Condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Christian leaders call on their brethren worldwide to rise up in action
Palestinian Christian leaders, representing churches and church-related organisations, have launched a “landmark campaign” aimed at enlisting Christians worldwide in proactive efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, reports Khaled Amayreh in Bethlehem. The unprecedented initiative, called “Kairos Palestine-2009: A moment of truth”, appeals to churches worldwide to treat Israel in the same way they had treated the erstwhile South African apartheid regime.
The authors of the 13-page document include such religious leaders as Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, Archbishop of Sebastia Atallah Hanna from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, as well as the heads of various denominations in occupied Palestine.
“We, Palestinian Christians, declare in this historic document that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity and that any theology that legitimises the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed and a call to justice and equality among peoples,” reads the document.
The authors said they hoped that the document would raise the conscience of Christians worldwide on the enduring Palestinian plight. “We hope, as Palestinian Christians, that this document will be the leverage for the efforts of all peace-loving peoples in the world, especially our Christian sisters and brothers. We hope that it will be welcomed positively and will receive strong support, as was the case with the South Africa Kairos document launched.”
In Christian theological terminology, the word “kairos” means “moment of truth” or “time for action”.
The document elaborately describes the bleak conditions of life under the 42-year-old Israeli military occupation and the extreme oppression to which Palestinians, Muslims as well as Christians, are subjected, citing examples such as the annexation wall, continued Jewish settlement expansion and the daily humiliation Palestinians experience at military checkpoints as they make their way to jobs, schools and hospitals.
“Religious liberty is severely restricted, the freedom of access to holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians…
“Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the apartheid wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, the city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.”
The document also illustrates how Israeli repression and systematic persecution of Palestinians is forcing many young Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, to emigrate.
“Emigration is another element in our reality. The absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes young people to emigrate. Thus the land is deprived of its most important and riches resource- educated youth.”
One author of the landmark document, Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the main aim of the initiative was to alert Christians worldwide to the critical situation in occupied Palestine. “We are a peaceable people, we are not terrorists because we first and foremost are victims of Israeli terror. We love freedom, we love justice, we love our country, we love Jerusalem and we insist on living with human dignity.”
Hanna stressed that Christians everywhere had a paramount religious and human duty to stand on the Palestinians’ side. “This is a human and moral responsibility that churches and Christians in general must not flinch from shouldering.”
An active critic of Israeli occupation and oppression, Hanna said the situation on the ground in occupied Palestine was becoming unbearable in many respects, which he said made it imperative upon Christians and all men of conscience to help end “this nightmare”.
According to Rifat Kassis, a spokesman for “Kairos Palestine-2009,” Christian leaders in occupied Palestine have been deliberating the initiative for several months. “Ultimately we hope that Christian institutions, including churches around the world, will endorse this document and act on it in the same way churches related to the anti-apartheid regime in South Africa in 1985. In the final analysis, apartheid can’t be wrong in South Africa and right in occupied Palestine.”
Asked why the initiative is being launched now, Kassis said the situation in occupied Palestine had reached a crossroads. Quoting from the document, Kassis said: “… because today we have reached the dead-end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it. What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and the Arab world doing? What is the church doing? The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the church.”
Conscious of the fact that the document would be rejected by Christian allies of Israel, such evangelical Zionists, the authors of “Kairos Palestine-2009” urged churches to rediscover the fundamental values of justice in Christian theology. “Ours is a call to stand alongside the oppressed and preserve the word of God as good news for all rather than turn it into a weapon with which to slay the oppressed. The word of God is a word of love for all His creation. God is not the ally of one against the other, nor the opponent of one in the face of the other. God is the Lord of all and loves all, demanding justice from all and issuing to all of us the same commandments.
“We ask our sister churches not to offer theological cover for the injustice we suffer, for the sin of the occupation imposed upon us. Our question to our brothers and sisters in the churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back? For this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love.”
While making sure to condemn all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the authors called on Christians worldwide “At the same time… to say a word of truth and to make a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. As we have already said, we see boycott and disinvestment as tools of non-violence for justice, peace and security for all.”
By Khaled Amayreh