Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, July 2017
“Beyond urgent… on verge of a catastrophe… last chance to save Christian presence in Holy Land”
The National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) has just issued a final plea for help in the form of an open letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement. It is signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and can be read in full here.
The problem is well known to everyone who’s paying attention. The letter recaps for us:
We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour Declaration, intensified through the Nakba [Arabic for “catastrophe” – the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians in 1948] and the influx of refugees, followed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza and the fragmentation of our people and our land through policies of isolation and confiscation, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall.
A hundred years later and there is still no justice! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule… Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leaders’ callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.
The letter harks back to the Amman Call of 2007. “We are concerned that 10 years later the situation is worse… the Amman Call did not achieve its goal of a just peace and we must ask ourselves today – why?”
Concern is also expressed at Israel’s “systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance” (by which they mean BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions), and on their partners worldwide who use BDS to persuade Israel to end the occupation.
While we are grateful for the “costly solidarity” articulated in the Amman Call and exercised by many churches around the world, we are concerned that some churches have weakened their positions in the last 10 years as a result of pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their religious dialogue partners.
So now they ask us to do the following:
1. Call things as they are: recognise Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report, which said: “Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.” They are concerned that states and churches continue dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal, ignoring the reality of occupation, discrimination and daily deaths. Churches united to end apartheid in South Africa, the World Council of Churches (WCC) playing a pivotal role, and they are expected to do the same again in Palestine
2. Unequivocally condemn the Balfour Declaration as unjust, and demand the UK asks forgiveness and compensates the Palestinian people for their losses. Unfortunately, Zionist stooges in high places, like Theresa May, have said they will be celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration “with pride” and inviting Mr Netanyahu along for the fun.
3. Take the strongest possible stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and favours one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant.
4. Take a stand against religious extremism and any attempt to create a religious state in Palestine or the region.
5. Challenge our religious dialogue partners, and withdraw from the partnership if they won’t condemn the occupation.
6. Encourage church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities using Palestinian travel agencies, not Israeli.
7. In response to Israel’s war on BDS, defend the Palestinians’ right to resist non-violently, and support economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation. Go further and include sport, cultural and academic measures until Israel complies with international law and UN resolutions.
8. Create lobby groups in defence of Palestinian Christians.
9. Urgently create a strategy within the WCC, like the programme “To Combat Racism”, to coordinate lobbying, advocacy and other activities aimed at achieving justice and peace and maintaining the presence of the Palestinian Christians.
“We fully grasp the pressure church leaders are facing here and abroad not to speak the truth, and it is because of this that we are raising this call,” says the NCCOP.
Their message ends with these ominous words:
Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status-quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.
As I’m writing news has come in of a legal victory against the UK government for trying to stifle BDS. The government recently issued guidance to stop divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law, and to protect the UK’s defence industry. Pension holders, for example, could have been forced into investing in companies complicit in human rights abuses, contrary to their conscience and beliefs.
Thanks to action by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign the court held that the government had acted improperly by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy. Parts of the guidance are now held to be unlawful and no longer applicable to local government in their pension decisions.
Other last-gasp appeals
The Amman Call mentioned earlier was issued exactly 10 years ago at the WCC’s International Peace Conference “Churches together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East” held in Amman, Jordan. It contained a number of imperatives.
Enough is enough. No more words without deeds. It is time for action. The churches are part of the conflict, because they cannot remain silent while there is still suffering. There is no military solution to the conflict, UN resolutions are the basis for peace and the Geneva conventions are applicable to the rights and responsibilities of the affected people. Palestinians have the right of self-determination and the right of return. Jerusalem must be an open, accessible, inclusive and shared city for the two peoples and three religions. Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal, and constitute an obstacle to peace, and Israel’s “Separation Barrier” is a grave breach of international law and must be removed.
The Kairos Document of 2009 called itself a “cry of hope in the absence of all hope”. They said they had “reached a dead end” in the tragedy of the Palestinian people and the decision-makers “content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it”. The faithful were asking: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the church doing? “The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the church.”
Kairos told the international community to stop practising “double standards” and start implementing international resolutions. “Selective application of international law threatens to leave us vulnerable to a law of the jungle. It legitimises the claims by certain armed groups and states that the international community only understands the logic of force.” So, Kairos was calling for a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel – not as a revenge tactic but action to reach a just and definitive peace.
It also urged churches to revisit the fundamentalist positions that support the evil policies imposed on the Palestinian people, and to stop providing theological cover for the injustices they suffer.
These heart-rending pleas are all very well but churches are hard to mobilise. Some have flirted with BDS but only after much internal wrangling. Others have allowed themselves to be put off by interference from their interfaith partners.
What can we ordinary mortals do?
Well, I pop into churches randomly and ask what links they have with the Holy Land. They usually stare at me in blank amazement and an awkward silence follows. I therefore recommend a national campaign to visit all churches throughout the land and ask that same question. Shame them.
But you never quite know when you’re up against the “enemy within” – the Christian Zionist. Many readers will remember The “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism” by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in 2006.
It says, among other things:
We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message. We reject the alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States [add the UK] that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that support these policies as they promote racial exclusivity and perpetual war. We call upon all churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land. We call upon all people to reject Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others. We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation. And, of course, Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. Don’t anyone forget that.
Did you ever hear any of the 26 Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords roundly condemn the British government’s unshakable support for the rogue regime in Israel that’s causing all this misery? No, they’re scared to death of ruffling the feathers of their “interfaith dialogue” partners and being branded anti-Semitic. And yes, the church does have its fearless heroes but they are few and far between and not always tolerated. The Anglican Church by and large doesn’t give a damn about their brethren in the Holy Land or the military jackboot on their necks. And, by extension, they don’t give a four-x whether, in another 10 years, there will be any Christians left in the place where Christianity was born. No, maybe they will care, but by then it will be too late.
If I had my way every clergyman and every political leader calling him/herself a Christian would have the “Jerusalem Declaration” tattooed on their rump.
I’d like to invite some of them to spend a week with priests in the front line in Jenin, Nablus or Hebron for a real taste of life under the brutal Israeli occupation; then queue for hours at daybreak with Palestinian workers in the obscene human holding pens at the Bethlehem checkpoint as they struggle to get to work – and home again; then watch Israeli bulldozers evict Palestinian families and destroy their homes for no good reason; then join Gaza fishermen as they try to earn a living while getting shot at in their own waters by Israeli gunboats; then stay with a Gaza family in the rubble, experience living with only two hours’ electricity a day, with the kids going to school in shifts and studying by candlelight; then sit down with Hamas ministers to learn what it’s like running this tiny, overcrowded enclave after 10 years of cruel blockade; then visit Gaza’s hospitals to see first-hand the crisis in medical equipment and spares; then watch the groups of young, uniformed Israeli gunslingers swaggering through the Old City of Jerusalem making that beautiful place so ugly.
The opportunities to learn the nasty truth about today’s Holy Land are endless.
And when they return home – who knows, they might just feel pricked to do something about it. At least they could ensure every parish in England twins itself with a parish in the West Bank to offer solidarity and provide moral and material support.
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