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.

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South African apartheid ended, Zionist apartheid continues

God is not a real estate agent” and “I remember a time when Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist” says a South African who has been living in Toronto since 2000.

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Michael tasting olive oil at the Canaan Cooperative in Palestine

Michael Pott has been supporting efforts to expose human right violations in the Holy Land since participating in a Sabeel witness tour in October 2012.

This is his story:

South African apartheid ended, Zionist apartheid continues

As a student in South Africa during the 1970s, I was part of the movement committed to ending apartheid and Zionism.  While I am proud that Whites no longer oppress Blacks, I am sad that Jews still treat Palestinians as second rate citizens. A November 2012 Sabeel tour reminded me that Zionism has slipped on the world issues agenda. I hope that this brief article will help re-energize the people who fought to end apartheid to take up the Palestinian cause and help end Zionism.

 Many prominent South Africans, respected researchers and artists have said that the current conditions of the Palestinians are worse than those experienced by Blacks in South Africa under apartheid. I agree and hope you will get a chance to hear the speeches, read the research papers, and watch the movies on this subject.

 I find it difficult to understand the theologies of apartheid and Zionism. I could not accept that God instructed Whites to deliver Black people from their primitive conditions.  I also find it hard to believe that God is a real estate agent who gave the Jews the sole right to live in Israel. No matter how hard it is for me to understand a theology that promotes discrimination, I must remember that people who believe these theologies are made in the image of God and I must love them and promote nonviolent resistance.

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 Under apartheid a Black person was denied the same rights as a White citizen of South Africa. Today a Jew anywhere in the world is entitled to full citizenship of Israel while the same rights are denied a Palestinian who has lived in Israel for generations. To justify this oppression, politicians in South Africa and Israel  created phony/dual political structures. In both countries, leaders who did not support the status quo were silenced. Not too long ago when Palestinians elected politicians that Israel did not agree with, the elected leaders were arrested as terrorists and the Gaza strip was blocked. I remember a time when Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist!

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 To achieve ethnically cleansed states in Israel and South Africa, the indigenous population had to be removed and evidence of their history and culture destroyed. In South Africa, Blacks were forcibly removed from their homes to create white-only areas. To create the Jewish state, Palestinian villages, homes and land were confiscated. Settler communities continue to seize Palestinian land. Other than standing in front of a bulldozer and losing your life, how can Palestinian land be protected and their rights restored?

151111 Al Qasab Jericho House demolitions photo by Eduardo Minossi, EA

 Most people who have seen the wall the Israelis are erecting acknowledge that it is to secure access to natural resources and strategic land rather than for security. During our tour we witnessed countless examples of how the wall separates people from their land, how check points are used to demonstrate Israeli domination, how families and neighbourhoods are destroyed. While not belittling the conditions under apartheid, the wall creates conditions more brutal than in South Africa. Despite the tremendous human suffering, Israel and South Africa disregarded international law, United Nations resolutions and the local courts to maintain apartheid.

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 During our tour we traveled along well maintained roads that serve Israeli settler communities in the Occupied Territories. We also traveled on neglected roads the Palestinians use.  While using these roads I remembered the differences I observed in the quality of infrastructure in South Africa upon entering a black area.  These differences serve to frustrate people, build resentment and fuel the liberation struggle.

 I remember when anyone who challenged the supremacy of the apartheid government was either banned or labeled a traitor, a communist or an agitator. Non-violent resistance to White oppression was brutally crushed. Many people have forgotten how the Sharpeville massacre resulted in the armed struggle being added to the means of achieving the liberation of South Africa.  Because of the very different levels of military power in both South Africa and Israel, the oppressed people who no longer supported nonviolence resorted to unconventional warfare (aka terrorism). During the liberation struggle in South Africa no one expected a military victory. I did not meet anyone in the Occupied Territories who thought the Israeli military would be defeated. At the same time only the naive believe that the struggle for human rights can be suppressed by firepower.

Israeli Troops Continue To Gather On Border As UN Call For Truce

 I remember the bias in my apartheid education that promoted White nationalism and demonized Blacks. Jewish children are taught to believe negative stereotypes of Palestinians (Arabs). Based on a brief visit with a Jewish family in Tel Aviv, Zionism is firmly believed and the stereotypes of Palestinians are upheld. During discussions with Palestinian groups on our tour we were told that there are currently very few programs that encourage dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims. This is unfortunate as I remember how important multiracial group discussions were about a just and peaceful South Africa. The KAIROS document for South Africa facilitated some of these discussions. I hope that the Palestinian KAIROS document will be as helpful.

 The systematic denial of people’s basic human rights did not work in South Africa, and it will not work in Israel. Nonviolent resistance, international sanctions, dialogue among South Africans and the armed struggle helped end apartheid. I look forward to the day all people in Israel/Palestine will enjoy the same basic rights in a secular country. Archbishop Tutu saw the end of apartheid in his lifetime. How long will it take to end Zionism?

Michael Pott graduated from Stellenbosch University in 1981.  He worked for much of his career for the Development Bank of Southern Africa: “Human rights and democracy are values I have always supported. For many years my partner and I worked to establish the democratic South Africa. When the democratically elected government chose to abandon the Reconstruction and Development Program, we decided we did not agree with the new strategy and immigrated to Canada.”

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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.

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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

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So that we might risk the journey

When I read this prayer, I thought of my own silence during the apartheid years:

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

This Prayer of Confession was read in 2003 at a service at Cheltenham Races, GreenBelt, UK. Nora Carmi from Kairos Palestine (who was there but doesn’t know who the writer is) recently used it to open a skype meeting of the international Kairos core group whereafter my South African Kairos colleague, Stiaan van der Merwe, forwarded it to me on e-mail.

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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

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A march, a checkpoint & Bethlehem Call in Stellenbosch, SA

It happened during lunch hour in Ryneveld Street past Stellenbosch University’s old main building…

Stellenbosch, Monday 5 March 2012, a march for justice in Palestine

On a tranquil autumn day, Muslims, Christians, and a Jew with white, brown and black faces, young and old, walked through the heart of the town and the campus, in silence, connected by a clear statement…

  • 13:00: March, from Arts Building (corner Merriman and Ryneveld Street) to the Faculty of Theology (Dorp Street 171).
  • 13:00 – 13:40: Simulated Israeli checkpoint at the main gate of the Faculty of Theology.
  • 13:40: Opening of gate for all, handing over of Bethlehem Call, and the Afrikaans Die Bethlehem Oproep to the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology.

Everyone who supports a free and just Palestine were welcome to join us and ab0ut 50 people walked with us.  The group walked to the main building of the Faculty of Theology . 

At “Checkpoint 171” (actually the main entrance to the Faculty of Theology in 171 Dorp Street) we wanted people to experience what it feels like to not be able to enter your own university in your own land,  or rather, to not have the access to education, etc. [I’ll load our video here asap.]

(photo by EA Carol Martin)

After a few staged “incidences” such as the one here where one Christian and a few Muslims wanted to respectively visit holy sites and their mosque but were refused entry, we opened the gates well in time for classes, but we also did so for another reason….

Inside the premises, on the steps to the front door, we presented The Bethlehem Call/ Die Bethlehem Oproep to the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology to  Prof. Julian Smith (Vice-Rector, Community Interaction, SU) and Prof. Nico Koopman (Dean of the Faculty and Director of the Centre).  We chose this Centre for its commitment to the honouring of the legacy of Beyers Naudé who was a champion for justice.  Both of them applauded everyone walking through the town to the faculty.  Prof Smith said that all of the 28 000 students of the University should in fact stand up for human rights.  We are very grateful for this response by our university and the Beyers Naudé Centre.

From left to right: Rev. Edwin Arrison (Kairos SA), Prof Nico Koopman (Dean, Faculty of Theology and Director of the BNC), Prof Julian Smith (Vice Rector Stellenbosch University), Christel Erasmus and Deon Scharneck (Kairos SA, theological students and organisers), MM (EA, Kairos SA) with fellow EAs Terry Crawford Browne (also from Kairos SA) and Carol Martin on whose camera this picture was taken.

The Bethlehem Call was composed in December 2011 by 60 people from 15 countries in Bethlehem, Palestine, as an urgent appeal to take a stand with the Palestinian Christians against the illegalities of the Israeli Occupation.  (See also an Islam response to the Kairos Palestine document.)

As I translated The Bethlehem Call into Afrikaans, I realised something I’m supposed to know –  just how powerful it is to read something in one’s own language. I have read The Call many, many times since December 2011, but now the words in my mother tongue made me experience the contents in a more immediate, a more intimate, manner. Suddenly I understood the urgency, the lament, and the appeal so much better. 

I am a post-apartheid South African and for the life of me I just cannot allow another apartheid system in another part of the world.  I have to stand with the oppressed.  No, I have to do more.  I have to spread the message and advocate for a just peace in Palestine.

Die Bethlehem Oproep:

Hier staan ons – Staan by ons

Hoe lank nog, o God, sal hulle ons lewensonderhoud steel? Ons mense onderdruk, gevange hou en verneder? Ons kinders van hulle jeug ontneem?  Inderdaad, vir hoe lank nog, Here, sal die talle Christene in die wêreld die lewensangs van ons Palestynse susters en broers en al die onderdruktes verontagsaam?

“Kom en kyk” het die Christene van Palestina gesê. “Kom kyk na die olyfboorde, die stootskrapers, die antieke terrasse, die verdeelde stede.  Die situasie word al hoe erger.”

Vandag neem die onregmatige regime en die onwettige vorms van Israel se besetting van Palestina dimensies aan van sistemiese onreg waardeur die ondenkbare en die onvoorstelbare internasionaal aanvaar, ondersteun en genormaliseer word. Dis ‘n voorbeeld van empire (globale dominansie) in aksie. Dit gebeur in Palestina soos ook in baie ander kontekste in die wêreld. Terselfdertyd is Palestina duidelik ook ‘n internasionale kwessie.  Die Israelse regering maak aanspraak op, en geniet inderdaad ‘n status van uitsonderlikheid in die internasionale gemeenskap.  Israel beskou haarself as verhewe bo die reg en word gehanteer asof vrygeskeld van die internasionale reg.  Hierdie status gee Israel se regering die vryheid om Palestina sonder enige straf te beset.Soos ons met ons eie oë gesien het, het die verraderlike toestande afgedwing deur Israel se besetting van die Palestyne en hulle land ‘n vlak van feitlik onvoorstelbare, gesofistikeerde kriminaliteit bereik.  Dit sluit die gestadigde, dog doelbewuste, en sistematiese etniese suiwering en landsmoord van Palestyne en Palestina in, en daarby ook nog die verwurging van die Palestynse ekonomie.  Die brutaliteit in die internasionale “geweld van stilswye” gee Israel se regering ‘n byna ondeurdringbare skild om haar bose plan uit te voer met ‘n blatante minagting vir menseregte en die internasionale reg.  Stilte is ‘n opinie. Passiwiteit is ‘n aksie.  Ons aanskou wêreldwyd ‘n besliste ruggraatlose lafhartigheid en swye wat faal om weerstand teen Israel te bied.  Ons sien dit in regerings, politieke partye, mediahuise, besighede en die meeste van georganiseerde geloof – insluitend die Christendom – en in die stilte van profete.  Dit maak ons aandadig aan misdade teen die mensdom, soos dié van apartheid en vervolging soos beskryf in die internasionale reg.[1]

Ons merk ook die vasbeslotenheid en veerkragtigheid van Palestyne waarmee hulle die wanbalans van politieke, ekonomiese and militêre mag met ‘n onbuigbare standvastigheid vir hul vryheid en ‘n regverdige vrede ewenaar.

‘n Onstuitbare momentum om Israel se regering en haar plaaslike en internasionale steun te delegitimeer en te kriminaliseer, is aan die opbou.  Dat internasionale boikot, disinvestering en sanksie (BDS) veldtogte en ander vorme van nie-gewelddadige weerstand bestaan, is ‘n voldonge feit.  Die regering en staat van Israel word tans beskou as ‘n apartheidsregime volgens die internasionale reg, met spesifieke verwysing na die VN konvensie oor die onderdrukking en strafbaarheid van apartheid as ‘n misdaad en die Rome Statute van die Internasionale Kriminele Hof.  Die wreedheid van die Palestynse situasie maak vergelykings met apartheid in Suid Afrika oorbodig en byna irrelevant.  Die maatstaf is die internasionale reg, nie Suid-Afrika nie…

Vir die volledige dokument: Die Bethlehem Oproep


[1]  Relevante internasionale wette sluit in die International Convention on the Suppresion and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (aanvaar in 1973 en geaktiveer in 1976); en die Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Artikel 7(1)(h) & (j), en artikel 2 (g) & (h) van 1988.

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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