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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