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South Africa, Palestine and the Papal Visit to the Holy Land, by Charles Villa-Vicencio

The Dangerous Memory of the Gospel South Africa, Palestine and the Papal Visit to the Holy Land

 

By Charles Villa-Vicencio*

 

 

The church has long had a split personality, consisting of traditional believers who cling to institutionalized ritual and what they regard as doctrinal purity and activists whose faith prioritizes social action. Numerically the former is the larger group for the simple reason that most people are conformists who accept the religious and socio-political status quo of the day. The latter invariably comprises a smaller group of people who affirm that what they believe is a part of the Christian tradition that is suppressed, if not forgotten, by the dominant structures within the institutional church.

This smaller group is customarily side-lined by the church hierarchy and frequently persecuted by political authorities.  With some exceptions, however, the two sides of the church tend, with mutual irritation, to coexist. This leads to a situation where activists disturb the conscience of traditional believers, reminding them of what the Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz called the “dangerous memory of the Gospel”.

Jesus of History

Jesus was a native of the dusty, rural town of Nazareth, known for its political resistance to Roman occupation. Historians tell us that, apart from what is written in the Gospels, there are only two indisputable facts that we know about the historical Jesus:  the first is that he was a Jew who led a popular movement in Palestine at the beginning of the first century CE. The second is that Rome conspired with the Sanhedrin to crucify him, based on claims that he was the “King of the Jews”—a treasonous crime punishable by death.

The lines between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith preached by the church are blurred, with New Testament references to his teaching often contradicting one another. These include teachings that suggest racial exclusion – “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24); benevolent universalism—“Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19); peace and nonviolence— “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9);  and the promotion of violence— “Let him who has no sword, go sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).

The earliest New Testament writings are those attributed to St. Paul, dating back to approximately 48 CE when he wrote the first letter to the Thessalonians.  Paul’s primary interest was not, however,  the historical Jesus but the proclamation of a Christian message to gentiles in the broader Roman Empire. Mark’s account of Jesus was written after 70 CE, Matthew and Luke wrote between 90 and 100 CE and John somewhere between 100 and 120 CE, with various non-canonical gospels interspersed between these dates. A lot of history and interpretation happened between the time of the ministry of Jesus and the earliest records available that record that ministry. This requires any thoughtful person to put aside preconceived theological casuistry in keeping an open mind on what Jesus may or may not have taught.

 After the death of Jesus, James, “the brother of Jesus,” apparently emerged as leader of the embryonic church.  In continuity with the teaching of Jesus, he insisted that a follower of Jesus needed to show partiality in favor of the poor. His fierce support for the poor and sharp criticism of the rich, may well explain why Ananus, the self-indulgent high priest at the time, persuaded the Sanhedrin to preside over James’ execution around 62 AD. Chaos reigned in Palestine at the time and the Roman occupiers were driven out of Palestine in 66 CE in a rebellion led by Jewish nationalists and the Sicarii (dagger men or assassins). The Romans reclaimed Jerusalem in 70 CE when they unleashed an orgy of violence against all forms of Jewish nationalism. They desecrated and burned the temple and slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews.

Barnabas and Paul had in the meantime (around 50 CE) met with “pillars of the church,” James, Peter, and John, to confirm the legitimacy of their mission to the gentiles and the freedom of gentile converts to reject the Mosaic Law.  In so doing they extended the reach of the early church into the wider Roman Empire.  The tension between James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, is seen in the Epistle of James (probably compiled by an editor drawing on the teachings of James). Rejecting Paul’s emphasis on faith alone as a means of salvation, the writer insisted on both faith and works as a vehicle of salvation. As Christian history shows, Paul would win this debate—and fifteen hundred years later Martin Luther would reject the Book of James as an “Epistle of Straw”!

Peter and others would the flee Jerusalem to escape the persecution of Herod Agrippa, only to see Peter later crucified in Rome under the rule of Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar, probably in 66 CE.  Early Christians were at the same time eager to survive the onslaught on Jewish nationalists and distanced themselves from the Jews. They gradually transformed themselves from a Jewish sect into a separate religion centred in Rome, where Paul steadily moved the church towards a gospel more acceptable to the Hellenized culture of the Greco-Roman world. Despite this development, Paul would run afoul of the establishment, with tradition telling us that he too was executed after a lengthy period of imprisonment, possibly in the same year as Peter.

Bluntly put, the pendulum of the early church shifted away from its Jewish origins (and from the historic Jesus) to the Christ of faith as articulated by Paul. Paul’s emphasis was primarily on Christology rather than the historical Jesus, insisting that his authority came through “a [direct] revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12), which seems to allude to his Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:5). In claiming this authority, Paul’s references to Jesus, rather than taking his total ministry into consideration, are reduced to a spiritual reflection on the last supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), the crucifixion (I Corinthians 2:2) and the resurrection, without which he states “our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).

Given the demands of a gentile and Hellenized world to which Paul believed he was called, his ministry placed less emphasis than the gospel writers on the historical context within which Jesus lived. While Paul’s emphasis lessened the direct political impact of the message of Jesus in early Palestine, it was in continuity with the life of Jesus. In proclaiming that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,  for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), Paul’s message transcended race, gender and class.  This message is a crucial aspect of a gospel that rejects any sense of superiority by any group, based on race, culture, creed or gender, making it pertinent to apartheid South Africa and segregated Palestine. As such, Paul’s message needs to be embraced as a crucial part of what has been described as the “dangerous memory of the gospel” that undermines the complacency of the rich and powerful in any society.

Differently stated, there is an inter-related double heritage in the church, traceable to the person of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. One layer of this heritage is traceable to the teachings of Jesus contained in the gospels that capture the partiality of Jesus in support of the poor and oppressed, which led to his crucifixion and the martyrdom of his followers. The other layer concerns the universality of the gospel, emphasized in the teaching of Paul, which amplifies the teaching of Jesus as reflected in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, his encounter with the Syrophoenician women, and elsewhere.

Both heritages are pertinent to a church within a society subjected to ideological distinctions based on race, class and gender.

The Dominant Tradition of Christianity

The dominant message of any movement is invariably the message of those who wield most power at a given time. The dominant history of Christianity is the history told by those who exercised political power from the time of the Roman Empire to the global dominance of the United States of America today, where the story of Jesus is essentially the story told by that country’s “popular” evangelists. Importantly, however, this power has never been left unchallenged. We see this happening in countries across the world where the poor and the marginalized in each successive age rise in resistance, and sometimes in revolution, against those who oppress and exploit them.

This is what happened in South Africa where a measure of sanity eventually prevailed in the apartheid state with the democratic elections that saw the emergence of a black majority government under the remarkable leadership of Nelson Mandela. There is no indication that the unfinished Palestinian intifadawill in the immediate future realize what the South African struggle achieved in 1994.  It is clear, however, that Palestinian resistance will not subside before the Palestinian people are afforded the opportunity to create a democratic future. This is a tried and tested reality of all history. The question is what the role of the Palestinian and global church will be as this process unfolds.

I identify in what follows a theological conflict that reaches to the heart of Christian identity, suggesting that unless the global church is prepared to observe the Palestinian conflict from the sidelines, it will be obliged to take sides with marginalized Palestinians against Israeli power.

The dominant tradition in church-state relations as we know it today emerged with the rulers of the Roman Empire imposing its imprint on the church through the 313 CE Edict of Milan, instituted under the authoritarian rule of Constantine the Great. It was an imprint imposed with a level of subtlety and Machiavellian virtu that none of Constantine’s predecessors had been able to achieve through naked force. In the process the church became what was effectively a new imperial cult—transformed from a persecuted and impoverished social minority into a church led by a hierarchy of wealthy and powerful bishops, princes and emperors that assigned the poor to the margins of the church. By the high Middle Ages the dominant church had become the single most despotic political force in Europe.

Since this dramatic imperial feat, Christianity, with some notable exceptions, has grown accustomed to bolstering the powerful and neglecting the poor and vulnerable. Among the exceptions can be counted the confessing church in Nazi Germany, the church of the poor in Latin America that gave birth to liberation theology, the black theology genre that emerged from the civil rights movement in the U.S., the feminist and womanist theology movements in different parts of the world, and the signers of the three Kairos documents in South Africa (1985), Palestine (2009), and the United States (2011).

A further sense of hope in this regard has emerged in the apostolic exhortation, entitled, The Joy of the Gospel in which Pope Francis upholds the Christian calling to challenge the alliance between political and business leaders in the promotion of “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” He reaffirms a message in continuity with the Twenty-First Ecumenical Council and Pope John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra that was opposed by several influential social conservatives in the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis has declared his opposition to what he calls the “deified market” of free-market capitalism. He is however no radical; ready to renounce the social teachings of the Catholic Church. He affirms the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion, insisting that “unborn children” are “the most defenceless and innocent among us,” while contending “it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations.” He fits neither into any preconceived “liberal” nor “conservative” conclusions on moral theology, while calling the church to be in solidarity with the “weak and defenceless who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation.”

Given the influence of conservatives in the Catholic Church, the struggle for the soul of the Catholic Church is likely to be an intense one. It is at the same time clear that the election of Pope Francis as the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere will be drawn on by progressive Catholics to challenge conservative interests in the church.  

The Pope’s visit to the Holy Land this May will also mark the 50th anniversary of an historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI, when he met with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, which resulted in the easing of a 900-year-long Great Schism between the churches of the East and West. This will be only the fourth papal visit to the Holy Land since biblical times. The fact that the Holy Land is the entrenched symbol of the brutal conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and that Jerusalem is a Holy City to three of the world’s great religions will add to the expectations of what the Pope can achieve. The depth of these conflicts suggests, however, that these expectations will need to be constrained.

 Given the divide that exists between the dominant church, which is invariably careful not to offend the political powers, and activist Christians who effectively constitute a “church within the church,” Pope Francis’ visit will be carefully watched. Pertinent questions will arise concerning the level of unity among Christians regarding the Palestinian situation and the Pope’s response to the plight of the poor and marginalized people of the Holy Land. The struggle to define the message of the gospel and the response of the church to the needs of the poor can take on a new dimension as the eyes of the world’s media track the Pope’s visit.

   In each age, from the Middle Ages, through the Reformation and into the modern period Christians there have been Christians who paid the price of obedience, even at the cost of persecution and death. These range from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany to Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Martin Luther King Jr., the Trappist monks killed in the Algerian civil war and the Nag Hammadi massacre of Coptic Christians. There are, in turn, countless unknown martyrs throughout the Middle East and elsewhere whose lives reflected the tradition of resistance and martyrdom.

The killings, including those of children, in Palestinian occupied territory, in turn, happen on a regular basis. Media reports on the Israeli military operations in Gaza in 2008/09 were widespread and additional reports on the killing of children over the years are extensive. These include the killing by Israel Defense Forces soldiers of Jamil Jibji and several other children and teenagers from the Askar refugee camp, who were allegedly throwing stones at military vehicles. Bushra Bargis was killed by a sniper’s bullet with her school grammar book in her hand,  and earlier a Jewish settler was sentenced to a mere six months community service and a $17,000 fine for the beating to death of an 11-year-old Palestinian boy. There are at the same time an estimated 5,000-plus Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, including Marwan Barghoutiwho was convicted and given a life sentence for murder by an Israeli court. Barghouti has become the “face” of Palestinian political prisoners, as Nelson Mandela became the “face” of the campaign to release all political prisoners in South Africa in the “free Mandela” campaign. There are at the same time Jewish young men and women in the Army of the State of Israel who are refusing to surrender their lives in defence of an unjust state.

 

Kairos: The Favorable Time

 

The church is a global church, which requires Christians to be in solidarity with those who suffer in a particular place at a particular time. Churches are largely aware of this, as is manifest in their global ministry programs that increasingly include Palestine in their ministry. Palestinians, in turn, look to other places around the world where struggles for justice are being waged, to learn from the success and failures of these quests.

 

 Kairos South Africa 1985

South Africa is one of those places where Christians have fought the good fight for justice— and have to a significant sense succeeded, although there are obvious limitations inherent to the South African transition that Palestinians and others would do well to ponder. The overview of the South African struggle that follows is offered in the belief that comparative thinking and critique is required for Christians to “stand on the shoulders of others”—not in order to mimic them, but with a view to building on and improving their experiences and witness.

In this spirit of inquiry it is worth asking why it is that the South African struggle caught the imagination of the world. It was and is a struggle that is anything but romantic or painless. It cost those involved in the process dearly and there are lessons to be learned from its complicated history.

Early resistance to apartheid was essentially limited to peaceful protests. It was only after the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned in 1960 in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre and all channels for political opposition were eliminated that these groups resorted to armed resistance as a declared strategy to complement other non-violent strategies. There were at the same time, and continue to be, ideological differences and policy variations within the liberation movements, which militated against unified opposition to apartheid, much in the same way that Palestinian movements are marred by both inter- and intra-group conflict.  Ideological and political differences in South Africa led to the establishment of the Black Consciousness Movement under the leadership of Steve Biko in the late 1960s as well as other divisions and factions. The broader objective of resistance to white rule nevertheless grew and the global community was mobilized in support of this development, the internal struggle intensified and the resistance to apartheid within faith communities grew:

Global Support

The work of the ANC as well as the PAC, once they established themselves in exile with offices in London, Lusaka and countries around the world, was a crucial factor in the South African struggle. These organizations worked through the United Nations (UN), the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), and anti-apartheid organizations across the world, which resulted in a level of global opposition that led to the declaration of apartheid as a crime against humanity by the General Assembly of the UN. This came into force in 1976 and led to a process that included an international arms boycott, trade sanctions, cultural boycotts and student protests against the apartheid regime.

The Internal Struggle

Co-operation between ideologically estranged groups at home grew as a result of student movements, trade union affiliations and the establishment of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983 and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) in 1988. This mobilized black South Africans in a campaign to render the country ungovernable.

It was a costly process: 40,000 people were detained in the 1980s. There were dramatic increases of deaths in detention and in the flight of people into exile to join the armed struggle. Significantly though, as violent clashes between the government and the liberation movements escalated, clandestine meetings were being held between government leaders and the ANC. Structured meetings followed, top government officials met with Nelson Mandela and in December 1988 Mandela was moved from Pollsmoor Prison to Victor Verster Prison, with open telephone lines to consult with ANC colleagues in exile and in South Africa. In March 1989 Mandela wrote to President PW Botha, proposing that they meet to discuss the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Faced with global and internal pressure, the government released Mandela and others from prison. Political movements were unbanned and democratic elections were held in 1994.

Faith Communities

The struggle against apartheid was always political, reaching to every sphere of existence. As such it included the participation of faith communities. The World Council of Churches (WCC) and Program to Combat Racism within the WCC played a major international role in exposing the iniquities of apartheid. They mobilized churches across the world against apartheid and exposed the atrocities committed by the South African military in the frontline states of (then) South West Africa (Namibia), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Mozambique, and deeper into Africa.

  In South Africa religious communities were similarly mobilized to resist apartheid. The South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) played a significant role in this regard, even though these organizations failed to secure the unqualified support of their member churches in so doing.  Indeed, the divisions within member churches resulted in religious rivalry and the formation of splinter groups breaking away from the established churches, with the apartheid government taking advantage of this by pumping huge amounts of money into pro-apartheid groups in the churches.

Interfaith cooperation, both in opposing apartheid and in preparing the nation for democracy, was also a significant feature of the South African transition.  In 1991, a year after the release of Mandela from prison, South African Muslims convened a National Muslim Conference in Cape Town. This was a gathering of 750 Muslims representing every shade of Muslim opinion who came together to debate Muslim Personal Law and related matters of concern to Muslims in anticipation of a new South African dispensation. The conference committed itself to support a multi-faith culture under a secular constitution. A subsequent National Interfaith Conference involving Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and people of other religious beliefs, in turn, committed itself to support a political settlement, democratic elections and a secular constitution.

 It is important, however, to remember is that the religious resistance to apartheid and interfaith cooperation only came about in the wake of a long and hard-fought battle within which religious identities were used to bolster political conflicts. There were, however, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, members of other faiths, atheists, agnostics and secularists who found a deep common cause in their opposition to apartheid. They were frequently beaten by the police, imprisoned, driven into exile and in some cases killed, which deepened the solidarity among South Africans opposed to apartheid.

Facing an apartheid state that claimed to rule in obedience to God, it was Christians opposed to apartheid who felt a special responsibility to resist the state. The history of Christianity in South Africa tells of both confrontation and cooperation between church and state from the time of the arrival of the first white settlers in the country. It is from the time of colonial expansionism and the discovery of minerals in the nineteenth century that the institutional church was essentially supportive of white interests and privilege.

The turning point in Christian opposition to apartheid only came in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. The WCC convened a meeting in Cottesloe, Johannesburg, shortly after the massacre, to consult with South African churches concerning their stance on apartheid. The conference decisively voted against apartheid.  Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of statutory apartheid and prime minister at the time, rebuked the delegates to the conference from the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), the largest of the white Afrikaner Dutch Reformed Churches, by accusing them of forgetting their responsibility regarding the “high purpose of apartheid.” Many recanted, while Beyers Naudé, the moderator of the Southern Transvaal synod of the NGK, rejected Verwoerd’s reprimand and was later expelled from his church. As the divisions within the church deepened, a space opened up within which leaders from various churches, such as Beyers Naudé, Desmond Tutu and others, became household names in the fight against apartheid.

The theological breakthrough in the church struggle took a significant step forward with the publication of two important books. One was Allan Boesak’s doctoral thesis, Farewell to Innocence, in 1975. This was effectively the first black theology publication to capture public attention in South Africa. The other breakthrough came with the publication of Albert Nolan’s Jesus before Christianity in 1976.

Two earlier developments prepared the way for this breakthrough in different ways. The so-called English-speaking churches (the majority of whose members were black as result of nineteenth-century mission work) were instrumental in the writing of the Message to the People of South Africa in 1968, which rejected apartheid as a “pseudo-gospel.” The NGK, in turn, adopted a declaration in 1974 with the pretentious title of Human Relations and the South African Scene in the Light of Scripture, providing a biblical justification for apartheid. This led, largely at the instigation of Allan Boesak, to the decision of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), to adopt a resolution declaring the theological justification of apartheid to be a heresy. Boesak was also elected president of the WARC at their 1982 General Council, which afforded him a global platform to further mobilize the world-wide church against apartheid.

Among themost significant and prophetic events in the history of the theological struggle against apartheid in the turbulent 1980s by the church in resistance to apartheid were the controversial Call for the End to Unjust Rule, which emerged at a deeply divided South African Council of Churches conference in 1984 and the South Africa Kairos Document (published in 1985).[i] Both identified the rupture between the established institutional church and Christians in rebellion against apartheid. The Call for the End to Unjust Rule asked Christians to pray “that God will replace the present structures of oppression with ones that are just, and remove from power those who persist in defying his laws, installing in their place leaders who will govern with justice and mercy.”

The message of the 1985 South African Kairos Document was, in turn, clear that the witness of the prophetic church needs to be grounded in “an understanding of politics and political strategy” designed to change an unjust situation. It rejected a notion of reconciliation before the affirmation of justice and the blanket condemnation of “all that is called violence”, distinguishing between the violence associated with resistance to apartheid on the one hand and oppressive forms of institutional and police violence on the other. The Kairos Document reminded the church that tough calls need to be made in tough times.  It rejected “state theology” in which the apartheid state drew on a distorted interpretation of chapter 13 in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and other passages of scripture to claim its authority is derived from God. It also rejected “church theology,” describing it as having drawn on “a few stock ideas derived from the Christian tradition,” without taking sides with oppressed people in their fight against apartheid. In so doing it affirmed a “prophetic theology” which rejected the state as having “no moral legitimacy” and being “an enemy of the common good”, while rejecting the ethical restraint of the institutional church.

Kairos Palestine: 2009

Palestinians have fought hard for their freedom, with two burdens that are more difficult to carry than those faced by South Africans. These concern the limitations of global solidarity with Palestinians and the hesitation of the global church to support the Palestinian cause to the same extent that it supported the South Africa struggle.  This suggests the urgent need for levels of Palestinian unity, the global co-ordination of its work, domestic solidarity across ideological differences, the redefining of viable strategies for change and the need for the level of leadership that South Africans have produced not only in Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko and Desmond Tutu, but also leaders at other levels of society. Despite the remarkable theological work undertaken by Palestinian scholars and activists, such as Elias Chacour, Archbishop of the Melkite Church, and the Rev. Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, the WCC and WARC have not embraced the Palestinian cause with the same enthusiasm with which they embraced the anti-apartheid cause. Geopolitical factors supportive of Israel bear as heavily on the church as they do on other dimensions of the Palestinian situation.

Nevertheless, in 2009, an impressive number of Palestinian Christian institutions and leaders, including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, signed the Kairos Palestine document [for the complete list, see http://www.kairospalestine.ps According to its authors, Israel’s military occupation is “a sin against God and humanity,” and all peoples, political leaders, and decision-makers must “put pressure on Israel and take legal measures in order to oblige its government to put an end to its oppression and disregard for international law.” And explicitly, the document  affirms that nonviolent reaction to this injustice “is a right and duty for all Palestinians, including Christians.”

Kairos USA: 2011

 On June 18, 2011, Christianleaders from around the United States issued an official response to the Kairos Palestine document.

Called Kairos USA, it begins with a confession of sin for the failure to say “Enough” to Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian lands, as well as the equal failure to say “Enough” both to the billions of dollars the U.S. government gives Israel each year to subsidize its expanding settlements and to the veto-wielding votes it casts in the U.N. to shield Israel from international censure.

 The document ends by inviting Christians across the U.S. to join the nonviolent effort to support those in Israel, the occupied territories, and throughout the world who work to end the illegal occupation and redress other legitimate Palestinian grievances through peaceful means. The Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)  is directed at Israeli policy, not the state of Israel itself or its citizens, and certainly not against the Jewish people.  [For the list of signatories and other specific actions that can be taken, go to Kairos USA’s impressive website: http://www.kairosusa.org.

The honesty embedded in this document is a sobering challenge to Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world:

 As individuals and as church members, we have supported a system of control, inequality and oppression through misreading our Holy Scriptures, flawed theology and distortions of history. We have allowed to go unchallenged theological and political ideas that have made us complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Instead of speaking and acting boldly, we have chosen to offer careful statements designed to avoid controversy and leave cherished relationships undisturbed. We have forgotten the differences between a theology that supports the policies and institutional structures of oppression and a theology that, in response to history and human affairs, stands boldly with the widow, the orphan and the dispossessed.

 

The cautious response of the West to human rights abuses of Palestinians evokes the need for a prophetic theology which addresses the political challenges associated with the geopolitical forces of the West as currently being played out in the Middle East. This essentially involves the question whether the church is prepared to confront the sense of Constantinian captivity to the state that is challenged by the memory of Jesus of Nazareth, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith— and, from the perspective of African spirituality, the primary ancestor of the Christian community.

The dominant church in the West needs to be held accountable to this gospel, which an increasing number of Christians are beginning to realize. Consider, for example, Bishop Richard Pates who, as chairman of the Committee of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,  sent a letter, dated January 28, 2014, to Secretary of State John Kerry stating that the United States should urge the government of Israel to cease and desist in efforts to unnecessarily confiscate Palestinian lands.

This is Kairos, the favorable time, when God issues a challenge to decisive action. We are called on to ask whether, by default, if not by design, the church is sustaining an alliance between the church and a state that perpetuates the suffering of the poor and oppressed, or whether it is providing a voice for those who seek redemption from economic, political and ultimately spiritual destitution (Luke 4:18). It cannot serve both ends.

The Palestinian – South African Interface Today

The similarities between apartheid South Africa and Israeli discrimination against Palestinians is widely debated and need not be dealt with here.[ii] Suffice it to say, the connections are difficult to ignore. John Dugard, in 2001, as Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Commission, provided what is probably the most comprehensive study on the situation concerning the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.  Later, in his report to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in 2011, he charged that there are human rights abuses in Palestine threatening international peace which many in the West would like to see swept under the carpet.[iii]

 

Palestinians have fought hard for their freedom, with two burdens that are more difficult to carry than those faced by South Africans. This makes the building of global solidarity and international church cohesion in support of Palestine a priority for the ecumenical church, with the South African struggle in the 1980s providing an example of the kind of solidarity and theological commitment that is both needed and possible in maximizing opposition to unjust rule.

This said, the international church, as well as the church in Palestine and South Africa, needs explicitly to heed the failure of post apartheid South Africa to give sufficient attention to matters of major ethical and theological importance. Two critiques are pertinent in this regard: the failure of post-apartheid South Africa state to embrace the kind of economic transformation that is required to enable the victims of apartheid to liberate themselves from poverty; and its failure to give sufficient attention to the gender discrimination that was prevalent in both apartheid South Africa and, with some notable exceptions, in the liberation movements.

South Africa today, twenty years after the first democratic elections, faces a Gini coefficient above 63 which makes it one of the most unequal places on earth, with an income gap between the rich and the poor bigger than in Brazil or India. Ten percent of the country earns more than 50 percent of household income and the poorest 20 percent less than 1.5 percent of household income. This, together with corruption, government non-delivery and nationwide protests, is at the root of the country’s deepest crisis since its democratic transition in 1994.

There is at the same time documented evidence that women continue to be among the most exploited and impoverished of all South Africans. President Mandela was quick to recognise the need to address the structural and cultural obstacles to realising gender equality in South Africa. In a speech on Women’s Day in 1996 he observed:

The legacy of oppression weighs heavily on women. As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.

Despite the commitment of South Africa to gender equality, progress has been slow in addressing the profound inequalities in South African society

 

 

 

Towards a Prophetic Theology

The influence of Israel on the West’s global and Middle East policy is vast. The fact that the global church is at best restrained in confronting Western governments who choose to support the status quo in Israel, however, raises deep theological questions which the institutional church in the West is obliged to address. This essentially involves the question whether the church is prepared to confront the sense of Constantinian captivity to the state that is challenged by the memory of Jesus of Nazareth, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith – and, from a perspective African spirituality, the primary ancestor of the Christian community.

 

The 1985 Kairos Document has over the years  raised  several questions concerning aspects of the South African armed struggle, the legitimacy of violence, the relationship between justice and reconciliation, and the link between prophetic and pastoral theology – issues that are likely to debated for a long time to come.  It is at the same time important to note that the 2012 message addressed to the ANC by the Kairos Southern Africa movement, entitled Theological and Ethical Reflections on the 2012 Centenary Celebrations of the African National Congress offers a very different theology of church-state relations to that of the 1985 Document.  Although written in a decidedly different context to that which prevailed in the struggle against apartheid, the 2012 document is nevertheless too cautious and restrained in relation to the challenges that prevail in the country today.  As such it should not be left unchallenged by those who seek to be obedient to a gospel first proclaimed in first century Palestine.

 

The defining challenge of Kairos theology is to enquire whether by default, if not design, the church is sustaining an alliance between the church and a state that perpetuates the suffering of the poor and oppressed or whether it is providing a voice for those who seek redemption from economic, political and ultimately spiritual destitution. It cannot serve both ends.

An Interfaith Excursus

A long neglected dimension of prophetic theology is the need for interfaith dialogue and recent developments in the Middle East stress the need for people of different religions and factions within religions to find ways of mutual coexistence. The deep divisions within Islam, the presence of Egyptian-based Copts as well as small Jewish communities in Iran, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, all contribute to the religious heterogeneity of the region. Many of the existing national borders were ‘artificially imposed’ over a number of centuries, dividing ancient tribal, cultural and religious groups. The controversial Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 gave Britain and France control over the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian Peninsula. The first and second Balfour Declarations of 1917 and 1926 saw an escalation in the number of Zionist immigrants into Palestine and the state of Israel was established in 1948. This resulted in an increase of displaced people both within and beyond the borders of Palestine. Each of these developments has contributed to the emergence of religious-based ideologies and nationalisms that impact the region.

Mark Braverman, a devout Jewish American, who believes that working for justice in Palestine is the most import Jewish thing he can do, has contributed significantly to transcending the Jewish-Christian divide in the Palestinian conflict, as portrayed in his recent book, A Wall in Jerusalem.[iv] Together with organisations such as the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council and other Jews in America and elsewhere in the world, he draws on the Jewish theological tradition to support the Palestinian struggle for justice. He powerfully identifies the ‘Jewishness of Jesus’, and in so doing the authentic genius of Judaism. Reminding us that the early church was born in a struggle to define the authenticity of God’s will in the broken world of first century Palestine, Braverman insists that the Christian church is required to discern the will of God in Palestine, “guided by a vision of an alternative society in building God’s kingdom”. This, he argues, needs to be accomplished in response to what he defines as the tyranny of Israeli-American politics in the Middle East.

Of equal importance to Christian-Jewish relations are, of course, Christian-Muslim and Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations in Israel-Palestine and the Middle East, which clearly need to ensure that inter-faith debate reaches beyond doctrinal differences and similarities to deal with the political conflicts that are underpinned by religious ideologies.

These are dialogues that are, of course, portrayed nowhere more powerfully than in the city of Jerusalem. For Jews, Jerusalem is the city of King David and the location of the Jewish Temple, containing the Ark of the Covenant. For Christians, it is where Christ died, was buried and rose again, as well as being the birthplace of the Church.  For Muslims, it is holy because they believe Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Jerusalem’s Temple Mount during his Night Journey.

It is too much to expect that Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy City will result in historic reconciliation between Muslims and Christians or bridge the vicious gap between Israelis and Palestinians. His visit will however create the opportunity to highlight the plight of Palestinians as well as the plight of oppressed Christians in some Arab states. It is the obligation of Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land as well as in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, to ensure that the Pope is exposed to the suffering of the victims of abuse in their respective areas. Handled with integrity and sensitivity by all religious groups (Christians, Muslims and Jews in all their different sectarian forms) as well as Israeli and Palestinian political groups (in their different ideological guises), the papal visit can contribute to a new phase in the struggle to resolve the entrenched problem facing Israelis and Palestinians. During this visit the media will track every footstep the pope takes.

I had a theology professor who liked to tell his students that there are three areas of conflict in the world to which there was no human solution: South Africa, Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine.  Looking back, I would like to say to my honourable professor, “Well Sir, two down, one to go.” The question is how the Israeli-Palestine conflict will be resolved and whether the Palestinian people will be released from a captivity that prevents them from creating a future anticipated in the message of Jesus to the Palestinian people under Roman occupation at the time. The role of the church in this regard waits to be resolved as the struggle continues between a church in captivity to the dominant powers of our time and an alternative church that seeks to be obedient to one who resisted the occupation of first century Palestine, by choosing to be on the side of the poor and the oppressed.

 

 

 

& An edited edition of this essay appeared in The Link Magazine, Vol.42, No.2, April /May 2014.

* Emeritus Professor of Religion and Society at the University of Cape Town, Visiting Professor in the Conflict Resolution Program at Georgetown University in Washington DC in the Fall Semester, Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town.

 

 

[i] The publication of fourteen declarations by the churches in South Africa concerning apartheid and related matters are accessible in Charles Villa-Vicencio, Between Christ an Caesar: Classic and Contemporary Texts on Church and State (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.)

 

[ii] See, inter alia, Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, (New York: Pluto Press, 2009); Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley. Seeking Mandela: Peacemaking Between Israelis and Palestinians, (Philadelphia: Templeton University Press, 2009).

 

[iii]Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Cape Town Session. 7 November 2011. Available at http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/en/sessions/south-africa/south-africa-session.

[iv]Braverman, Mark. A Wall in Jerusalem: Hope, Healing and the Struggle for Justice in Israel and Palestine. New York: Jericho Books, 2013.

 

A young South African interviews South Africans about Israel and Palestine and Apartheid

SOUTH AFRICAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES (SACC) TRIENNIAL CONFERENCE STATEMENT

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SOUTH AFRICAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES (SACC) 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 REVERAND DR. JERRY PILLAY ON BEHALF OF SOUTH AFRICAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES.

Full address: Kairos SA to Parliament subcommittee solidarity conference on Palestine, Western Sahara and Cuba

FULL ADDRESS: Kairos SA to Parliament

Parliament 2

PREPARED FOR: Solidarity Conference in support of the People of Cuba, Western Sahara and Palestine: South African Parliament, Cape Town, 6 February 2014.

TOPIC: Palestine: Intensifying the struggle for self-determination and efforts to bring about a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, by Marthie Momberg.

Introduction

Honourable Mr Magama, Members of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Chair, Distinguished Guests: Thank you for this opportunity to present the views of Kairos Southern Africa.

Kairos Southern Africa is an ecumenical voice on local and international issues of justice from within the broader Christian community. We are connected to Kairos movements worldwide that are all inspired by the liberation theology tabled in the 1985 South African Kairos document.[1] This includes Kairos Palestine and its declaration of steadfast faith, hope and love from within the suffering of Palestinians.[2]

Our Christian message is that we need to love our enemy. In the spirit of this message we want to overcome the dualism that enables separatism. We recognise the humanity of both the oppressor and the oppressed, and our actions are informed by our vision for a reconciled, just peace between Israel and Palestine. This does not mean that we are prepared to compromise our message of vigorously opposing injustice.

Just over a year ago, Kairos Southern Africa accompanied a group of senior clergy from South Africa to Palestine and Israel. On their return, they declared that it “felt like walking into another apartheid ambush”. The group included the heads of the Methodist and the Uniting Presbyterian Churches, the Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, the Deputy Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, and a representative of the South African youth. I read from their media statement:

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.”[3]

Today you will hear central themes from this message in our argument to support our request to the South African government.

  1. Whom do we regard as the People of Palestine?
  • Before the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, the land called Palestine was populated by several groups: descendants of Arab Muslims from the vast Arab/Islamic empire that dominated Palestine from the seventh century; Arab Christians who were the descendants of the world’s first Christians; and small indigenous Jewish communities that were remnants of Palestine’s ancient Jewish kingdom. These people were all Semites who lived together in harmony until the Western Jews began arriving in the late nineteenth century. Some of these Jews sought a safe haven, but some sought land to conquer.
  • After the wars of 1948[4] and 1967, we call the following people Palestinians: the 4.4 million people in the occupied Palestinian territories (i.e. the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the more than 6 million people who became refugees as a result of these wars and who are prohibited by Israel to return,[5] and the 1.4 million people who reside in Israel,[6] where more than 50 laws regulate their status at every level of life, relegating them to second-class citizens, based on ethnic and religious identity. Approximately three-quarters of the entire Palestinian population worldwide are refugees. All of them, Muslims and Christians alike, are our concern. The over half a million Israeli settlers in the occupied territories are not Palestinians, but illegal inhabitants in breach of international law[7] who nevertheless receive preferential treatment from Israel as the occupying force.

                 2.   What do we mean by intensifying the struggle?

If showing solidarity with the oppressed means merely issuing declarations, we say it is not enough.  If we as South Africans embrace the concept of Ubuntu, which emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes as part of our essential humanity as we participate and share in a network of interdependence and togetherness,[8] then we cannot confine ourselves to mere talk. We have to be much more actively involved.

Moreover, South Africans have a moral obligation to act, given our history of apartheid. Did the world not actively help to demolish our apartheid through boycotts, divestment and sanctions? Now the Palestinian Christians have asked the South African Christian community directly to act against Israel’s unjust regime.

What would constitute an appropriate response? Let us consider the options of a small entity occupied by a regional military super-power backed by the USA:

  • ­Is violent resistance against the violence of occupation a viable option? In 1985, the Kairos Document of 1985 recognised the violence of apartheid as the primary violence which elicited violent resistance from the liberation movements. The Kairos Document then, as Kairos Southern Africa does now, does not advocate violence. Instead we strongly advocate vigorous non-violent resistance.[9] We agree with the views of the delegates at the Kairos for Global Justice conference[10] who declared that:

“[s]ilence is an opinion. Inaction is an action … failure to resist the Israeli government…makes us accomplices in crimes against humanity, such as the crimes of apartheid and persecution as described in international law”.

  • ­What about negotiations? Israel claims that it wants peace and does enter into negotiations, but insofar as it does enter into negotiations, Israel does so in bad faith, as Israel continues, at the same time, to expand its settlements. Is there currently enough pressure to ensure that both sides will bring all parties to the table and honour international law and the outcomes of an agreement? We do not think so. The USA can hardly be seen as an honest and impartial broker in the peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Israel receives 25 per cent of the entire US foreign aid budget. Since 1976, Israel has remained the highest recipient of US foreign aid in the world.[11] Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies in the USA said that if the USA were serious about peace, it would tell Israel: “Stop building your settlements on Palestinian land.” Granted, the USA has made this request many times. If Israel continues to respond by refusing (as Israel has been doing all along), and if the USA is serious, it should then stop (1) funding to the State of Israel, and (2) protecting Israel in the United Nations. But the USA says and does none of this. The current negotiations are not bringing Palestine and Israel and the world closer to a viable peace.
  • ­Finally what about the option of non-violent resistance in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanctions? This is indeed what the civil society of Palestine called for in 2005.[12]

As South Africans, we should understand the urgency and the importance of Palestine’s appeal in the light of our own history. During the darkest hours of South African apartheid, an ecumenical group of South African theologians called the deepening crisis a Kairos moment of truth. They highlighted the danger of using literal, fundamentalist Biblical interpretations to rationalise theologies of oppression and state power. Such a Kairos moment, one which is decisive in history, may pass us by if we do not act timeously.

We are now faced by yet another form of apartheid, this time by Israel. We should note that  it is not considered apartheid in terms of what happened in South Africa, but is classified as a crime against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and as described by, for example, the Russell Tribunal and South Africa’s HSRC.[13]  We do not carry the responsibility of all history. We are responsible for our times. In that sense this opportunity is unique, it is for us to see, understand, and act upon, through non-violent means.[14]

However, the non-violent option of boycotts, divestment and sanctions is not favoured by pro-Israeli supporters. They tell us the situation is “complex” and that a “balanced approach” is necessary, hoping to lock their opponents into endless discussions to paralyse them. Their arguments also suggest that the two sides of the story carry equal weight and should be treated accordingly. Nothing could be further from the truth. How can Israel say that it wants peace, and simultaneously declare the construction of more settlement units, continue to build its Wall on Palestinian land, and continue all its other atrocities? Zionists argue that the people of Israel are “God’s chosen people” and that the “Promised Land” (which includes Palestine) was given to the Jewish people by God. They do not distinguish between the Biblical entity and the modern nation-state. They choose to read religious texts in a literal, divisive way in their justification of Israel’s attempt to transform the transnational and extraterritorial Jewish identity into a national, ethnocratic identity where Jewish citizens have more rights than others to establish political and economic control over the land.[15]  Like the South African theologians in 1985 who found the principles of love, inclusivity and pluralism in the Bible, rather than division, we reject fundamentalism and exclusivist interpretations of religious scriptures.

When one argues from the perspective of international law, the situation is actually very, very clear. Both Palestine and Israel need to adhere to international law, UN resolutions and other applicable legal rulings. Admittedly, there are periodically some incidents of illegal violence targeted at civilians by Palestinians, but these cannot be compared to Israel’s dedicated, discriminatory, systematic, systemic, institutionalised oppression of the Palestinians, which violates international law every single day and on multiple levels.[16]

The Israeli regime is in breach of legal aspects such as those belonging to the special regime of occupation, international human rights law,[17] international humanitarian law as specified in the four Geneva Conventions,[18] as well as various rulings by the International Court of Justice and resolutions by the United Nations’ Security Council.[19]

When South African apartheid violated human rights, the world quite rightly did not call for a “balanced approach” to the differences between the apartheid regime and the oppressed – the world condemned such practices unequivocally, as it should when human rights are violated in Israel/Palestine today.

3.         Kairos Southern Africa’s views on self-determination

We also support the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination in line with what international law allows. With regard to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, we want to highlight five points:

  • All violence against all civilians, Palestinian or Israeli, must end.
  • Israel, a country that calls itself a democracy, must stop its discrimination on the basis of race, religion or any other factor against its Arab citizens.  Israel must be held accountable for its violations of human rights.
  • The more than six million Palestinian refugees have a legal right to return. A resolution of this matter consistent with international law and equity is necessary.
  • The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem must end. Until such time as this occupation does end, Israel as the occupying power must protect the Palestinian civilian population, administer the territory for their benefit, as specified by international law, and stop confiscating Palestinian land and resources under the pretext of “security”, or for any other reason.
  • The USA should not be the only broker in the peace negotiations and deals. In this respect the UN needs to meet its responsibilities.

Palestine has been under military occupation since 1967 – for 47 years. However the illegal confiscation of Palestinian land started through the actions of Jewish militia  before the State of Israel was declared in 1948. Since 1948 Israel’s land confiscation continues until this day as indicated by this map:

Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian Land: 1946 to 2014

The illegal ways by which Israel occupies the Palestinian territories effectively diminishes the possibility of self-determination. We are appalled that Israel uses its occupying power to take more and more land from the Palestinians whilst simultaneously destroying Palestinian infrastructure and making living conditions unbearable for Palestinians.[20]

In Gaza, the situation has reached an inhumane level. The living conditions, the depletion of livelihoods, and the decline in services and infrastructure for education, healthcare and water/sanitation are dire as a result of deliberate destruction. Miko Peled, a Jewish Israeli who served in the Israeli Defence Force, argues that Israel’s assaults on Gaza are part of a continuous campaign that started more than six decades ago with the infamous Unit 101, led by the late Ariel Sharon.[21] It is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, it now doubles up as an open air prison, since Israel controls the air space, the coastline and all land entrances to this area. There is no escape. A one-ton Israeli bomb can destroy an entire city block – on the first day of the Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, Israel dropped 100 tons of bombs on Gaza.[22]

In East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, Israel routinely demolishes houses, water wells and cisterns, roads, schools, animal shelters and other infrastructure; Israel displaces whole communities without offering them alternatives; the majority of Palestinians may not maintain or upgrade their own infrastructure; Israel confiscates valuable agricultural land in order to continue its building of the illegal Israeli Wall and settlements, and the movement of Palestinians is restricted by means of a series of checkpoints.[23]Amongst the many examples of double standards are the different roads for Israelis and Palestinians, and differences in the allocation of water resources and access to electricity. There is a military court for West Bank Palestinians and a civilian court for Israeli settlers. In these military courts, Palestinian children as young as 12 years old can be prosecuted. Each year 500 to 700 children are prosecuted, commonly for throwing stones. They are frequently arrested and detained at night, and more than half of them are held in prisons in Israel where they are tortured, abused and denied the right to have a parent present. The proceedings are held in Hebrew, although the children speak Arabic. Over 99% end in conviction.[24]

In the Jordan Valley, the Bedouin communities’ water consumption is about a fifth of the minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation. Nearby, the birds are singing in the lush green gardens of the settlements with their swimming pools and healthy crops. They are stealing our water,” a Palestinian community leader told me when I visited the region in 2011. “They plant flowers in the settlement and we don’t have water to drink.  The Israeli politics is to move us – should I then live in the air?”The Jordan Valley is the area furthest removed from the Green Line boundary with Israel, and it contains valuable agricultural resources. Israel controls 87% of this land.[25]

In a village where the Israeli Defence Force routinely uses so-called military practices to harass unarmed villagers who have no criminal records or charges against them, a child told me: “Our minds are not with our teachers when there is [military] training happening.”  Another said: “I started to cry when I arrived at my house after school and saw that it was demolished. We couldn’t remove anything from the house.”

“Our message to the world is to look at us as human beings” another community leader told me. “I am not a political person or a negotiator, but I need to feed my family. My message is for them to look at us as people who want our children to be educated.  I now need to drive a 35-40 km detour each day when I take my children to school because they closed my gate.  This means that our children are in the village while we are here and we cannot take care of them and their school work.”

Israel uses the pretext of “security” for its confiscation of land and its restrictions on where and when Palestinians may travel. Let me mention two examples that suggest another agenda:

  • When I monitored human rights violations in the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI programme,[26] we repeatedly reported that agricultural land which was allegedly confiscated by the Israeli Defence Force for military or security reasons was later used to plant settlement crops.
  • In September 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition challenging the Israeli authorities’ refusal to let five women from the Gaza Strip travel to the West Bank to complete their master’s degrees. The Israeli Supreme Court accepted the Israeli’s position that allowing the students to travel through Israeli territory would “undermine the ‘separation’ policy which is based on both security and political considerations.” In doing so, the court effectively approved restrictions on civilian travel between Gaza and the West Bank, even where no individual security concerns are raised.[27]

We need to ask ourselves whether the Israeli government’s and its supporters’ outrage at the escalation in BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) actions against Israel is not perhaps hypocritical in view of Israel’s own restrictions on, and its oppression of, the Palestinians.

5.       A lasting solution

Kairos Southern Africa recognises that even ending the occupation and adherence to international law by both Israel and Palestine on its own will by no means solve all the problems.  The acts of an oppressor injure not only the oppressed, but the oppressor too, and the oppressor’s partners or allies. Some Christians in the United States, for example, recently confessed to the role their country played in both the Holocaust and in Israel-Palestine.[28] In South Africa we also have experience of how true this is.

At Kairos Southern Africa, we cooperate with South African, Palestinian and Israeli people who belong to the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) and who advocate for a just peace. These are people who share our values of inclusivity, pluralism and human dignity. We are not fighting people, we are fighting a system. We ask ourselves what will be necessary to ensure self-determination after occupation, and we want to be co-travellers with those who are willing to open themselves up to the Other, so that jointly we learn from one another, reconcile, and live a lasting peace.

6.         Kairos Southern Africa’s request

Any attempt to remain neutral in this kind of conflict is both futile and immoral. Neutrality enables the status quo of oppression to continue. It is a way of giving tacit support to the oppressor. We are not taking sides against the Israeli people, but we unequivocally reject the Israeli regime’s treatment of Palestinians. We want international law to be upheld, and join the struggle for justice by advocating non-violent resistance against any form of injustice.

In line with this endeavour, we ask you to actively accompany the Palestinian people in their quest for liberation and to be their voice in the international arena – as our late President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, said, “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” and others in oppressive situations.[29]

The role of the South African government is unique in the world, given our country’s history of apartheid and the ways in which we overcame the institutionalised injustices of this system. In 2014 we celebrate our twentieth year as a democracy, and the United Nations has declared 2014 a year of solidarity with the Palestinian people. By not responding when we know about the injustices and human rights violations suffered by the Palestinian people, we will be allowing and enabling an act of omission. By responding insufficiently, we will prolong the suffering and the damage. This is our Kairos moment.

Kairos Southern Africa expresses a moral standpoint. We are witnessing a worsening situation. We see Israel using negotiations to prolong the pain, to intensify the occupation and to confiscate more resources. All of this must now stop.  We want all the injustices to stop now, as we wanted for ourselves during our own struggle.

For this reason we request the following from our government:

  • We want complete military, diplomatic and financial sanctions against Israel until it complies with all applicable UN resolutions and international law, and ends the occupation.
  • In the global arena, we want our government to lobby for the financial and other support for the Palestinians for socio-economic development after the end of the occupation.
  • We want our government to implement the above two requests and to table these request at both the African Union and the United Nations.
  • We also call on all political parties in South Africa to clearly communicate their stance on the plight of the Palestinian people and to make their views known timeously in the build-up to the 2014 elections.

[1] The Kairos Document is a theological statement issued in 1985 by a group of black South African theologians based predominantly in the black township of Soweto, South Africa. The statement challenged the churches’ response to what the authors saw as the vicious policies of the Apartheid state under the State of Emergency declared on 21 July 1985. The Kairos Document evoked strong reaction both in South Africa, and world-wide. This example of contextual theology served as an example for critical writing at decisive moments in several other countries and contexts such as in Brazil, the USA, India, Palestine, etc.

[2] Kairos Palestine. 2009. A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering. Jerusalem. [Online]. Available: http://www.kairospalestine.ps. [2011, 20 December].

[3] 8 December 2012, Jerusalem.

[4] With regard to 1948, there are two very different narratives: what Zionists call a War of Independence (“we fought bravely and won against all odds and by the grace of God”) is to Palestinians and supporters of human rights the Nakba (the Catastrophe).

[5] The total number of refugees is estimated at 9.8 million by the Badil Resource Center. [Online]. Available: http://www.badil.org/en/resources-for-visitors-journalists-a-activists. [2014, 3 February].

[6]  The population of Palestinians around the world totalled 11.6 million in 2012, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. [Online]. Ma’an News Agency.  2012. PCBS: Palestinian population reaches 11.6 million in 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=552362. [2014, 3 February].

[7] In 2011, the settler population was estimated at over 520,000; the annual average rate of growth during the past decade was 5.3% (excluding East Jerusalem), compared to 1.8% for the Israeli population as a whole (ICBS), according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). 2012a. The Humanitarian Impact to Israeli Settlement Policies. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/ documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_December_2012_english.pdf. [2014, 3 February]. All settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory “are illegal under international law as they violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of the occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory. This illegality has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Security Council.” UNOCHA. 2012b. The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies. January. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_January_2012_english.pdf. [2012, 23 September].

[8]Tutu, D. 2000. No Future without Forgiveness. London: Rider Books. (pp. 31, 166, 196).

[9] Although the use of arms against military targets is recognised as lawful under international law, as Bennis argues, we believe that the law only manages the conditions of war, whilst we want the war to stop. Bennis, P. 2012. Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. A primer. Northampton: Olive Branch Press.  (p..3).

[10] Kairos Palestine. 2011. The Bethlehem Call. [Online]. Available: http://www.kairospalestine.ps/sites/ default/Documents/The%20Bethlehem%20call.pdf. [2014, February 3]. .

[11] Kairos Palestine. 2011. The Bethlehem Call. (p.86).

[12]“Launched on 9 July 2005 by more than 170 Palestinian parties, trade unions, refugee networks, NGOs and grassroots associations, calling on international civil society organisations and people of conscience to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era”.  Barghouti O. 2013. Is BDS’ campaign against Israel reaching a turning point?   Opinion piece in Aljazeera. [Online]. Available: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/12/bds-campaign-against-israel-reaching-turning-point-201312225320764121.html. [2014, 3 February].

[13] United Nations. 2002. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. [Online]. Available: http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/english/rome_statute%28e%29.pdf. [2012, 11 October].

Russell Tribunal on Palestine. 2011. Executive summary of the findings of the third session of the RToP. A systematic and institutionalised regime. [Online]. Available: http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/ en/sessions/south-africa/south-africa-session-%E2%80%94-full-findings/cape-town-session-summary-of-findings. [2013, 21 September].

Human Sciences Research Council.  2009. Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law.  Cape Town: HSRC.

Roadmap to Apartheid. 2012. [Documentary film] Directors: Ana Nogueira, Eron Davidson, Nathaniel Cunningham. Cinematography: Ana Nogueira. Narrator: Alice Walker. USA. English. Producers: Ana Nogueira & Eron Davidson.

[14]Boesak, A. 2011.  Kairos Consciousness.  [Online]. Available: http://kairossouthernafrica.wordpress.com/ 2011/05/03/kairos-consciousness. [2014, 18 January].

[15] Rabkin, Y. 2010. Zionism a ‘terrible enemy’ of Jewish people. Cape Times, 10 March.

14 Braverman, M. 2010. Fatal Embrace. Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land. Austin, TX: Synergy Books. (p. 348); Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). 2010. An Unjust Settlement. A Tale of Illegal Israeli Settlements in the West Bank. Jerusalem: Emerezian Est.; Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). 2009. Silently Displaced in the West Bank. Jerusalem: Emerezian Est.; Oxfam. 2012. On the Brink. Israeli settlements and their impact on Palestinians in the Jordan Valley. [Online]. Available: 160 Oxfam Briefing Paper. Available: http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bp160-jordan-valley-settlements-050712-en_1.pdf. [2012, 1 August].; Russell Tribunal on Palestine. 2011. Executive summary of the findings of the third session of the RToP. A systematic and institutionalised regime. [Online]. Available: http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/en/ sessions/south-africa/south-africa-session-%E2%80%94-full-findings/cape-town-session-summary-of-findings. [2013, 21 September].; United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2012a. Demolitions and Forced Displacement in the Occupied West Bank. January. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ ocha_opt_demolitions_factSheet_january_2012_english.pdf. [2012, 2 February].; United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2012b. The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies. January. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_January_2012_english.pdf. [2012, 23 September].; United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2011. Israeli Settler Violence in the West Bank. November. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settler_violence_ FactSheet_October_2011_english.pdf. [2012, 23 September].

[17] Protecting individuals in war and in peace.

[18] Covering civilians caught up in war and armed conflict areas.

[19] EAPPI. 2009:11.

[20] If Palestinians gain access to 50,000 dunums (12,500 acres or 3.5% of Area C) of uncultivated land, this could generate a billion dollars of revenue per year (The World Bank.)  UNOCHA. 2012c. Humanitarian Fact Sheet on the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea Area. [Online]. Available: http://www.unochaopt.org/documents/ ocha_opt_ jordan_valley_factSheet_february_2012_english.pdf.  [2014, 18 January].

[21] Peled, M. 2012. The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. Charlottesville: Just World Books.

[22] Op.cit. 166

[23] Article 55 of the Hague Convention stipulates that “the occupying state shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct” (EAPPI 2010:100). This stipulation is ignored, as is evident from Israel’s confiscation of land and water resources, the home demolitions and evictions, the harassment, violence, vandalism and incitement (EAPPI 2010:12-95), as well as from the illegal Israeli Wall and its associated regime, the many checkpoints and transport restrictions, and the discriminatory court system whereby illegal Israeli settlers have access to a civil court and indigenous Palestinians are put on trial in an Israeli  military court (EAPPI 2009:24-79). Further evidence can be found in recent statistics on demolitions and forced displacements in the West Bank (UNOCHA 2012a).

[24] Military Court Watch. [Online]. Available: http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/page.php?id=a6r85VcpyUa 4755A52Y2mp3c4v. [2014, 18 January].

[25] The Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area covers around 30% of the West Bank, and is home to nearly 60,000   Palestinians. Of this land, 87% is designated as Area C, virtually all of which Palestinians are prohibited to use, It is earmarked instead for the use of the Israeli military or under the jurisdiction of Israeli settlements. The permitted water consumption is 20 litres/capita/day in most herding communities in the area, compared to the WHO recommendation of 100 l/c/d, and the average settlement consumption of 300 l/c/d. UNOCHA. 2012c. Humanitarian Fact Sheet on the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea Area. [Online]. Available: http://www.unochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_jordan_valley_factSheet_february_2012_english.pdf. [2014, 18 January].

[26] I served in 2011 in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

[27] UNOCHA. 2013. Fragmented Lives. Humanitarian Overview 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.unochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_fragmented_lives_annual_report_2013_english_web.pdf. [2014, 4 February]. The petition was jointly filed in 2012 by an Israeli and a Palestinian human rights organization (Gisha and Al Mezan) on behalf of the affected women. Four of the women, who are now in their 40s, were forced to discontinue their studies in 2000, following the outbreak of the second Intifada and Israel’s subsequent revocation of travel permits for many Gazans between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. All four women hold various positions in civil society organizations promoting democracy and women’s rights.

[28] Kairos USA.2012. Call to Action. U.S. response to the Kairos Palestine Document. [Online]. Available: http://www.kairosusa.org/call/kairosusa.html. [2012, 11 August]. (pp1-2).

[29]Mandela, N. Address by President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. African National Congress website. [Online]. Available: http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=3384. [2014, 5 February].

Archbishop-emeritus Tutu’s statement in support of “Free Marwan Barghouti” campaign

Archbishop Emeritus Tutu’s message on the occasion of the global call to free Palestinian political prisoners

I am proud to associate myself with the global campaign for the freedom of Marwan Barghouti and other Palestinian political prisoners.

I congratulate Mr Ahmed Kathrada, who spent 27 years of his life as a political prisoner in South Africa, for personally leading this initiative. He is a man of steely principle and compassion for whom the struggle for non-racialism, human rights and justice will not end as long as there is unfairness in the world.

I can think of no better place than Robben Island for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation to launch this global call for justice in Palestine and Israel. It was on Robben Island that Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Robert Sobukwe, Ahmed Kathrada and so many other South African prisoners of conscience were incarcerated. Their freedom, when it eventually dawned, symbolised all of our freedom.

As South Africans, we feel very proud to be able put our experience of the power of solidarity into action for the benefit of others, under the leadership of Mr Kathrada.

South Africa could not have achieved its democracy without the contribution of friends around the world. Indeed, when the world linked arms in solidarity with our struggle for freedom we became an irresistable force. We learned that when people unite behind a righteous cause there is nothing that can stop them.

Of course, when the world demanded Nelson Mandela’s freedom, it was also demanding the freedom of all his imprisoned colleagues. And it was demanding justice and democracy in South Africa. 

As it was in South Africa, so it is in Palestine. When we call for Marwan Barghouti’s freedom, we are calling for the freedom of all political prisoners and resolution of all injustice in Palestine and Israel. I would particularly like to welcome Mrs Fadwa Barghouti’s presence in the campaign. It reminds us of the brave role Winnie Mandela played in keeping the memory of Mr Mandela and the struggle alive.

In South Africa there is a relatively small word with a big meaning – ubuntu. It describes our inter-connectedness, our dependence on one another. We are all sisters and brothers in God’s family. All of us: Black, white, pink, green, gay, straight, Jew, Muslim, American, Palestinian, Israeli…

Our humanity, our well-being, our security, our prosperity, our love is bound up with yours.

I add my voice to those of Mr Kathrada’s and Mrs Baghouti’s – and all the others around the world – who are calling on Israel to step back from the precipice of division and prejudice, and free political prisoners. Their liberation will also liberate you. 

Genuine dialogue between genuine leaders is the only recipe to achieve lasting peace in Palestine and Israel, lasting peace from which the entire human family will benefit.

God bless you!

 

+ Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

27 October 2013

 

Is there a better adjective than “apartheid” to describe Israel? by Ran Greenstein

Is there a better adjective than ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel?

From http://mg.co.za/article/2013-10-04-00-is-there-a-better-adjective-than-apartheid-to-describe-israel

04 Oct 2013 00:00 Ran Greenstein

How can we sort out the conceptual mess that afflicts the debates around the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa?

The wall between Israel and Palestine.                    

The wall between Israel and Palestine.

                                   

Recent articles in the Mail & Guardian, in particular an interview with Benjamin Pogrund, have shown confusion regarding the meaning of the issue.

First, let us examine the meaning of apartheid. The term defines the regime of political domination and social exclusion that ruled South Africa since 1948.

Another definition emerged in international law, drawing on the South African example but gradually moving away from it.  The 2002 Statute of the International Criminal Court contains no references to South Africa and regards apartheid as “an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group”.

We must also bear in mind that the 1965 international convention on eliminating racial discrimination extends the term to cover “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin”.

Biological differences In other words, it is not restricted to “race” in the common meaning that invokes real or imaginary biological differences in its definition.

Although apartheid remains associated in our minds with its South African origins, legally it has no necessary relation to South Africa.

The key question is the identification of a regime that practices systematic oppression and domination by one group over another. How then does it apply to Israel?

To answer that, we need to clarify another concept: Israel.

Although usually seen as residing within its pre-1967 boundaries, the Israeli regime exercises control over Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

For the past 46 years, all residents within greater Israel have lived under the same regime, which claims to be the sole legitimate political and military authority.

The state controls the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, ruling over eight million rights-bearing citizens (75% of whom are Jews) and four million Palestinian subjects denied civil and political rights. Millions of Palestinian refugees (who were born in the territory or whose direct ancestors were) cannot set foot in their homeland, let alone determine its political future as citizens.

Insiders How is the notion of apartheid relevant to this reality? The Israeli regime is based on an ethnic-religious distinction between Jewish insiders and Palestinian outsiders.

It expands citizenship beyond its territory, potentially to all Jews regardless of their links to the country, and contracts citizenship within it: Palestinians in the occupied territories and refugees outside have no citizenship and cannot become Israeli citizens.

The regime combines different modes of rule: civilian authority with democratic institutions within the Green Line (the pre-1967 boundaries), and military authority beyond it.

In times of crisis, the military mode of rule spills over the line to apply to Palestinian citizens in Israel.

At all times, the civilian mode of rule spills over the line to apply to Jewish settlers.

The distinction between the two sides of the line is constantly eroding as a result, and norms and practices developed under the occupation filter back into Israel.

Israel as a “Jewish democratic state” is “democratic” for Jews and “Jewish” for Arabs.

Minority It is, in fact, a “Jewish demographic state”. The fear that Jews may become a minority is the prime concern behind state policies.

All state institutions and practices are geared to meet the concern for a permanent Jewish majority exercising absolute political domination.

These conditions are particularly visible in the occupied territories: Jewish settlers live in exclusive communities, from which all Palestinian locals are barred (except, occasionally, as “hewers of wood and drawers of water”). They drive on Israeli-only roads, enjoy Israeli military protection and access to all the privileges and services that come with citizenship rights, including voting for the Israeli Parliament.

Palestinian subjects have no say in the way they are governed. “No taxation without representation” is a noble political principle that does not apply to them.

What should we call a regime that leaves millions of its subjects with no political rights, that practises segregation in all walks of life and that denies them the basic right to determine their future?

True, there is a Palestinian Authority as well, but it has no power over crucial issues of security, land, water, movement of people and goods, industry and trade.

All that matters is controlled by Israeli military authorities, which operate on behalf and at the behest of settlers and Israeli interest groups.

That the territories have not been formally annexed to Israel is irrelevant – it changes none of the oppressive practices to which Palestinians are daily subjected.

Some people prefer not to term this regime apartheid because it is indeed different (not better) in some respects from what existed in South Africa before 1994. Fine, but what better term is there?

Professor Ran Greenstein teaches in the sociology department at the University of the Witwatersrand

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