Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

20 Dec, 2009

Palestinian Christians call for end to Israeli occupation

Originally Published: 20 Dec 2009

A fortnight before Christmas, Palestinian Christians and a number of church leaders have issued a “historic document” calling on Israel to end its occupation of Palestine and the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Already making the rounds of Christian media and faith groups, the ground-breaking document for the first time positions the pursuit of freedom for the Palestinian people in the same vein as the anti-apartheid struggle of the indigenous peoples of South Africa. Equally significantly, it identifies the Israeli occupation as the root cause of terrorism, and decries the portrayal of Muslims and Palestinians as “terrorists.”

“The Kairos Palestine Document” (see the full text at www.kairospalestine.ps) was issued on December 11 following a meeting of leaders of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches in the occupied territories. Its signatories include the Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and a number of other Christians and Christian religious leaders.

The document has been timed just before Christmas to encourage deep reflection among those who will enjoy the festive spirit next week and invite them to spare a thought for the hopelessness and despair of the Palestinians (quite a few of whom are Christians).

It says “We address ourselves to our brothers and sisters, members of our Churches in this land. We call out as Christians and as Palestinians to our religious and political leaders, to our Palestinian society and to the Israeli society, to the international community, and to our Christian brothers and sisters in the Churches around the world.”

It adds, “We hope also that it will be welcomed positively and will receive strong support, as was the South Africa Kairos document launched in 1985, which, at that time proved to be a tool in the struggle against oppression and occupation.”

A preamble on the website says, “This document is the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine. It is written at this time when we wanted to see the Glory of the grace of God in this land and in the sufferings of its people.”

The document says the Palestinian “have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades. The suffering continues while the international community silently looks on at the occupying State, Israel. Our word is a cry of hope, with love, prayer and faith in God.”

It adds, “In this historic document, we Palestinian Christians declare that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity, and that any theology that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed, a call to justice and equality among peoples.”

The document says that today, “we have reached a 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. The hearts of the faithful are filled with pain and with questioning: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in 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.”

The most heart-breaking part is the detailed account of suffering in the Palestinian territories, thus:

“The separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, a large part of which has been confiscated for this purpose, has turned our towns and villages into prisons, separating them from one another, making them dispersed and divided cantons. Gaza, especially after the cruel war Israel launched against it during December 2008 and January 2009, continues to live in inhuman conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from the other Palestinian territories.

“Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution.

“Reality is the daily humiliation to which we are subjected at the military checkpoints, as we make our way to jobs, schools or hospitals.

“Reality is the separation between members of the same family, making family life impossible for thousands of Palestinians, especially where one of the spouses does not have an Israeli identity card.”

The document says that “religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the 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. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.”

It cites the refugees “still living in camps under difficult circumstances” and still “waiting for their right of return, generation after generation.” It draws attention to the “thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons” and asks, “The Israelis move heaven and earth to gain the release of one prisoner, and those thousands of Palestinian prisoners, when will they have their freedom?”

Describing Jerusalem as “the heart of our reality,” it says “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, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.”

It says that “the absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes young people, both Muslim and Christian, to emigrate. Thus the land is deprived of its most important and richest resource — educated youth. The shrinking number of Christians, particularly in Palestine, is one of the dangerous consequences, both of this conflict, and of the local and international paralysis and failure to find a comprehensive solution to the problem.

It decries the “Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights’ organizations, the injustice continues.”

In one of its most significant comments, the document says: “In the face of this reality, Israel justifies its actions as self-defence, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians. In our opinion, this vision is a reversal of reality. Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity. Therefore, we call on the Israelis to end the occupation. Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace.”

It notes that negotiations, which was the official position of the Palestinian Authority, “did not advance the peace process.”

“Some political parties followed the way of armed resistance. Israel used this as a pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists and was able to distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aiming at ending it.”

It also sees divestiture and economic divestment as being a peaceful way to end the suffering, exactly the same strategy that was used to end apartheid in South Africa.

Urging Christians to go and see the situation themselves, and meet with the Palestinian Christian groups to listen to their side of the story, and not just the Israeli version, the document also holds out hope “that those who have faith in God’s love will eventually triumph.”

By debunking the lies, myths, falsehoods and stereotypes about the Palestinian issue, and coming from people with impeccable credentials, the document has placed some pre-Christmas food for thought on the plates of Christians worldwide.

Over and above everything else, the document is a strong challenge to the Jews and Israelis to think about their own suffering in the Holocaust and whether they are now effectively doing unto others what was once done unto them.

Time for some true soul-searching indeed.