A group of Palestinian Christians representing a variety of churches and church-related organizations have issued an animated and prayerful call for an end to occupation of Palestine by Israel. The call, issued at a meeting earlier this month in Bethlehem, comes at a time when many Palestinians believe they have reached a dead end with their aspirations.
The issue raises questions to the international community, political leaders in the region, and the churches worldwide about their contribution to the Palestinian people’s pursuit of freedom. Even in the midst of “our catastrophe” the call is described as a word of faith, hope and love. Referred to as The Kairos Palestine Document, the call echoes similar summons issued by South African churches in the mid-1980s at the height of repression under the apartheid regime. That call served to galvanize churches and the wider public in a concerted effort that eventually brought the end of apartheid.
The authors of the Kairos Palestine Document, among them Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, have raised the challenge of the urgency for peace with justice to religious and political leaders in Palestinian and the Israeli society, international community, and to “our Christian brothers and sisters in the churches” around the world. They believe that current efforts in the Middle East are confined to managing the crisis rather than finding pertinent and long term solutions to the crisis.
Decrying empty promises were these leaders who lent their voice to the Palestinian cause. Expressing their pain, the signatories of the call decry the emptiness of the promises and pronouncements about peace in the region. They remind the world about the separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, the blockade of Gaza, how Israeli settlements ravage their land, the humiliation at military checkpoints, the restrictions of religious liberty and controlled access to holy places, the plight of refugees awaiting their right of return, prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons and Israel’s blatant disregard of international law, as well as the paralysis of the international community in the face of this tragedy.
Rejecting Israeli justifications for their actions as being in self-defense, they unambiguously state that if there were no occupation, “there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”
They argue: “God created us not to engage in strife and conflict but together build up the land in love and mutual respect. Our land has a universal mission, and the promise of the land has never been a political program, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation. Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or a theological question only.” They reject any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice.
Declaring the occupation of Palestinian land as a sin against humanity, they steadfastly adhere to the signs of hope such as local centers of theology and numerous meetings for inter-religious dialogue, recognizing that these signs provide hope to the resistance of the occupation. Through the logic of peaceful resistance, resistance is as much a right as it is a duty as it has the potential to hasten the time of reconciliation.
Asserting that this is a moment demanding repentance for past actions, either for using hatred as an instrument of resistance or the willingness to be indifferent and absorbed by faulty theological positions, the group calls on the international community and Palestinians for steadfastness in this time of trial. “Come and see [so we can make known to you] the truth of our reality”, they appeal.
Poignantly, they conclude, “in the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land. We will see here ‘a new land’ and ‘a new human being’ capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters.”