Dr. Hanan Chehata
Easter was the perfect opportunity for Christians to reconsider their position on the Palestine/Israel conflict and many did. In South Africa, more than sixty church leaders and theologians showed their support for Palestine and expressed their condemnation of Israel’s apartheid policies by supporting the 2009 Kairos Palestine document. This was a paper written by Palestinian Christians and endorsed last December by many high-ranking church leaders. Citing the military occupation of Palestine as a “sin against God and humanity”, the Kairos document refers to the daily humiliation endured by Palestinians of all faiths at the hands of the Israeli regime and claims that the illegal Israeli settlements are ravaging Palestinian land. In doing so, it calls upon the international community and world leaders to withdraw their support for Israel and support campaigns to boycott Israel instead, and to compel Israel to abide by international law.
The renewed wave of support for Kairos coming out of South Africa is an encouraging sign that support for the Palestinian cause is not waning among the churches of the world. On the contrary, support for Palestinians in Christian circles is gaining moral traction and theological legitimacy. This is a very important trend, especially considering the fact that Christian Zionists have been among the most vocal and influential in support of the state of Israel. While there are only 15 million Jews worldwide, there are an estimated 50 million Christian Zionists and the loss of their support will have a profound impact on the overall stability and viability of the Zionist state.
Declarations of support for documents such as Kairos must surely compel Christian Zionists to re-examine their commitment to the state of Israel. The South African Christian response to the Kairos Palestine document frames its arguments in both religious and non-religious terms. In terms of non-religious arguments the South Africans address the building of the separation wall and explain how the apartheid state that Israel has created is now worse than the South African apartheid version ever was. They tell the Palestinian people in no uncertain terms, “From our own experience of apartheid, we can clearly and without equivocation say that your situation is in essence the same as apartheid and in its practical manifestation even worse than South African apartheid.” Consequently, they call upon all of the communities of the world to support the boycott of Israel and they call upon their own government to cut some of the “sinister” ties that regretfully exist between Israel and South Africa.
For those Christians who would welcome some clarification from their church leaders on what their religious stance should be on the whole Palestine-Israel conflict, the declaration issued last weekend presents the situation in unambiguous theological terms. The church signatories had no hesitation in “declaring the occupation a sin and evil”. Furthermore, they profess to the Palestinian people that, “for this sin to be committed in the land where Jesus was born, raised, where he ministered, was crucified, rose and ascended, makes it necessary for us to take your situation even more seriously. Jesus must be weeping at the injustice that he sees in Jerusalem”. In fact, the declaration goes so far as to declare that modern day Christian Zionism “can only be described by us as a modern-day heresy”. The signatories say that “this kind of Christianity” serves to “make the Christian faith a servant of an evil ideology”.
The South African response is also significant in that it addresses the matter in terms of “repentance”, thus echoing the call of the 2009 document which issued “a call to repentance; to revisit fundamentalist theological positions that support certain unjust political options with regard to the Palestinian people. It is a call to stand alongside the oppressed and preserve the word of God as good news for all rather than to turn it into a weapon with which to slay the oppressed”. These are all extremely strongly worded statements which will not have been issued lightly and which should not therefore be taken lightly. They show just how serious theological condemnation is becoming for those who support Israel from within the ranks of Christianity. This is a welcome development from a faith that professes love, humanity and morality above all else.
Easter was indeed the perfect time for this declaration of support to be issued. Not only is it the time for revitalised spirituality for many Christians but it also arrived this year at a time of frustration for many Palestinian Christians who were prevented from celebrating their holy days freely as a result of Israeli-imposed restrictions in the Holy City. As Britain’s Amos Trust reported, “Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Holy Fire Saturday and Easter Sunday are the holiest days celebrated by Christians in Jerusalem, but through road blocks in the old city and a police presence with machine guns, as well as rude and hostile attitudes from police and army officers, Christians are increasingly being restricted from being able to move freely.” Although obviously most frustrating for Christians at this time, the situation serves as a reminder of what all Palestinians go through every day of the year under the oppression of the Israeli colonialists.
It is promising that the view of Israel as an apartheid state is gaining ground. It has already found a foothold amongst student organisations and civil society bodies, trades unions and so on; it is encouraging, therefore, to see religious groups also take more of an interest in what is happening in the Holy Land. As this view takes hold, the less legitimacy Israel will have.
In an article in the Financial Times, Mustafa Barghouthi wrote, “Even Israel knows there is no future in apartheid”. He pointed out that in 2007 Ehud Olmert (the then Prime Minister of Israel) said, “If the day comes when a two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the Territories) then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.” That day of reckoning may very well come for Israel in the same way that it came for the apartheid regime in South Africa, and much sooner than the Israelis think. The more Israel denies the human and legal rights of the Palestinians, be they Christians or Muslims, the more it will be viewed with the same revulsion as the Jim Crow era in America and the apartheid era in South Africa. The only way for Israel to save itself from such a poor image and censure is for it to change its policies and grant the Palestinian people their rights once and for all. Until then, the Kairos Palestine document and similar attempts to bring Israel to account for its oppression of the Palestinian people should be supported and proliferated worldwide with renewed vigour based, for Christians especially, on a fresh spiritual momentum and theological justification for such a position.