#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.

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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.

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Yom Kippur: Why some South African Jews fasted for Gaza

Our religion and cultural beliefs require us to help repair the world. It is time the Jewish people as a whole begin engaging in our own version of liberation theology: Tikkun olam.

These are the words of a group of mostly South African Jews. They also said that religion means nothing if it does not serve justice. The group dedicated the most important dates on the Jewish calendar to reflect on what their Jewishness mean in light of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the recent bombing of Gaza.

This is how they explain their decision:

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The fast is a spiritual, social and political practice that is many thousands of years old. Most major religions and ethnicities practice some form of fasting whether it is a partial fast (the refusal of certain foods and drinks) or an absolute fast (the abstinence from all food and water).

Spiritually, its purpose usually includes forms of meditation or prayer, a physical cleansing, an interpersonal request for repentance, and an expression of solidarity with the poor.

In recent decades, however, the fast has also been transformed into an act of political activism and the long-term hunger strike has often come to be one of the most effective forms of civil disobedience out there. It is used both as an appeal to the oppressor’s conscience and also, more importantly, a method to galvanise supporters behind a specific social justice campaign. Most recently, the hunger strike successfully has been used by Palestinian political prisoners to call attention to their unjust incarceration. In some cases throughout the world, it has also helped stimulate popular action that has brought down authoritarian governments.

The holiday of Yom Kippur is widely accepted as the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. On this day, we are requested to repent for all our wrong-doings during the previous year and resolve to not commit that transgression again in the future. If one is religious, one goes to Synagogue to pray and repent directly to God. However, even cultural non-religious Jews use the Yom Kippur fast as a time to reflect on where we have missed the mark, to correct wrongdoings and to mend relations with others.

However, one of the important points that many religious Jews make is that fasting and praying to God is not in fact the primary method of achieving atonement. Instead, being sincere about one’s regret for the wrong-doing and the rectification of one’s misconduct is fundamental (see also Isaiah, 58:1–13). This righting of wrongs should be done in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur.

Since we have been raised and educated with the memory of the Holocaust which killed tens of millions of Jews, Roma, Homosexuals, Communists and others, we are acutely aware of the pitfalls of nationalism that seeks to place one group of people above all others. Nationalism therefore has no place in the Jewish community with its attempt to make reality the motto, The Chosen People, in the form of Zionism. We don’t believe that there is anyone who is ‘chosen’. We are all people with the responsibility to do right by others whether they find themselves in the Warsaw ghetto, physically imprisoned in Gaza or economically confined in South African townships.

At the forefront of wrongs we need to right, is the ongoing mainstream Jewish support for the Israeli colonisation of Palestine and its continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This is being done in our name, and we have not done enough to stop it. It is for this reason that we believe that Gaza is the most urgent issue for us to reflect on this Yom Kippur. We will be going out and physically fasting and raising money for those in Gaza who have suffered unconscionable horrors.

Religion is inherently a political construct. This fact has been recognised by liberation theologists who believe that religion is nothing unless it is in the service of justice. Antisemitic and Racist churches played major roles in upholding the Nazi regime and Apartheid respectively. In contrast, liberation theology has long played an emancipatory role against oppression. During apartheid, progressive churches and mosques became key sites of political organising and in Latin America, rogue Catholic priests helped mobilise and protect the population against oppressive dictators.

Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who South Africa hosted in our country following the US coup in Haiti, has said “It is better not to believe than to believe in a miracle from heaven…there is no Messiah other than the people”. With this he sought to say that religion’s relevance is in its fight against injustice and that God would see this as the true purpose of religion.

Dedicating our Yom Kippur fast to the people of Gaza follows this line of thinking. Unlike the dominant Zionist organisations, some of whom preach ethnic and religious nationalism and the bombing of Gaza directly from the bimah (the Jewish equivalent of a pulpit), our beliefs are based on tolerance, inclusivity and social justice. We think that this is what Judaism, and Yom Kippur in particular, is all about.

Case in point is the prophetic reading recited on the morning of Yom Kippur which in fact denounces people who fast as a substitute for working for social justice.

We have dedicated our fast to raising money for the Gaza Community Mental Health Program – a well-known and respected organisation founded by the first psychiatrist in the Gaza Strip, Dr Eyad el Sarraj. The GCMHP is renowned for helping Palestinians move beyond their collective trauma to recognise the basic humanity of all human beings.

Yet it is not good enough for us merely to give charity to such an important cause. Tzedakah, in its biblical conception, is about much more than this. It embodies the theology that Jews are obligated – rather than asked – to seek economic and social justice with the oppressed.

Our religion and cultural beliefs require us to help repair the world. It is time the Jewish people as a whole begin engaging in our own version of liberation theology: Tikkun olam.

Jared Sacks
Benjamin Fogel
Heidi Grunebaum
Lauren Segal (USA)
Koni Benson
Emma Daitz
Monique Marks
Steven Friedman
Ru Slayen
Rina King
Jill Chamsa
Janet Brenda Shapiro
Anonymous 1
Anonymous 2

The following non-Jews  fasted in solidarity with us:
Saydoon Nisa Sayed
Nina Butler
Clint Le Bruyns

Yom Kippur 2014 began in the evening of Friday, October 3 and ended in the evening of Saturday, October 4.

Op soek na die waarheid

Op die vyftigste dag van die uitmergelende 2014 konflik tussen Israel en Gaza het ‘n groepie van vyf kerklidmate na ‘n DVD, Roadmap to Apartheid gekyk. Dié lede van die Fontaineblue Gemeenskapskerk (lid van die NG Kerk) wou graag meer verstaan van die konflik tussen Palestina en Israel. Dit mag onbeduidend klink – dit was immers net vyf mense. Tog het ek geleer dat ‘n verskuiwing in persepsies juis so kan begin – met een of twee mense wat kritiese, eerlike vrae vra.

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So skryf Ds Johan Pieters, leraar van die gemeente, op Fontianeblue Gemeenskapskerk se webblad oor die rol van Afrikaans-sprekende witmense en die soeke na waarheid:

Soos dit met hierdie kontroversiёle sake gaan is daar soveel mense, soveel menings. FGK se styl met kontroversiёle sake (soos homoseksualiteit, die bestaan van die bose, Belhar, saam-woon en die huwelik) is om te erken dat daar verskillende standpunte is. Ons glo ons taak is om te probeer om mekaar te verstaan, en dalk so ‘n gemeenskaplike konsensus te ontwikkel. Gesprek oor Israel-Palestina is dus ook nodig.

Wat het ek so ver geleer deur na die DVD te kyk en daaroor met mede-lidmate te gesels?

Dit het algemeen geword om Israel se optrede “Apartheid” te noem. Blykbaar is Sen. John Kelly die persoon wat eerste keer die vergelyking getref het, maar dr. HF Verwoerd het al in die 60’er jare al oor Israel as ‘n Apartheidstaat gepraat. Die video gebruik ons Apartheidsgeskiedenis om die Israel-Palestina konflik, en die impak daarvan op mense, in perspektief te stel.

Die eerste saak is dat ons, veral Afrikaans-sprekende wit mense (jammer vir die etiketering), hierdie konflik moet probeer verstaan. Ek is oortuig dat ons nie net anders na ons eie geskiedenis gaan kyk nie – en daarmee bedoel ek nie dat ons onsself nou nog meer moet treiter en aan self-veroordeling moet deelneem nie. Ek dink ‘n poging om die konflik te verstaan kan ons selfs help met ‘n stuk genesing en perspektief oor wat met ons gebeur het, insig in wat ons blindekolle was. Die vrug kan wees dat ons met groter deernis na albei partye se posisie kan kyk.

Die tweede saak wat my bybly, is die vraag na die waarheid. Hoe kies ek “kant” in ‘n situasie waar daar soveel teenstrydige perspektief en aansprake op feite is? Feite wat ek baie moeilik kan kontroleer. Vir my lyk die antwoord dat ek ‘n geloofskeuse moet maak. So ‘n geloofskeuse het nie te doen met ek “glo” Israel, of ek “glo” Hamas is “reg” nie. Dit het te make met ‘n keuse wat versoenbaar is met ons Godsbegrip – wat natuurlik self ook nie ‘n eenvoudige saak is nie. Die geloofsuitspraak wat ek maak is: “Ek glo dat God ‘n God van lewe is”, daarom moet ek wat die saak betref keuses maak wat “lewe” sal bevorder. Met lewe bedoel ek nie maar net fisies lewe nie, maar ‘n lewe wat met waardigheid geleef kan word, in gehoorsaamheid aan ‘n roeping, met betekenis en ideale geleef kan word – natuurlik sluit dit in dat daar ook toegang moet wees tot die middele om so ‘n lewe te kan leef.

Ek dink nie dat die konflik vir enige burger van Israel of Palestina ‘n moontlikheid van so ‘n lewe bied nie. Die konflik is ‘n konteks van dood vir albei groepe – net soos Apartheid ‘n konteks van dood was vir wit en swart in Suid-Afrika. Ek is wel oortuig dat (selfs al is die DVD net 50% akkuraat) die Palestyne in hierdie konflik die weerloses is, en dat God op ‘n “besondere manier” (as ek Belhar se formulering mag gebruik) aan die kant van die armes, swakkes en weerloses is. Die sterker een, die een met die mag in hierdie konflik is Israel. Hulle word deur God geroep om aan God se kant te wees, m.a.w. om saam met God by die Palestyne te staan.

Hierdie konflik is veel meer as net ‘n reaksie op “Hamas het drie Israeli tieners doodgemaak, en daarom het Israel gereageer.” (Terloops dit is nog ‘n ope vraag of dit regtig Hamas was wat die tieners doodgemaak het!) Dit is ‘n dekade-oue konflik oor saam-leef en saam-bestaan, dit is ‘n konflik oor aspirasies en vrese, oor vryheid en veiligheid, oor identiteit en mens-wees. Dit is dalk so eenvoudig soos: Hoe kyk ek na jou? Is jy ‘n mens of nie, iemand of ‘n niemand?

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Die foto’s in hierdie stuk is in Oktober 2011 geneem in die Wes-Oewer, Palestina. Die fotograaf is Jan-Egil Bergh van Noorweë wat destyds saam met my menseregte-oortredinge gemoniteer het. (EAPPI is ‘n program van die Wêreldraad van Kerke. EAPPI program = Ecumenical Accompaniment in Palestine and Israel.)

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South African Muslims reject violence in the name of Islam

 

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It is increasingly important and urgent for people of different faiths to stand together against a destruction of the sacredness of humanity. Let us who share the same values, take hands. As a Christian I support and have signed this petition by South African Muslims.

You too can sign their petition by clicking on this link.

Here is their full statement:

As South African Muslims, we reject the actions of groups that have adopted murder, kidnapping and violence against innocent people, the destruction of schools, sacred spaces and forced conversions, in the name of Islam. These include Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al Qa’eda, and more recently, the “Islamic State”.

We stand in solidarity with Christians, Yazidis, Jews and Muslims who have been forced to leave their homes, and have experienced terror and trauma at the hands of those who claim to speak for Islam, but are behaving in a manner contrary to the tenets of our faith.   We are proud Muslims who stand for justice. We stand with communities that have been divided, with women who have been raped, with churches that have been razed. We stand with children that have known nothing but war, and death. We condemn the action of groups that use the religion of Islam to justify their brutality against innocent men, women and children of all faiths.

We acknowledge the legitimate concerns of groups that have been economically and politically marginalised, but call for political reform based on inclusivity. We also believe that military intervention, led by the U.S government, is inappropriate and more harmful. We call for the responsible use of terms like “jihadist” or “Islamist”. The human rights abuses perpetrated by these terrorists and killers have nothing to do with the concept of Jihad which is to “struggle” or “strive” for goodness. Their behaviour is contrary to Islam’s teachings, and are repugnant to Muslims worldwide.

The Islam that we know and love is centred on values of justice, mercy and compassion. It stands in solidarity with all people facing persecution.    These organisations – and the states that sponsor them – do not act in our name. We reject this hijacking and misrepresentation of Islam’s teachings. We further reject all forms of sectarianism – in the South Africa that we love, and in majority Muslim countries.      “Remember that people are of two kinds; they are either your brothers in religion or your brothers in mankind.” –  Ali ibn Abu Talib, Muslim caliph and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad.

Sign the petition by clicking here.

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South African Churches urged to Pray for Peace on 16 March

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Many South African Christians do not know how Israel oppresses Palestinian Christians. Said the new leadership of the South African Council of Churches on 26.02.2014:

“…we urge churches to campaign for greater awareness on all Palestinian struggles in general and the plight of Palestinian Christians in particular. We also request churches to dedicate Sunday services on March 16th during the upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) campaign to reflect and pray for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel.”

Let us pray for both the oppressed and the oppressor. Let us ask to be enthused with wisdom and love when we speak up and act on behalf of the Palestinians. Let us ask to be guided to bridge the divide between people.

The SACC’s new leadership includes Bishop Z. Siwa as the new President of the SACC,  Dr Frank Chikane as the Senior Vice President and Father Michael Lapsley as Vice President:

zipho siwa

Bishop Siwa is Presiding Bishop (president) of the Methodist Church. He preached at former President Mandela’s funeral in Qunu where Mandela’s body was laid  to rest.

frank chikane

Rev. Frank Chikane is well known in the local and international evangelical community.

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Fr. Michael Lapsley’s work in healing of memories in post-apartheid South Africa is well known internationally. His arms were blown off in letter bomb in the 1980’s when he was chaplain in the ANC in Harare.

I congratulate the new leadership of the SACC and I believe that with this group, we start a new era. I also hold them in my prayers. May they be blessed with the necessary vision, the energy, the wisdom and the support in taking on the huge challenges in South Africa and abroad.

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Here is their full statement:

South African Council of Churches Triennial Conference Statement

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) held its Triennial Conference from the 25-26th February at the Willow Park Lodge under the theme “God of Life: Renew, Restore and Transform us for the service of Your Kingdom.” The SACC Conference drew inspiration and hope from the key text found in Isaiah 43:19: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”, as it reflected on the state of the nation, the economy and the SACC.

On reflecting on the state of the nation, we give thanks and praise to Almighty God for the changes in our country since the birth of our democratic South Africa some 20 years ago. We recognise with thanksgiving and gratitude the many positive things that have been accomplished in these past years. We also, regrettably, express our concern that still much more must be achieved in the areas of education, health and social transformation. We were hoping that President Jacob Zuma would have used the opportunity in his recent State of the Nation Address to unfold a vision and action plan to address these issues as we move into the future but we were left somewhat disappointed that this was not the case. We are deeply concerned about the ever increasing corruption, service delivery protests and the unrest and violence it is bringing upon our land. Particularly disheartening is the fact that innocent people are dying at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them.

We are really concerned about the safety of our children as we observe the increasing numbers of rape, sexual abuse and murders of innocent little ones. We are deeply alarmed by the rising cultic and satanic practices, rituals and killings that seem to attract our youth. We realise that the context in which we do mission and ministry as churches has become a moral challenge. Hence we call on church leaders to not wait for government alone to address these matters but to seriously engage and address these on the ground.

On reflecting on the state of the economy, we express our deep concern over the widening gap between the rich and the poor in South Africa. We are therefore not surprised by the strikes and protests emerging from the mines and other sectors of business and society. Inequalities in society are bound to lead to social instability and this is what we are seeing daily in our country. Added to this is the escalating rate of unemployment and the struggles young people are encountering to find decent jobs. Resources are a gift from God for all and not just a few. We call on our churches to proclaim this biblical message as we seek to address the inequalities and economic discrepancies in our country, especially as we focus on the needs of the poor. We hope and pray that the latter would be seriously factored into Budget Speech of the Minister of Finance. We thus call for a fresh social dialogue on the trajectory of the political economy of our country.

The Conference also recognised that on the 7th May 2014 South Africa will hold its next General Elections. We take joy in the report of the IEC that more people have registered to vote than ever before and this includes 1.2 million new young voters. We encourage all those who have the right to vote to exercise it in the interest of our democracy and the development of our country. We call on all political leaders and parties to restrain from acts of violence and to refrain from endeavours to make certain areas as “no go areas” for other political parties to campaign. Indeed, we call upon churches to pray for, and participate at all cost to ensure that the elections are peaceful, free and fare.

The Conference also heard about the situation in Palestine and Israel and called for all parties concerned to work towards a just peace and reiterated our solidarity and support for all those working towards this goal. We urge churches to campaign for greater awareness on all Palestinian struggles in general and the plight of Palestinian Christians in particular. We also request churches to dedicate Sunday services on March 16th during the upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) campaign to reflect and pray for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel.

Against this background and in keeping with its theme, the Conference entered into a process in which it looked at the role and value of the SACC today, what it could do to renew, restore and transform the organisation, and the value Member Churches and partners could bring to the work and life of the SACC. This exercise injected a strong positive response and commitment of churches to the work of the SACC and created a new found spirit and joy to make it a formidable and strong organisation again.

All the material collected from the SACC conference will be processed, analysed and sent to the participants by the new SACC National Executive Committee with the intention of paving a new direction for the SACC which is expected to also impact on its future operational, management and organisational structures. We call on all our member churches and ecumenical partners to continue to pray for the renewal, restoration and transformation of the SACC and to also visibly and financially commit themselves to the work, life and witness of the SACC. We need to be in relationship with one another. We need to meet, pray together, listen to God and go out into the world to be His presence.

The Conference elected Bishop Z. Siwa as the new President of the SACC and Dr Frank Chikane was elected as the Senior Vice President and Father Michael Lapsley as Vice President. A new Executive Committee (NEC) was elected and would duly continue the work of the SACC. May we keep them in our constant prayers as we continue to pray, God of Life: Renew, Restore and Transform us for the service of Your Kingdom.”

ISSUED BY REV. DR. JERRY PILLAY ON BEHALF OF SOUTH AFRICAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES.

FOR COMMENT:

REV. DR JERRY PILLAY: 0827193532

VUYANI PULE: 0822113285 / 0112417808 


********************************************
SOUTH AFRICAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
Khotso House, 62 Marshall Street, Johannesburg, South Africa
P.O Box 62098, Marshalltown, 2107, South Africa


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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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We can

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A very dear friend forwarded me these two quotes:

The individual is capable of both great compassion and great indifference. He has it within his means to nourish the former and outgrow the latter. 
Norman Cousins

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

We can – if we want to.

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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.

Scientific proof: Praying and the sharing of thoughts really work – but under which circumstances?

What do we when we know that others suffer and we are far from them?  When we advocate and mobilise, but still, the terrible violations of human rights continue relentlessly, day after day?

According to the Geneva Convention(art 49, par. 6) the occupier (Israel) must protect the interests of the occupied party (Palestine and its people) and it may not settle parts of its own civil population there. But the government of Israel does not respect this law.

Moreover, the illegal inhabitants of the West Bank (Israeli settlers), the Israeli Civil Administration (a military body despite its name) and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) often join forces in the violation of human rights – and now  to flatten two rural Palestinian villages where the civilians, none with criminal records – mothers, fathers, teenagers and children all with faces, hearts and dreams, have every right to live.

Here is a link to how it all fits together:

“Civil Administration” and Settlers Join Forces to Destroy Palestinian Susya. Did the Court Wink and Nod?.

Does this leave us helpless?  Absolutely not.

We CAN DO something.  We can PRAY.  This is an action.

How do we know that prayer works?

According to Dr Larry Dossey (a physician of internal medicine) consciousness is capable of things that brains are incapable of.  He refers to a 1988 controlled study of the San Fransisco General Hospital which involved nearly 400 people, all of them in the coronary care unit.

The group that was prayed for appeared to do much, much better than the group which received no prayer.  I went to the medical literature to see if there had been any previous studies involving prayer to support this.  I was astonished to discover over 130 studies in this general area.

The thing is, the people who were prayed for, did not even know about the prayers.  Dossey continues to say that:

One of the common features of prayerfulness that really makes a difference in the world is empathy, caring, compassion, love and so on.  this has been demonstrated in the laboratory.  It is clear that the experiments don’ work very well if a person does not have empathy, love, compassion and caring for the object or subject they are trying to influence.  The experiments work so much better if there is an emphatic connection, a unity, a caring bond.

(Dossey, L. 1996. in Di Carlo, R.E. Towards a New World View. Epic Publishing: Erie.)

I think we should pray for both the Palestinians and those on the Israeli side – so that all can retain (or remember) their humanity.

(photo by Linda Baily from Whales)

My friend and EAPPI colleague Jan McIntyre organised a prayer vigil in Manitoba, Canada in light of the impending demolitions. This is her prayer:

Almighty and eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we give thanks for your presence.  You are our refuge in this troubled world.

In the birth of your son Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, you became one of us, sharing and understanding our humanity, our suffering and our problems.

We thank you that you took refuge in Egypt, identifying yourself with all who are refugees and victims of political power.

We thank you that you were crucified in Jerusalem, identifying yourself with every person who suffers and lives under occupation and injustice.

Loving God, we come before you now with all the troubles and pains experienced by your people in the Middle East.

We pray for all the victims of injustice and violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.   We pray for the people of Gaza and the West Bank who face daily injustice, hardship and cruelty.  We pray for those who have experienced recent demolition of their homes and community buildings, and for those whose villages are at imminent risk of demolition.  In particular, today we pray for the people of Susiya and Wadi J’Hesh.  Give them courage to walk through these difficult days, and maintain in them a continued commitment to the principles and practice of non-violent resistance, even in the face of violence towards themselves.

As we pray for the residents of Susiya and Wadi J’Hesh, we pray also for the residents of other Palestinian villages throughout the South Hebron Hills and the entire West Bank who are facing significant demolition orders against their villages. Grant them the peace of knowing that whatever happens, you are with them.  That the words “Allah Kareeem” –  “God is generous and will see us through this”, may offer strength and sustenance in this time of trial.

We pray for the people of these villages, people like all of us.  Mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, friends.  Ordinary folk….  Rural people who provide care for their sheep, their goats and their chickens.  Farmers who tend to their crops.  Children with school classes and homework.  People  – each one of them with hearts and faces and dreams.

We pray also for those who are responsible for injustices and all forms of violence.   We pray for political and military leaders, and we pray for the young Israeli soldiers who, in following military orders, are required to participate as perpetrators in these horrific demolitions.

We pray for the Israeli settlers, that they might open their hearts to the ways of justice and peace with their neighbours.

We pray for the Israeli activists who work steadfastly towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  Guide them as they share their desire and quest for peace with their fellow citizens.

We pray for the many internationals who work towards a just peace in this Holy Land, a just peace for both peoples.

We pray for the Israeli government and the Israeli people, that they may turn from this illegal military occupation and work towards a genuine peace with their Palestinian neighbours.

We pray that the Palestinian people will be open to working with the Israeli people towards a just peace for both.

We pray that fear on both sides may be overcome by trust and a mutual desire for the true well being of each other.

We pray that all involved may come to a place of respect and honour for the human dignity of one another.  That each may recognize their shared humanity with the other, and their shared place within Creation.

We pray that you will open the eyes of the world towards justice and reconciliation in this place of conflict.  Help us all to see that the security and freedom of one people is dependent upon the security and freedom of the other.

We pray for politicians around the world, but especially in Israel and Palestine, that they may realize that the security and peace we all long for will not come by the use of arms and force, but by living a mutual path of justice so that the two peoples together can work towards an equitable and peaceable shared future.

We give thanks today for those from around the world who are praying with us now as we pray,  offering with us prayers for all those affected by the military occupation of Palestine, with special concern for the people of the South Hebron Hills villages of Wadi J’Hesh and Susiya.   For those known to us, and for those unknown, we offer thanks as together we raise our prayers to you, O Holy One.

Holy Spirit, giver of life and new beginnings, help us to faithfully respond to God’s call to open ourselves to the pains of injustice of people wherever they may be, and to stand in solidarity with those who are hurting. May we, with our sisters and brothers around the world, open our hearts and confess our part in past injustices and find ways to build a just and secure future for all. Give us wisdom and courage in this difficult task.  And when the pressures of the situation leave us in despair, come with your Light to show us the way and to renew our strength and hope.

We ask these, and all our prayers, in the name of Jesus, the Christ,   Amen.

More information:
May Palestinians live on their own land? and
an article by Associated Press: Susiya AP Article June 21 2012