeli settlers? Do you know the fear of rural people who were held at gunpoint and instructed to flee from their village? Do you know that whole Palestinian towns are threatened with demolition and how your words of support for the present state of Israel provide oxygen to the fire of violence?

Do you not know, Rev Meshoe, how hope is being sucked from young Palestinian Christians by the illegal Occupation and how they rather choose to emigrate with their young families than live in Palestine, thereby robbing Palestine of one of its
most important natural resources?

Why do you not support the right to own property, the right to equality, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to freedom of movement, to self-determination and the right to live free of harassment and violence for all in Israel and Palestine? Are you not aware of these illegalities and many other inhuman abuses by the state of Israel? If you are genuinely not aware of the things we write in this letter, we are more than willing to supply you and your party with all these facts.

On the same day that we sent the open letter to Rev Meshoe (21 June 2012), I also got an e-mail from Jewish voice for Peace who, unlike our Christian brother, work for a just peace:

We learned that retirement giant TIAA-CREF has dropped all 73 million dollars in Caterpillar stocks from their socially responsible investment fund.

This is a watershed victory: we’ve been campaigning for this change because Caterpillar bulldozers have been used to destroy thousands of Palestinian homes and orchards.

But we can’t stop here. The movement to pressure Israel to be accountable to international law is now on the verge of a historic breakthrough at the Presbyterian General Assembly in Pittsburgh next week.

The Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the largest Protestant denominations in the US, will be meeting to decide whether to divest from Caterpillar and a few other companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. This is by far the most contested divestment vote in the US, and our pro-occupation opponents will be out in full force.

There is a very good chance we’ll win, but we’re not taking any chances. We need your help to send a large delegation of Jewish activists—including myself, Rabbi Alissa Wise, and many of our Young, Jewish and Proud leaders— to Pittsburgh.

We don’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars for paid ads or celebrity speakers that our opponents have—but we do have committed, knowledgeable and dedicated Jews who can walk the aisles side by side with our Palestinian allies and tell Presbyterian voters face to face to go with their conscience and vote on behalf of justice for all people.

Let us live, and act, in Light and in Love, no matter what our culture or religion is.

Read what happened in Pittsburgh

The Bethlehem Call: Here we stand – Stand with us

Children at their demolished house (Jericho)

The multiple and illegal forms by which Israel occupies Palestine have taken on dimensions of systemic injustice.  The unthinkable has become globally accepted and supported.  As if it is normal and unavoidable.

In December 2009 a group of Christian Palestinians, in solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters from Palestine, cried from within their suffering under the Israeli occupation in their Kairos for Palestine document:

“…a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land.”

As Christians and as Palestinians they called out for help from the world.   They explained the reality on the ground.  They spoke about faith, inclusion, hope and the mission of the Church.  They spoke about love and non-violent resistance and they appealed to Jewish, Muslim and other spiritual and religious leaders to stand up for the oppressed.  They addressed the Palestinian people and the Israelis and asked them to see the face of God in each other.

Two years later, in December 2011 the Palestine Kairos group met with more than 60 people from 15 countries from all the continents in the world.  They gathered in Bethlehem, Palestine, to launch the Kairos for Global Justice initiative.

Why global justice?  The conflict between Palestine and Israel is financed by the international community, and hence this conflict is an international issue.  We dare not turn away from this, they say.  Justice is the other side of love.  Kairos for Global Justice calls on the world to take a stand and be part of a solution as opposed to maintaining the pain.

What is a Kairos moment?  “Kairos” time is qualitatively different from “kronos” time.  “Kronos” time relates to a chronological span of time over a period. “Kairos” time on the other hand is about the present, about an appropriate, opportune time.  One cannot catch up with Kairos time as it is a decisive moment that asks for participation in the here and now.  If one misses this critical opportunity, it may pass you by.  A Kairos time needs action, courage and transformation.

“’Come and see,’ said the Christians of Palestine.  ‘Come and see the olive groves, bulldozers, the ancient terraces, the segregated cities.  The situation is worsening.’”

Their appeal in The Bethlehem Call is urgent:

“We now say: ‘Injustice no more. Here we stand. Stand with us.’”

They call the Israeli occupation a crime and a sin.

In a bold move, they list things that they cannot accept.  These include:

  • The silence of the Church;
  • Any arguments by the international community that claims that Muslims as opposed to the Occupation is the cause of the problems;
  • Any tours to the Holy Land offered by church related organisations that do not include encounters with local Palestinians and their position.

“In love, we rage against injustice and yet refuse to be destroyed by our anger.”

They call on affirming voices from Jewish, Muslim and other religious traditions in the vision for a democratic, pluralistic society in the Holy Land.

They demand the dismantling of Israeli apartheid in Palestine that will include:

  • People living side by side in justice and peace within pre-1967 borders;
  • A shared Jerusalem, including open access to all holy sites;
  • The right of return for Palestinian refugees;
  • An end to all settlement extensions and a dismantling of the settlement system;
  • Free access to water and sanitation;
  • The breakdown of the apartheid wall.

They are committed to non-violent resistance, including active co-operation with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS); and to promoting tourism in the Holy Land that includes the Palestinian perspective.

Click on the link to read The Bethlehem Call
en in Afrikaans Die Bethlehem Oproep

Olive trees broken by Israeli settlers (Qusra)

The segregation wall

And now there is an Islamic Response to Kairos Palestine

This response was issued by Peace for Life (PFL), a global solidarity network of peace:

“We say to our Christian sisters and brothers in Palestine: ‘We hear your cries; you are not alone. We need each other now more than ever before and we commit ourselves to walking the journey towards freedom and justice in Palestine side by side with you.’  In responding to Kairos Palestine we respond to the Islamic imperative to identify with the oppressed and the marginalized. We do so in a manner that

  • reflects our inadequacies as Muslims;
  • rejects attempts to co-opt our faith for the agenda of Empire; and
  • offers a vision of Islam that is just, compassionate and recognizes the sacredness of all of humankind while maintaining a particular bias for those whom the Qur’an refers to as the marginalized in the earth (mustad`afin fil-ard). Muslims across the globe are invited to sign this document.”

Click in the link below to read the full response and,
if you are a Muslim, to sign it:

An Islamic Response to The Palestinian Kairos Document

Santa in distress, three wise men arrested


FROM BETHLEHEM, in the occupied territories of Palestine…
read a brilliant Christmas parody issued by BDS South Africa,

 Santa in Distress, Three Wise Men Arrested (24 Dec 2011)

Is the Christmas Star still shining?

Or is it mourning
over the little town of Bethlehem?

In Bethlehem today people are fenced in

behind a concrete wall
that cuts across fields and olive groves,
separating people from schools,
hospitals and work places.
In Bethlehem today Mary must give birth
at a military checkpoint,
shepherds cannot reach the stable,
the three Wise Men, gifts in hands,
stand helpless before the wall.
In Bethlehem today the star has vanished
where angels sang

hilltops are scarred by
illegal houses
Yet while we search
the darkness in vain
The angels’ message is still
Peace on Earth
So let us listen
Let us stand up and act.

Peace and Justice for Palestine.

(Ulrike Vestring 2009)